Those of you who've been following me for a while, know that I'm a massive tea fan. And what better place to sip this lovely liquid than in London? I've been to London plenty of times but somehow haven't written that much about it, savoring the time I was there more than thinking about taking photos for the blog or making notes.
I've decided to try and change that with this evolving article on the best places for tea in London. Evolving, because I'll be adding to it as I try out new tea shops and tea rooms on my travels to the English capital.
Aside from mentioning the places that charmed me and pleased my taste buds, I'll also let you know which ones were a bit of a let-down. Today, so much seems to be about “Instagrammability” but I'll take an original blend and friendly service over a unicorn interior anytime. Bonus points if a cafe has it all, of course.
I know that there are still so many more places for me to try in London, and also quite a few I should revisit, so please feel free to share your favorite London tea spots in the comments below the post and I'll do my best to check them out next time I'm there.
The best places for tea in London
The best tea shops in London
I've only visited one proper tea shop in London ever since I had the idea for this post but it's one to be reconned with.
1. TWG Tea Leicester Square
TWG Tea or “The Wellbeing Group Tea” was founded in 2008 in Singapore and has since opened shops and salons all over the world. It's a luxury tea brand and that immediately becomes clear when you enter the TWG store at Leicester Square.
All loose teas are sold in classy tins while tea bags are packaged in the typical yellow boxes. 15 bags of English Breakfast tea will already set you back $25 – not exactly cheap – and the most expensive tea sells at about $1,600 per 100 grams. No, that's not a typo.
In total, this store sells about 800 different kinds of teas. The other, smaller TWG Tea shop on Brompton Road sells about 600. That's a lot to choose from, but the store's clerks will gladly help you pick and what's great is that for every tea, there's a tin you can open to smell from.
The Leicester Square store also sells tea-infused ice cream and pastries and has a salon on the first floor where you can enjoy tea with cake, a proper afternoon tea, or a hearty meal in which tea is incorporated. Think of ingredients such as black tea infused vinaigrette or roasted chicken infused with lavender valley tea.
At the back of the salon, there is a tiny tea “museum” showcasing tea-related objects.
My first visit was just that. As I'd just had tea elsewhere, I didn't sit down at the salon and neither did I buy any tea – a bit intimidated by the prices and the crowds at the store, I admit. Next time, I'll have to rectify that.
The best afternoon tea in London
What is afternoon tea?
The terms “afternoon tea” and “high” tea are often used for the same thing, but originally, they were two different meals. Afternoon tea originated as a meal for the upper class to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner and consists of tea with (finger) sandwiches, scones, and sweets.
High tea, on the other hand, originated as a hearty meal had with a mug of tea by the working class when they got home from work. To make things complicated, the upper class would later develop their own version of high tea as a meal that was easy to prepare by themselves when their servants were away or unavailable.
Nowadays, lots of people around the world use “high tea” to refer to afternoon tea which is why many fancy hotels in London have gone to advertise their afternoon tea as high tea.
1. Rubens at The Palace
The Rubens at The Palace offers a delicious and elaborate afternoon tea in a classy yet cozy salon-like setting. Aside from a nice selection of hearty and sweet bites, there's also a good choice in loose-leafed teas. I've written a separate post about our afternoon tea experience at The Rubens, which you can read here.
2. Kingsway Hall
The first time I had afternoon tea in London was at Kingsway Hall, near Covent Garden. I had very much looked forward to it but must say the experience was a bit of a disappointment.
In brief: the food was nice, but the tea was served so much in advance that it had gone a bit cold already by the time the food was there and the afternoon tea also took place in this large and rather cold dining hall.
Good to know:
The Kingsway Hall hotel is currently closed for refurbishments and is planned to open again later in 2019. I'm curious to see how they'll approach their afternoon tea then.
Other fun coffee and tea cafes
1. Candella Tea Room
Candella Tea Room is an independent tea room full of vintage teaware and antique furniture in Kensington. It serves breakfast, lunch, cream tea, traditional afternoon tea, and a royal afternoon tea. It's also possible to order one of their 50 (!) loose-leaf teas with a slice of cake.
If you want to have afternoon tea there, it's best to make a reservation as the place is quite small. We dropped by for tea just an hour before closing time and were lucky enough that some people were just leaving. I tried the lavender Earl Grey which was definitely lavendery but still quite soft in flavor.
2. Bea's of Bloomsbury
Bea's of Bloomsbury had been on my list for quite a while. They offer afternoon tea but you can also go in for a cream tea (scones with jam and clotted cream + tea) or simply order a slice of cake or one of their many cupcakes.
There are currently three Bea's of Bloomsbury in London: one at Russel Square, one by St. Paul's Cathedral and one at Marylebone. We went to the one by St. Paul's. It has a small bar-like seating area downstairs and a proper seating area upstairs.
My friend Amanda ordered the cream tea with plain scones (you can choose between plain or sultana, which is with raisins) and I had a slice of their triple chocolate cake. We also both had tea.
All of it was lovely and the service was friendly too. The only thing we found a bit weird was that the scones were brought up way before the tea.
