Appreciating the tea culture while living in London, England.
One of my very first blog posts was The Wonder of Tea, where I expressed my undying love for the numerous flavors, health benefits, and feelings of happiness associated with the popular beverage. I have decided to remix that post and write about tea once again, but focusing on my experience with tea in England.
After living in London for about six months, I’ve become aware of certain qualities that shape the tea-drinking culture here in Britain.
Working in a cafe, I learned that most people here prefer english breakfast tea with milk and sugar; other types of tea like are not common choices (though I did read an article from the Borough Market magazine that said adding sugar to English tea violates tradition because it diminishes the flavor of the tea).
But the best aspect of drinking tea in the UK is the tea time tradition, which consists of a mid-afternoon indulgence in tiny sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, cakes, and a large pot of tea. While the food and drink is usually delicious and surprisingly filling, it’s the simple act of halting the busy pace of the day to sit down with friends and relax that makes tea time so special.
People in London start their days early, and work hard all morning and night, so tea time truly represents a temporary escape from the chaos of life. It’s almost like the English version of a ‘siesta’; it’s considered normal to drop everything around 2PM in order to warm your body with a cup of tea and replenish your sanity with some relaxation time.
Most locals don’t actually have a full proper tea time daily, but just stopping work at the office for a 15 minute tea break is the local alternative to the dramatic, photo-worthy tea time that tourists like to participate in.
I’ve now participated in three official tea-times in London, and I say ‘official’ because I actually paid to be served a traditional tea at a hotel or a restaurant. One can definitely have their own tea time without paying loads of money, but once in a while it’s nice to splurge on a formal tea occasion.
The first time I participated in a traditional English tea time, I was thoroughly impressed with the selection of basic yet satisfying sandwiches and cakes, and of course I was thrilled with the unlimited supply of tea. But the most exciting part was actually the scones with clotted cream, mainly because I had never heard of or tasted clotted cream. It sounds like something vile, but it was actually just a very light and mild creamy spread that tasted amazing with the scones.
British food has a way of surprising me, which I learned when I had yorkshire pudding for the first time at Thanksgiving. (Yorkshire pudding is, in fact, not pudding. It’s more like a little fluffy muffin that you eat with dinner. I’d like to know the thought process of the person who named them.)
One of my favorite tea-times in London was Indian themed, served at a place called Cinnamon Soho. We sipped masala chai tea brewed with ginger and cardamom, while sampling different Indian sandwiches, sauces, and desserts. Despite the Indian style cuisine, the set-up of the food mirrored that of English tea time, and the peaceful afternoon relaxation remained throughout our Indian High Tea.
Aside from the occasional indulgence in a fancy tea-time, London satisfies the tea addict in me with its many tea stores. In central London, every street contains a shop filled with fresh loose leaf teas, stunning tea accessories, and traditional biscuits to accompany tea-time. East India Tea Company, Twinings, and Whittard represent some of the most popular tea shops, and they usually give out free samples, which is always a plus.
Besides the obvious fact that they sell tea, there’s something about tea stores that evokes happiness in me. Tea shops normally have subtle yet heartwarming decorations and unique ways of displaying their products. The ambiance always resonates a calming atmosphere, and I find it easy to spend a whole afternoon meandering around a shop, browsing the massive variety of teas, and simply absorbing the serenity.
Most street markets have a tea shop as well, which excites me to no end since I love markets and tea about the same abnormal amount. Food market stands usually sell beautiful and fresh loose leaf teas, and antique markets usually sell gorgeous homemade mugs and teapots.
I always tell myself that when I finally settle down and have a house, I’m going to buy so many nice tea sets because if you’re going to drink tea, you might as well drink it out of something attractive, am I right ladies?
On a final note, the other day I explored the Victoria and Albert Museum (which has now become my favorite London museum for various reasons), and they had an incredible display of pottery from China and Japan. Both collections revealed stunning teapots and drinking mugs that were crafted centuries ago, and I enjoyed reading about the history of tea culture from these ancient civilizations.
If you’ve actually read this entire post, I am impressed. I’m sure not many people are as oddly fascinated with tea as I am, so well done to those of you who have put up with my lengthy praise of tea for 11 paragraphs. Lucky for you, I included lots of nice pictures to keep this entry interesting. As you can see, tea-related things are often very photogenic.
To read more articles I wrote while living in London, check out: