Experts say that when you fall off your bike, you should get straight back on it and peddle away again. The same experts also say that the best way to get over someone is to hastily get under someone else…apparently. I wouldn’t know, never done it as I’m too much of an emotional nerd. So what do these omniscient experts say is the best way to regroup, recover and remember how to live like a normal human being after a month of tea related debauchery bordering on the clinic-tea insane?! Why, travel 150 miles to drink MORE tea in a slightly different place of course! I’m not one to disagree with ‘experts’, apart from on the daily recommended dose of caffeine, they have clearly never tried a decent loose leaf that is so good they want it pumped in via dialysis. Thus I found myself in an obscure London commuter belt hotel, being daylight robbed for my taxi fare from said hotel to a bus shack of a station and hurtling towards London Euston on a mission to sample the capital’s Tea Meccas. Absolutely a fool proof idea to get a bit of space from brew madness for a bit. Maybe. Ish.
The Aperitif – T2 STORE TOTTENHAM COURT RD
I began my tea pilgrimage to Queen Liz’s neck of the woods in the home of great eateries, interesting fashion choices and technological wares that might, just MIGHT have fell off the back of an articulated lorry with its own in built pot noodle maker. Yes folks, I was on Tottenham Court Road. A short teabag’s throw from the tube station where moments before I had involuntarily become intimate with at least twelve people, was the gloriously hip loose leaf shop known as T2. With its black and orange branding, I thought I had stumbled across any self respecting lesbian’s apparel store of choice otherwise known as Superdry (yes, I did work there once upon a time and yes, my wardrobe is full of the stuff to complete my lady finger smith uniform). Upon walking in the shop, I thought I had died and gone to brew paradise for three distinct reasons:
1. There was an unhealthy amount of loose leaf, organised neatly in black steel petri dishes and displayed in such a way that an OCD visual merchandiser couldn’t help but spaff all over it.
2. It smelled heavenly – there was a sampling station down the middle of the store where you could test out T2’s limited edition blends, and even a brewing point where customers could have a go at brewing T2s signature recipes.
3. It had the most approachable, knowledgeable and – crucially – FITTEST tea staff I have ever laid eyes on. The manager – Jenny (I think, I was struck with a case of momentary, pubescent boy style memory loss when I realised this goddess was talking to me) was not only very clued up about tea, but also unafraid of a tea innuendo with repeated use of the word NAKED and resembled that redhead whom we all know makes me a little giddy in my fufu.
Seriously, I thought I had been run over by a London bus and this was my first stop on the way to God’s crib, or indeed the gaff of whatever higher power you choose to believe in.
Originating from Oz, T2’s philosophy is to convince the average person to branch out a little bit and try something different from their soggy PG Tips ball bag excuse for a brew. Allegedly they make 9 million cups of tea for customers across Australia, the US, New Zealand and the U.K, and I think I may have sampled at least 8.5 million in the 35 minutes I was in the store. I had no less than 5 teagasms, with the most notable being their New York Breakfast blend of Assam, cinnamon and vanilla that ‘Jenny: Saucer-ess of the Tea Sirens’ brewed up for me into a salted caramel latte. Warming, nutty with the right balance of sweet and salty, this was the creamy, full bodied brew that you want on a cosy winter evening with your favourite person to sup caffeine liquor with. Naturally I purchased a vat of the stuff, as well as T2s Caramel Pop blend, a silky smooth Genmaicha with blackberry leaves and caramel pieces that tasted like an Icarus Galaxy Caramel that flew too close to the bunsen burner. Once I had regained feeling in my legs after multiple, sustained and quite earth shattering teagasms, I headed on my way to the next house of brew worship.
The Starter – YUMCHAA, TOTTENHAM STREET
Up the road from T2 – and dangerously close to the the four storey stationery lover’s darkest fantasy of Paperchase – is the cutesy establishment of one of five London-based Yumchaa cafes. It came highly recommended when I appealed to the Twitter-verse for London tea house recommendations and I could see why; it had an extensive selection of their own blends of loose leaf ranging from a Chilli Chilli Bang Bang Rooibos to an earthy ‘Walk in the Woods‘ tea, which I hope doesn’t end up in being bundled into the back of a van and incapacitated with luggage ties. Coupled with this impressive brew line up, Yumchaa also stocked a mouth-watering collection of sweet and savoury treats displayed in true Pride and Prejudice style on cake stands and cutlery that Cath Kidston would go doolally over.
I settled down to a Raspberry and Vanilla Rooibos, a cheese scone and a telephone interview for a popular women’s magazine (all will be revealed, although hopefully not my teacakes). Believe me, there is nothing more jarring than recounting the deepest, hardest parts of your past eating disordered life over the phone to a mildly interested reporter, in earshot of a roomful of Londoners watching you stuff a savoury scone down your gob with at breakneck speed. Picture of recovery (and elegant femininity) right there!
Joking aside however, I was a bit underwhelmed by Yumchaa. The tea was…nice, a solid redbush (LOLZ) with warming sweet undertones. The scone was…nice, it filled a savoury shaped hole in that mid-morning hunger wasteland known as 11am. And the setting was…well, just nice, all vintage prints and mismatched chairs. It was all a bit predictable for me. It fell into the commonplace ‘2010s vintage’ style that a lot of tea rooms are going for at the moment, that nod to the quintessentially English Afternoon Tea tradition whilst also trying to be fashionably kitsch. Don’t get me wrong, it did it exceptionally well but after coming from T2 that was trying to bring loose leaf bang up to date, relevant and give it a cool coffee-like make over, Yumchaa felt a little ‘done’ to me. That said, if you are looking for a decent cuppa and a slab of depression-overcoming cake, you could do a lot worse than a stop at Yumchaa.
The MAIN COURSE – AMANZI TEA, CAVENDISH STREET
After dodging the inevitable paparazzi waiting for me outside Yumchaa trying to catch me post exclusive phone interview (or was it Japanese tourists…can’t be sure), I had a stroll to the wonderfully Twitter-chatty Amanzi Tea. It was a little out of my way, but their cheeky charm and Twit-chat made me want to make the effort. I found Amanzi Tea nestled amongst some extremely posh looking shops on the bottom of Cavendish Street, and worried that I would be refused entry with my hoodlum-esque bobble hat. I was relieved not to find a Jeeves on the door who had got hench after sticking to the Insanity workout every day for two years, and blundered on in.
Initially I thought I had inadvertently found myself in UCL’s science labs or at the very least Willy Wonka’s shed. There were huge test tubes of tea on the wall, a psychedelic mosaic floor, and various pots brewing all over the place. I worried that I would be stripped naked, have wires stuck into my veins and relentlessly probed to complete the mad scien-tea-ist experiment before me. However, I needn’t have worried – I soon found the tea menu of 150 possible combinations and settled in for every indecisive person’s nightmare: a brew choice UNDER PRESSURE whilst distracted by the Austin Powers patterns on the floor, desperate need for the toilet and whether the ‘Wasabi, Wheat Grass and Kale Chips’ on offer were safe for non-hipster human consumption.
I plumped for Cuppa Coaster’s suggestion of Orange Truffle Tea, a rooibos that tasted like a watered down Terry’s Chocolate Orange. I was keeping my caffeine intake in check as I knew my final stop would be a heavy one, and this was a pleasant sup. Light, citrusy and refreshing, I think the Orange Truffle would be even better as a latte to bring out the orange fruity sweetness. In hindsight I wish I had been more adventurous, but I shall be returning to Amanzi Tea to sample its incomprehensibly large tea collection when I have more time. I just had chance for a quick toilet stop in the narrowest loo in the world ever – I struggled to pull my knickers down facing forward and had to go side saddle, resulting in dangerous wee aim – and then went on to test my tube orienteering skills to get to Islington.
Everybody’s favourite course: Dessert – Piacha, Islington
I hope Piacha appreciate the level of physical abuse I endured to get to them. I was rained on. I was jostled from all angles by every nationality of person who resides on the good, green earth we call home. Worst of all, when I stopped to laugh at a mobile cafe named ‘Wonder Waffle’, I was aggressively hit in my very own wonder waffle by an overly zealous, bag wielding old lady. Yes, Piacha, I overcame near GBH induced infertility to get to you.
But boy, was it worth it.
