In London, however, tea is much more than a simple steamy cup of brewed leaves in a cloth bag. Once upon a time tea was an event, where people of the middle to upper echelons gossiped about family, friends and lovers. Today, high tea, afternoon tea and cream tea still take place in London.
However, avoiding the typical bag of Twinings is not as easy as the average traveler may think. So I set out on a tea crawl throughout Central London, and here's what I found:
This posh organic restaurant is the perfect place for a work break or shopping break. Conveniently situated along the fashion-clad road of Westbourne Grove in the infamous Notting Hill, this modern cafe-restaurant offers a comfortable scene for chic shoppers and businessmen alike. With its open space, light aquatic color scheme and modern furniture, 202 is the tea haven for locals.
202 offers a decent amount of tea options, ranging from classic chamomile to the more adventurous Pomegranate Oolong herbal tea. The hottest item on the menu is Rooibos Chai, a black caffeine-free herbal tea that purportedly has the ability to soothe the soul of any weary shopper. The chai has a soft red tint to it, created by the mix of rooibos, clove, cinnamon and cardamon. At a rather low £2.60 (about $4), Rooibos Chai makes for a calming break well worth the money.
While the chic 202 Cafe has more of a local feel, the Orangery, which graces the land of the Kensington Palace Gardens, has a more touristy feel. But don't let that discourage you from visiting.
This 300-year-old greenhouse turned tea house has all the allure of dining with royalty. From the high white stone ceilings to the surrounding images of female statues, this more formal tea room makes for a romantic afternoon tea.
The Orangery offers a vast array of teas brought to England from near and far. The Tregothnan Afternoon Tea for example is an English native, whereas the Darjeeling comes from the Indian foothills of the Himalayas. If you want a real English tea experience, this is the place to go. In other words, you won't find bagged teas here.
I decided to try three of the teas on the menu. I started off with the traditional house blend and crowd favorite, Tregothnan Afternoon Tea. While light in aroma, color and taste, this blend of Darjeeling and Tregothnan leaves makes for a soothing blend of your classic English tea. Its subtlety in flavor also adds to the flavoring of any afternoon snack you may have with it, like a crumpet, fruit scone or the Orangery's hallmark orange sponge cake. For those who want a bit more richness, adding some milk and sugar cubes will provide that extra thickness.
My next choice was the Darjeeling tea, also known as the "champagne of teas" by hot drink connoisseurs. This tea is very similar to the Afternoon tea but has a very hint of rawness. The Darjeeling tea comes from the Indian foothills of the Himalayas, so one can almost taste the more natural sweetness of this blend.