Saturday, February 26, 2011

Having a Cup of Tea

The thing I love about most former British colonies (my home country of the USA excluded) is that when you sit down to order a cup of tea, you really get your tea! Last week, I went out for a leisurely weekend lunch with some friends at Zoo Lake Bowls Club here in Johannesburg. I ordered my afternoon cuppa and was so delightfully presented with this:

A simple but nice tea tray complete with a silver set of teapot, creamer and sugar bowl. I take my tea with milk and sugar, and not having to ask for it is always a nice touch. It's the little things that make a tea lover happy!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Laduree, London, England

For a delightful French Tea Time, without taking the journey over to Paris, stop into French imported tea salon, Laduree, located in Harrods. Around 4 o'clock, I headed over for my tea and the place was packed. I joined the line and waited about 5 minutes before I was seated. The tearoom is lovely, in a very elegant French style. Laduree is known for its exceptional macarons and teas. I ordered a pot of their house blended ceylon and partnered it with a large pistachio macaron. The macaron is heavenly and fresh. The tea, perfect. The ceylon is fragrant and full bodied and it helps that it's served in such elegant china.

The Original Maids of Honour, Kew Gardens, England

The Original Maids of Honour is a tearoom I have wanted to visit for years. It is a historic, old tearoom located outside of London city in the quaint town of Kew, with the royal Kew Gardens, just north of Richmond. I went with the express intention of having tea on a hot summer day in 2009, but to my dismay the shop was closed. This time, while I was in London, I was not going to pass up afternoon tea at a classic place. I booked a reservation for Monday afternoon and was joined by my friend from the states, Jill, who was studying in London. We spent the afternoon having lovely conversation and so thoroughly enjoying the surrounding of Maids of Honour.

Maids of Honour is the epitome of classic British teashop complete with wooden tables, a fireplace, portraits of British royalty on the wall, a display of sweets up at the front, and a well-dressed staff. However, unlike an afternoon tea at a hotel, Maids of Honour is much more relaxed. You don’t have to dress up, you can put your elbows on the table if you please, and no one will scold you for taking a bite of your scone before your sandwich.

Jill and I came for the afternoon tea and so that’s what we ordered. Soon enough, we were brought out a silver pot of black tea with lovely bone china cups, a saucer of milk and a sugar bowl with massive sugar cubes of brown and white sugar. We sipped on our tea and waited anxiously for the three-tiered server to arrive.

And arrive it did! We started with the assortment of tea sandwiches, all the most classic ranging from cucumber, cheese, smoked salmon and egg mayonnaise, all on brown and white bread with the crusts properly cut off. The sandwiches were quite satisfactory and a welcome addition to the tea party!

As we moved down to the scones, we were pleased to find that we each received two scones, one plain and one fruited. They were served with fresh clotted cream and mini jars of Wilkin and Sons Raspberry jam. They went down a treat, and you could taste how homemade and fresh they were. Perfect.

On our sweets server, we both opted for the famous sweet that the shop is named after: The Maids of Honour. These are sort of a flaky puff pastry sweet filled with an egg custard. They were quite tasty, although I wouldn’t say they were my favorite item of the tea.

Jill and I so thoroughly enjoyed our tea and conversation, so much so that we were the last people to leave the shop! All in all it lived up to my expectations and was a wonderful experience. Not to mention, it is a much more economic tea than say, The Ritz. The next time I am in London, I would love to go back and sit at Maids of Honour with a good book and a nice pot of tea and a scone!

Miss Marple’s Tea Room, East Looe, Cornwall, England

For the best Cornish Cream Tea in the towns of Looe in Cornwall, head to Miss Marple’s on the main street. My host and family friend Avril took me for this proper and ancient tradition known throughout the world. The cream tea originated in the areas of Cornwall and Devon and in Southwest England you will see teashops and bakeries all over advertising their cream teas.

