A friend recently posted on Facebook that she was at Quilliam Brothers’ Tea House in Newcastle’s Haymarket, where she was drinking “posh tea”. I’ve not yet visited myself, as it’s not a part of town I get into very much, but I’ve passed by a couple of times and also visited the website, and whilst it seems like a really nice place and I’ve heard several recommendations, “posh” is not a word I’d use to describe what I’ve seen. To me, a posh place is somewhere you worry about doing or saying the wrong thing, or using the wrong knife, or something, and from what people have said, Quilliam’s seems more relaxed and friendly than that. “Quirky” would, I think, be my choice – although any establishment specialising in tea, given our coffee-obsessed society, could be seen as out of the ordinary. When I enquired what made it “posh” my friend gave several reasons about the decor and the menu which I feel say more about her own perceptions, but I suspect that nowadays many people view the use of teapots and loose-leaf tea as unusual and, indeed, “posh”.
As an avid tea-drinker who has tasted enough of the results of different brewing processes to have an informed opinion, though, I’d definitely say that both teapots and loose-leaf tea are fundamental to achieve the best brew (we’re still using teabags in our house, owing to the fact that leaves are difficult to get rid of when you only have one teapot, but I can’t deny they do give a better flavour). Unfortunately, these days most cafés, restaurants and even some self-styled “tea shops” fulfill an order for tea with a mug of super-heated water with a teabag either on the saucer beside, or floating in the top. Last year I saw a sketch on the comedy show Watson and Oliver which gently poked fun at those who long for a “proper cup of tea”. I wanted to link it here but can’t find it online anywhere. The sketch depicts a customer who, on being presented with the sort of arrangement I’ve just described, begins a stirring speech about the loss of real tea as symptomatic of the general erosion of Englishness – as further evidenced by another customer who is eating an American muffin instead of one sold by the Victorian-style salesman who comes in from the street. In the end, everyone is won round and the customer repeats her order for a tea to take away, leaving fully laden down under a full tea set, spoon, strainer and all, happy despite her difficulty in avoiding being scalded by the teapot!
Clearly, the full tea experience isn’t always compatible with our busy, perpetually mobile, lives, which I believe is one of the reasons Afternoon Tea (or its equivalent at other times of day) has taken on such a significance in recent years. The opportunity to take time out to enjoy good food and a relaxing drink feels like a little luxury, which is why it’s a disappointment if things aren’t quite up to scratch, as I’ve mentioned above. I thought I’d share two experiences I’ve had recently of really good tea places.
We first discovered The Fourteas by chance whilst on holiday in 2013. It’s a tea-room in Sheep Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, where everything, from the decor, via the waitresses’ uniforms, to the menu choices, is inspired by the 1940s and WWII. The first time we visited we enjoyed an Ivor Novello afternoon tea, which comprised everything you’d expect – sandwiches, cakes, scones and of course tea.
At the Fourteas they take tea very seriously indeed, and want you to enjoy it at its best, so loose-leaf tea is used in a filter cup which fits inside the pot. The pot is delivered with an hourglass timer (different durations depending on the blend) and instructions to wait until the time is up, remove the filter and place on the tea-pot shaped saucer provided, before pouring the tea. It’s definitely worthwhile and I’d like to find a filter to use in my own teapot (you can buy a set of pot and filter to take away, but having acquired a new teapot only a year ago I’m not really in the market for another!) Since our first visit there I’ve longed to go back, and I was lucky enough to get the chance last week.
My parents’ Christmas present to me and Southern Daddy was an overnight stay in Stratford, including tickets to a play (Love’s Labours Won – usually known as Much Ado About Nothing – which I’d strongly recommend. If you can’t get to the RST it’s shortly to be broadcast live to several cinemas around the country, so go and see it!). The following morning we went to The Fourteas for brunch, and both thoroughly enjoyed a Monty’s Breakfast, which felt particularly well-deserved once we’d walked down into town from our hotel. The tea in particular was most welcome!
A more local find has been Delicious Decadence in Jesmond, north Newcastle (sorry no photos as yet, but I found this blog which has a good review and some pictures!) SD and I visited last year with a Living Social voucher for a choice of breakfast dishes, which are served throughout the day. Despite having a really lovely time, we hadn’t got round to returning until this week, when I was considering birthday present ideas and remembered seeing that Delicious Decadence had started serving afternoon tea. I emailed Kate, the owner, about the possibility of buying a voucher for pre-paid afternoon tea, and she assured me that would be possible, so a few days ago I took a friend for lunch there and to pick up the voucher at the same time.
Delicious Decadence is a sweet and tiny café (6 tables, I think, although the first time we went was summer/autumn and there was another table outside on the pavement) with a very relaxed, welcoming atmosphere and a menu that is extremely good value compared to other, similar establishments I’ve visited around the city. My friend and I both had a sandwich served on half a baguette, containing our choice from a selection of fillings, with crisps, coleslaw and a small salad on the side. Afterwards we decided to treat ourselves to some cake from the enticing array on the counter – my only small disppointment was that the buttercream was too sweet, but this was really my own fault as I know I don’t like buttercream and only really chose the cake because my friend was having trouble choosing between the orange and the blackcurrant sponges, and I
selflessly suggested we take a piece of each and share! Along with all this we had tea, of course – there’s a huge list of options displayed on a blackboard behind the counter which extends even to chai lattes or the interesting-sounding “Fog on the Tyne”, comprising Earl Grey, vanilla syrup and steamed milk. Our much more traditional tea came in a substantial-sized pot which kept us going throughout our lunch. Whilst I was paying, I took the chance to chat to the very friendly Kate about the outside catering service they offer, so that I can bear it in mind for SD’s 40th birthday party in the summer. It sounds like a promising plan! As soon as we left, my friend and I were discussing when we might make our next visit, and who else we could take who might enjoy it. I’ve since bought a Groupon voucher for afternoon tea there, and hope to return soon – the only difficulty is that it’s becoming so popular I’m struggling to book a table!