Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

The Cream Tea Award

on April 13, 2012

My late mother was a huge fan of tea.  The drink, primarily, but also the meal by the same name.  Actually, depending on where you come from, there can be various meals or snacks which go by that name, and having been a part of Southern Daddy’s family for almost 15 years I have come to apply it to all of them.  Anyway, it’s safe to say that whatever you mean when you say “tea”, my mother enjoyed it!

During my childhood she sometimes bought a copy of the Just a Bite guide, by the food critic Egon Ronay, which was published each year for a period during the 80s and 90s and included recommendations of tea shops around the UK which provided particularly good service or food.  When on holiday we used to visit some of the establishments mentioned in the book – in fact, some of our days out would centre around a trip to one or more of these tea shops!  On one occasion we visited the place which had been awarded a top mention in the book (either in a certain category or overall, I forget which) and which was proudly displaying the prize – a large teapot bearing an inscription with details of the accolade – on a table at one end of the room.  Amusingly, during our visit, one customer became extremely upset about the service (whether justifiably so or not, I have no idea) and at one point stood up and shouted at the waitress.  My grandparents, who were with us at the time and who were extremely keen on the art of people watching, began to suggest that this might in fact be Egon Ronay himself in disguise, and that at any moment he would snatch back his teapot and leave!  Happily, no such drama occurred and as far as I’m aware the incident was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Anyway, so many experiences of afternoon tea (as well as morning tea and high tea*) during my formative years could not but leave an impression and, in my turn, I have become an adherent of the tea shop myself.  As I’ve grown older I’ve also noticed that my tastes have gradually moved away from the extremely sweet cakes and confections I enjoyed as a child and towards the slightly less sweet (although still sweet) pastries and scones.  Which leads me to the main focus of this post – the cream tea.  A cream tea consists of scones served with jam and cream, along with a pot of tea (sometimes it forms part of afternoon tea, which can also include sandwiches and cake).  I love cream teas and over the course of the summer months (which I officially see as May to September but for cream tea purposes can sometimes extend from February to October) will consume many in various places.

Over the last few years I have naturally begun to compare the teas, especially when we’re on holiday and able to partake of several in the same week.  Factors such as cost, quality, size are taken into account and at the end of the summer I decided on the one or two teas worthy of the Cream Tea Award.  I should just mention at this point that there is no actual award – I don’t have the wherewithal to commission the creation of giant hand-painted teapots – and the establishments themselves are not notified.  That wouldn’t really be fair, without much more extensive research (although that’s something I’d be happy to undertake, given the necessary funding!).  However, I did think it would be appropriate to share my discoveries and recommendations here.

Obviously the criteria are pretty subjective to an extent, as I have certain stipulations in a cream tea which not everyone shares.  For one thing, when it comes to the order of dressing the scones, I belong to the Devonian school of thought: the cream serves as an alternative to butter and therefore should be spread onto the scone first, with the jam on top (sorry, but my mother’s grandparents lived in Devon and she therefore brought me up to know that this is the Right Way).  For this to be possible, the cream must be clotted cream, as if you try to spread jam on top of any other kind of cream you just end up with a big mess – a delicious one, but difficult to eat in the polite way appropriate to afternoon tea.  Anyway, clotted cream is just better than any other kind of cream so it gets better marks in my book.  But what I’m trying to say is that it’s difficult to set a rigid pattern for marking the teas and so in each case I shall try to explain what I did and didn’t like about them.  Generally you get better marks for non-refrigeration of scones, fresh milk for the tea, clotted cream, freshly baked scones, jam which isn’t too “set” (nicer, and also easier to spread on top of the cream), a choice of plain or fruit scones, a warm and welcoming environment (I’m not a fan of draughts or wasps so that puts me off).

This year I shall be definitely be visiting Dorset, the Lake District and Northumberland, and possibly elsewhere including London.  I’d appreciate recommendations for places to visit and shall feed back here about any I try.  A lot of the time I tend to visit National Trust tea shops as we’re members and so prefer to spend time on our holidays visiting their properties and gardens, as opposed to paying again to visit other places (more money left over for food, you see!).  But I do like a good tea shop generally and will also have tea in a hotel if the need arises.

Here’s a recommendation to start off with, to enjoy from the comfort of your own home:  a cream tea from the Delimann.  This site is run by Mann’s Deli in Bovey Tracey, Devon and provides delicious treats and gifts by post.  There are various different cream teas (the one I’ve highlighted here is the cheapest but designed to serve 4) as well as a range of other delights.  I recently sent a Coffee Lover’s Hamper to my stepmother for Mothers’ Day.  Sadly I haven’t been a recipient of this service (yet) but I heard from a friend today that the Cream Tea I sent her for her birthday was most delicious, so have no qualms in recommending it to you.  I should also add that their customer service is fantastic and they really go the extra mile to make you feel valued.

I look forward to sharing my discoveries and recommendations with you over this summer!

*Incidentally, high tea is something completely different from morning, afternoon or cream teas, in that it’s a hot meal, although some people are not clear on this and give them the wrong names.  This tends to be because they have grown up referring to their evening meal as dinner and have then heard of high tea and attempted to slot it into an appropriate place during the day.  In fact, I believe that high tea was what servants ate in the late afternoon prior to serving dinner to their employers (so called because it was served at a high dining table, as opposed to the afternoon tea served above stairs on a low occasional table).  Nobody should be considering having both!

2 responses to “The Cream Tea Award

  1. Alice says:

    Ooh I do like this idea! It would be funny to send everyone who makes the top three a little hand-written certificate!!! Xx

  2. fionamerrick says:

    Love this post, and love Alice’s idea! You should definitely do that – it would probably make their day! xxx

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