Miss Marple’s is a quaint upstairs shop with a few tables, a windowed cake stand and a lovely staff. We were there for one thing and one thing alone: cream teas! Before long, we were presented with personal pots of tea, one large scone and a two big servings of homemade jam and clotted cream. This is the best clotted cream I have ever tasted. Clotted cream is made fresh in Cornwall and Devon and so of course, you only get the freshest and best quality there. I learned that the Cornish way of eating your cream tea is to spread the jam on first and then layer that with clotted cream. I usually make it the Devon way myself, so that I can get more cream on the bottom, but seeing as I was so happily being introduced to Cornish culture, I made my scone the Cornish way.

Another thing to note is that the scones here are not the hard, crumbly scones we find in the states, but much softer and more breadlike. Avril explained to me that before scones, people made cream teas on Cornish Splits, which is a soft bread roll that goes very well with cream and jam. Because of this, I think the scones here are more closely related to splits. They were fresh and delicious. I could certainly see myself back at Miss Marple’s enjoying a pot of Assam tea and a fresh scone. And to add to it, the people are so friendly and let you linger as long as you want! A lovely place, indeed!

Forsyth's Tea Room, Edinburgh, Scotland

Forsyth’s Tea Room, on the High Street, in Edinburgh, is an amazing little hole-in-the-wall teashop singlehandedly run by the lovely Christina. On my two days in Edinburgh, I went twice, sharing a pot of tea and amazing conversation with the lady behind it all who has been baking, cleaning, and selling lovely cakes, snacks, and teas for sixteen years! In the off-season, when the shop isn’t bustling, Christina makes herself busy crocheting sugar covers, tea cosies and the like. Her shop is so homey and comfy, you won’t even realize how the time will fly with either a good book or a long talk about Scotland and the culture with Christina.

My first day in Edinburgh, I was groggy and a bit jetlagged after a six hour flight to London, a layover and then a one hour flight to Edinburgh without a wink of sleep. But to fight the time change I found myself wandering the Royal Mile and the High Street with my destination in mind: Forsyth’s. I received the loveliest welcome and Christina was very keen to learn about my American background and travels plans bringing me to South Africa. She showed me around the space, emphasizing the exposed stone walls, fresh flowers on the tables, quaint mugs of Scotland for sale (one of which I now own) and of course the goods for sale. Before I could say anything, I was presented with a lovely pot of black tea. For some reason, regardless of the quality of tea, in the UK tea just tastes better! I wasn’t in the least perturbed that the tea was coming from a tea bag, as the atmosphere and company elevated the taste tenfold! I also ordered a Scotch Pie for lunch, a meat pie filled with steak and Scottish seasonings, with a bottle of HP Sauce on the side, of course.

My second day in Edinburgh was rainy and windy and very bleak, but I promised Christina I would be back, and no rain would stop me from getting to Forsyth’s. I was warmly welcomed and despite the wide array of delicious looking cakes on selection (including a particularly attractive carrot cake), I went for a cream tea complete with a sultana studded scone, homemade jam, cream and fresh butter. It was lovely of course and sharing Christina’s company again was a welcome respite from the gloomy weather. I mentioned that I was going to the Lyceum Theatre later that night to see a production of Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” and without a moment to think, Christina jumped up and said she would wrap me up some Scottish shortbread and tea bags for my interval snack! I couldn’t have found better hospitality anywhere, and despite wanting to try some of the other tearooms in Edinburgh, I was so happy to have spent time with such a lovely woman in such a lovely little shop. Next time you are in Edinburgh, visit! You won’t be disappointed.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Proper Cup of Tea in the UK

The Brits know how to make a cup of tea. This is evident, even on a train ride, as the attendant pushes around a trolley, making me a super delicious cup with milk, perfect in proportion. I will be leaving for South Africa in 4 days, but am still on holiday in Great Britain. I have many updates to post from tea rooms around the country, but for now, let me whet your appetite with some images of proper british cuppas! More updates to come once I'm settle in Johannesburg!

A perfect cream tea at Forsyth's Tea Room in Edinburgh

A Scottish Breakfast Pot of Tea