Brits pride themselves on their long-standing tea heritage. Just like talking about the weather and discussing what the best biscuit is (and are Jaffa cakes actually cakes or biscuits?), the debates on tea are equally frequent. How strong should builders tea really be? What is the ideal milk to tea ratio? Should you even add milk to your tea? These are some of the pressing questions we need to ask ourselves.
We have certainly progressed from the plain old PG Tips. London is full of vibrant tea houses, salons and boutiques that can cater to practically anyone. Though with the world’s environmental goals it’s perhaps a good idea to ditch the tea bags and switch to some luxurious loose leaf. Below are some of the most amazing tea shops where you can find quality tea.
Mariage Frères Tea Emporium
Founded in the 19th century by two brothers Henri and Edouard Mariage, Mariage Freres is a well established French tea house with generations of tea merchants under their belt, who explored the Orient in the 17th century to source the best quality tea leaves. Initially wholesale traders, in 1983 the company opened its first tea salons in Paris to enter the retail market.
The recently opened emporium in Covent Garden, inside a converted Georgian townhouse has an air of colonial nostalgia. Outfitted with old-fashioned wooden counters, glass cabinets and shelves lined with large tea canisters it feels as if you are stepping into a bygone era.
Here you can find about a 1000 varieties of quality tea from 36 different countries, however what Mariage Freres is particularly famous for are their fragrant ‘mélanges’ – tea blends as carefully composed, as if they were a perfumer’s creations. Carrying exotic names like Red Nile, Tzar Alexander and Marco Polo these teas will easily etch themselves in your memory. The shop is full of beautiful tetsubins (Japanese cast iron teapots), teaware and colourful paraphernalia bound to satisfy the most sophisticated tea connoisseur. The building also houses a Tea Museum and a restaurant which specialises in tea gastronomy.
Postcard Teas is a small boutique on a quiet Mayfair street specialising in sourcing rare teas from small farms. It was founded in 2005 by Timothy D’Offay who, alongside his team, travels to the world’s famous growing regions to find his teas. The company’s ethos is to ensure that the small tea growers get paid directly, to combat the low pay that tea workers are faced with.
The shop takes on a humble Japanese minimalist aesthetic. It’s a welcome oasis of zen and respite from the busy Oxford Street. A long wooden table where the tea tastings are hosted on Saturdays is the focal point of the room. About 60 different teas are on offer, as well as a selection of tasteful, handmade Japanese teaware accessories and bowls.
The Tea House
The Tea House is the icon of Neal Street in Covent Garden, attracting the attention of passersbys and picture snappers with its huge, brightly illuminated display window full of tea treasures. People stop to admire, because it’s hard to take it all in when just walking by. The shop was launched by Christina Smith and has remained an independent family business since 1982.
Striking black shelves against bright red walls hold an astounding abundance of different types of loose leaf and blends here. The ground floor is focused on a wide range of tea offerings including black, green, white, oolong, aged pu-erh, infusions and speciality teas. On the upper level you will find a big selection of books, pots, cups, English and Chinese style sets and china and all kinds of teaphernalia.
The East India Company
This lavish tea shop in Mayfair has roots in the powerful trading organisation, often simply referred to as The Company, which operated in the 16th-19th centuries bring exotic goods such as cotton, silk, spices, opium and tea from the Far East to the British elites.
They were also the first to record the Chinese adding orange to tea, which led to the creation of the all time classic – Earl Grey. Although dissolved and stripped of its power in the 19th century, Indian businessman Sanjiv Mehta purchased the rights to use the name in 2005 and thus the legacy of the company continues.
The East India Company flagship store just off Regents Street is a destination for luxury tea shopping. Inside the glamour of hollywood regency meets oriental opulence. Marble fixtures and dazzling displays of tea and gourmet biscuits, jams and marmalades, mustards and chocolate will be competing for your attention. Browse through beautiful, silver tea objets d’art and sample some delicious flavours.
Hailing from Singapore the luxury tea brand opened its London doors in 2018. Although the styling of the shops makes it seem like the brand has been around for centuries, it has only been founded in 2008 by Taha Bouqdib. Brown wood panels and old-fashioned weighing scales will transport you back to a time when retail happened at little charming counters.
Yellow canisters line the walls with an amazing collection of 800 teas from all tea-producing regions. If you’re a serious tea drinker you will find rare teas here with price tags in the hundreds. At the upstairs tea salon choose from a menu of tea-infused dishes, pastries and ice creams. Not to forget afternoon tea, a must do bucket list item for any visitor.