My love affair with Piacha Tea Bar began on the backbone of my current day to life, also known as Twitter. Piacha’s willingness (well, their social media guru Jo) to engage in some rather steamy tea tomfoolery and good ol’brew banter was refreshing, and their Rooibos Rhubarb Fudge blend made me do a 180 on my previous pathological hatred of the large leaved dock plant. Honestly, I hated it more than homophobia – yep, THAT bad. So when the formidable owner of Piacha, Pia, invited me to share their new afternoon tea menu with her, I bit her hand off at the chance, with the enthusiasm of the ugly kid at school who had just been asked on their first date. (That was me at school, so I am allowed to say that. Although, I have still never been asked on a date – don’t all rush at once will you).
The moment I walked through Piacha’s sexy glass frontage, I was impressed with its Feng Shui. It felt modern, classy and contemporary without being pretentious, and was a far cry from the ubiquitous ‘country vintage’ approach of many tea rooms as I have mentioned above. The sleek, minimalist yet comfy furniture and bar like set up made tea drinking seem cool, but not the kind of exclusive cool that means you have to have a top knot, beard and questionable personal hygiene to get in. They also don’t shut until NINE PM, past my bed time but a great alternative to getting hammered and making poor kebab choices of an evening. It felt like my kind of place – smart, relevant yet not taking itself too seriously. I hadn’t even had a brew yet and I already wanted to move in like a lesbian on a second date (again, I am one, so I am allowed to say that).
Pia herself was equally fabulous. Warm, generous and infectiously fanatical about tea, she told me how only a year ago she was simply selling her blends at a local market and has worked from there to be the proud founder of the Piacha Tea Bar. Spurred on by a change in diet to get away from the carb/caffeine crashes of a London lifestyle and share her love of Finnish flavours, Pia creates blends and food that are good for you, with carefully sourced ingredients and distinctly refreshing tastes. Her mission with her Tea Bar is to provide a space for tea connoisseurs and the average joe alike to enjoy an ‘unashamedly good’ cuppa in an atmospheric environment. She has succeeded in my eyes.
Once we had waxed lyrical about our favourite blends, how far north Sheffield actually is and tested my ability to name a tea from looking at the leaf (I didn’t embarrass myself thank god but did look like a drug dealer), we settled down to a thoroughly modern Milly of an afternoon tea. With no chinse table wear or Kirstie Allsop-like server in sight, we were served up Salmon Genmaicha and Cream Tea Honey Brie sandwiches, Berry Tart and Chocolate Tiffin, and – my surprise hit – Matcha icecream. It was difficult to sustain a coherent conversation with Pia as I ate, as the food was so incredibly delicious. With fresh, local ingredients and unusual combinations of tea infused treats, Piacha’s offering had all of the decadence of a traditional afternoon tea, with the experimentation and tan-tea-lising taste journey of an evening at Heston Blumenthal’s abode on Come Dine With Tea. Mind blowingly good, and I shall be returning for another one…and half their furniture for my own living room.
Don’t even get me started on the tea. I won’t go into every single one in detail here as I appreciate that I am probably giving you eyestrain by now, but we had a scin-tea-lating Milky Oolong, a refined Earl Grey Vanilla, a fiery Ginger Chilli, a cheeky Mate Choc Mint, and a spunky Apple Green Tea. Every blend was perfectly balanced, unique to any other infusions I have tried and opened my mind to a new love of the clean flavours of herbal tea. I picked up a bag of my favourite Choc Cinnamon Rooibos, and a postcard of my two new favourites Ginger Chilli and Apple Green tea for their unconventional yet addictive tastes.
With a cuddle from Pia (excellent hugger by the way, you should all try to give her a squidge when you visit – don’t blame me for your restraining order though) and an Earl Grey Peach breakfast smoothie for the road (EPIC!), I was off to brave the underground jungle back to the harsh climes of the north.
London, you do a decent cuppa char. You are also not the heartless bitch that I once took you for. I might even come back for a second date, if you play your cards right. From the inspired blends of T2 and the wholesome experience of Yumchaa, to the innovative brews and environments of Amanzi Tea and Piacha, I was overwhelmed by the quali-tea and friendliness of the London brew scene. The standout for me though is quite obviously Piacha. Pia is doing something inspired and exciting with tea and the social experience surrounding enjoying a cuppa, which I think is the next step forward in the loose leaf tea mission. She and her team are unfalteringly passionate, meticulous and knowledgable about what they do, and you can’t help but want to be part of that big happy brew family. I for one are processing my adoption papers now. Piacha – I AM YOUR DAUGHTER.