Whether you are looking to do a traditional high tea or just get a spot of tea, try these tea spots. (Photo: Robin Bennefield)
There are few things more British than afternoon tea in London. It has to rank right up there with Big Ben and Queen Elizabeth’s royal wave. It is certainly just as steeped (bad pun, intended) in tradition. But teatime isn’t as formal as in times past. The city doesn’t stop at the stroke of 4 p.m. and you don’t have to go highbrow with your high tea experience unless you prefer to feign royalty. Whatever your tastes or station in life, here are six tea destinations worth a stop.
They recommend you smell the organic teas at this eclectic teashop in Notting Hill, and smell you should. Your nose may lead you to something floral like elderflower or herbal like verbena. I chose a mug of black vanilla with my raisin scone, strawberry jam and clotted cream at a meager £5. Mismatched tea sets, velvet-covered chairs and overstuffed couches, make this a place you want to sip your tea slowly.
After afternoon tea: Use the Candella Tea Room as a launching spot for exploring Notting Hill’s antique shops, boutiques and stark white, stucco homes. Pembridge Place is pretty photo worthy.
You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there is an entire department store dedicated to tea in London. With a 300-year history of selling the world’s best teas, the brainchild of Queen Anne’s royal footman and an entrepreneur, this epicurean hotspot features an epic display of tea and tea-related items across five turquoise-tinged floors.
For high tea made for a queen, schedule an appointment in the Diamond Jubilee Salon on the top floor. Her Royal Majesty formally opened the salon in honor of her 60-year reign. If you haven’t booked in advance, enjoy a cup of Countess Grey – an orange and bergamot twist on the classic Earl Grey – in The Gallery. Sit back, sip and watch the tea-buying frenzy below.
After afternoon tea: Walk down Piccadilly to St. James’ Church and slip into a pew to enjoy a lunchtime concert in the gold-accented sanctuary dating back to the 1600s. You can also peruse the Piccadilly Market for antiques and crafts or spend a moment of solitude in the Southwood Garden.
You’re experiencing sensory overload after visiting every vintage booth or shop you could on Brick Lane and now you just want a nice cup of tea while you rest your feet. Step into Pretty Cuppa, a small serene outpost on bustling Brick Lane. Order tea and sweets at the counter, then seat yourself at a sunny table. They’ll bring the eponymous pretty cuppa to you, but the highlight here is the homemade pastry. The lightly almond-flavored cherry tart pairs nicely with an afternoon tea blend.
After afternoon tea: Post tea break, head back into the Brick Lane fray. Do you want to focus on food? Go to the famed Beigel Bake for a salted-beef bagel sandwich. Want to focus on street art? Peep Banksy’s smashed pink Porsche in the square behind the Old Truman Brewery.
Does afternoon tea have to include tea? Not at OXO’s “Not Afternoon Tea,” a boozy and decadent play on the traditional afternoon tea. Here, it’s OK to drop all pretenses, skip the sandwiches and scones and go straight to the sweet stuff.
Inventive desserts paired with a custom cocktail top this tea menu. Take “Penny’s Herb Garden” with its lemon balm panna cotta and thyme almond cake paired with a chartreuse, Cointreau and black current cocktail. You’ll probably want to bring a friend to tackle the “Alice in Wonderland,” which includes an Eat Me cake with a Drink Me shot, plus a golden afternoon drink with Hendrick’s gin. You may feel like you’re tumbling down the rabbit hole after that one. While dessert and drinks are a conversation starter, the stunning views of the Thames are a showstopper.
After afternoon tea: Stroll the Queen’s Walk to the Tate Modern to see the latest exhibitions and eye its permanent collection from Calder to Warhol. Need to get back across the Thames? Take the Tate Boat to the Tate Britain.
Are you a more erudite tea lover? You’ll feel right at home flipping through the tea menu at the London Book Review Cake Shop, maybe just as at home as paging through the tomes in the adjacent bookstore. Go beyond the typical Darjeelings and English Breakfast teas, and try a smoky organic Bohea Lapsang from the Fujian Province in China. Since this is a cake shop, the cake is not to be not to be missed. Freshly baked, spongy slices rotate daily.
After afternoon tea: Before there were books there was the Rosetta Stone. Head to the British Museum to see this piece of history, along with 8 million other pieces of history from ancient civilizations through the 20th century.
If you are going to do tea like a royal in London, you should probably do one at a palace. Kensington Palace was the birthplace of Queen Victoria, who ushered in, arguably, London’s most fashionable period, and home of human rights and fashion icon, Princess Diana of Wales, making it a pretty great tea spot for the fashion obsessed. The tea service in the light-filled Orangery is so perfectly pretty, complete with egg and cucumber sandwiches, orange-scented and currant scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and an adorable assortment of pastries. This is the teatime you were thinking of.
After afternoon tea: Meander through the manicured maze and pause in the garden, before entering the palace to see the Fashion Rules exhibit, showcasing the royal gowns of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, and, of course, Princess Diana.
All photos by Robin Bennefield, who is managing editor of Marriott TRAVELER, and prone to spontaneous travel near and far.