Reddoor is a cute little coffee and tea place in a side alley of Greenwich market. It's named after its beautiful red door but the rest of the interior – a seemingly randomly put together collection of rather vintage-y materials and artwork – deserves your attention too.
The cakes are put by the window so you can have a look at the offer of the day when walking by. We went a little before 11 in the morning and still had plenty of choice. Amanda opted for the lemon and blueberry cake while I had the chocolate and orange one. It was really good. Not dry at all.
For tea, we had the Russian Earl Grey. I can't remember what extra flavor it was supposed to have but while it was good, it tasted more like just regular Earl Grey. Perhaps, we didn't let it steep long enough.
Overall a lovely little spot and a good place to stop for a cuppa before or after your visit to Greenwich Market.
4. The Wren Coffee
Not particularly known for its tea but I wanted to mention The Wren Coffee as it has quite a special location. You can find it inside St Nicholas Cole Abbey, a still functional church. All proceeds from The Wren go to the church, so this is not just a coffee shop in a church building – it's part of the community.
Now, I'm not religious and maybe I wouldn't even have gone in had I known of the cafe's connection with the church beforehand but if you don't mind, this is a bit of a different and much quieter place to stop for a shot of caffeine or theine in London.
Their lemon cake isn't bad either.
Recommended by readers
When I went on my last tea-themed trip to London, I asked my followers on Instagram where they love to have or buy tea across the Channel. I didn't get to visit all the places but don't want to withhold their tips from you, so here they are:
- Peggy Porschen Cakes
- Twinings Flagship Store
- Biscuiteers Boutique and Icing Cafe Notting Hill
The National Tea Day FesTEAval
In a category of its own is the National Tea Day's FesTEAval. This was the main focus of my recent tea-themed trip.
The FesTEAval took place in London's Tocabbo Dock event venue and was set up a bit like a trade fair or market, with different tea and tea-related brands having their own stand and handing out samples while also giving information about their products.
Aside from regular tea, you could also try things like kombucha and guarana. I'd hope to be able to try some yerba mate too but unfortunately, there wasn't a stand offering that.
Some brands also had little activities going on, like a photo wall you could pose for, a blind tea tasting you could participate in, or a virtual reali-tea experience that took you to a tea garden in Bangladesh.
All of these were good fun but I had expected more of some because of how they'd been hyped up in the promotion as part of the run-up to the FesTEAval. I think the issue here was that many of the stands were rather small and even though we went pretty early in the day, there were lots of places where you had to wait for a while to try things or where it would just be a little too crowded to my liking.
I did, however, get to know many new tea brands and in the end, that was my main goal for the day. I also brought a bunch of new teas back home because of course, you could also buy the products of every brand that had a stand.
Where to stay on your tea trip to London
During our tea trip to London, we were hosted by the Hub by Premier Inn Tower Bridge hotel. This hotel is super well-located, just a 4-minute walk from the Tower Bridge tube station and right in the City of London.
Famous sights such as Tower Bridge, London City Hall, St Paul's Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge are all within Walking distance, as are markets such as Borough Market and Old Spitalfields Market.
The rooms at the Hub by Premier Inn are small but definitely okay in size for London and most importantly: they're very cleverly designed. The bed is a bit higher so you have plenty of storage space beneath it and a smart panel allows you to control lights and heating from the bed.
My room also had a big flat screen tv, a large shower with both normal and rain head and plenty of space to put your stuff next to the sink – something I find important. It also had a comfi chair and a handy pull-out desk.
Breakfast is only £5 or you can get it included in the room price. It includes a choice between five or six breakfast dishes such as a bacon sandwich, oatmeal or – always my choice – a healthy yogurt with berries and granola. On top of that, you can also get fresh orange juice, tea, or a big Costco coffee and some fruit.
Oh, and by the way, regular tea and coffee are complimentary throughout the day.
Because of its prime location, great breakfast, and cozy rooms, I'd definitely stay here again.
Stay connected while visiting Londons
If you're traveling to London from outside the EU want to stay connected so you can share photos, call loved ones over WiFi and easily use apps like Google Maps without paying an arm and a leg, consider bringin a mobile hotspot.
I have one from Solis Wifi, which offers both day passes and monthly subscriptions providing you with 4G throughout your trips. I've been using their daily passes not just when I travel outside the EU (no roaming charges for me in the EU) but also as a backup for when I think I'll go over my phone's data plan.
Check out Solis Wifi here.
Don't forget travel insurance
No matter how well you plan your trip to London, something unexpected can always happen. A reservation may get canceled or you might just get too excited looking up at all the architecture, miss a step, and break a leg. Or a stranger bumps into you, causing you to drop and break your camera. In all of these case, good travel insurance has got you covered.
I've had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I'm covered for every trip I go on ut if you only travel a few times a year, you can get insured per trip. Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out SafetyWing. They offer super flexible plans that you can even sign up for while you're already on your trip. On top of that, they were the first travel insurance to cover COVID, and when I got COVID, they reimbursed all of my expenses without making a fuss. Their customer support team is great and I can personally recommend them.
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