Text and Photography by Cindy-Lou Dale.
Like all of England, the rural landscape is manicured, clean, and precise—the habits of an old and fastidious land where the great British tradition of an afternoon tea in a quirky, worn-around-the-edges tearoom is requisite. A short train ride southeast of London will have you rolling through the vastness of England’s achingly beautiful countryside, delivering you to remote little temples of great tea and ambience.
TINY TIM’S TEAROOM
34 St. Margaret’s Street
+44-1227-450793 • tinytimstearoom.co.uk
The cavernous, gothic, and haunted cathedral city of Canterbury should be your first stop. Here you’ll find Tiny Tim’s Tearoom, an elegant urban retreat and city landmark (on the Great British Ghost Trail) housed in a historic building dating back to the 1600s. The interiors are a froth of art-deco chandeliers, bone china, and silverware, with 1930s music softly filtering through from somewhere (on weekends, an in-house pianist plays the classics). Afternoon tea is a treat. A pot of Kenyan blend arrives with a traditional three-tier cake stand overflowing with a selection of cakes, tarts, pies, pastries, and speciality scones with handmade strawberry preserves and clotted cream on the side. Make it easy on yourself, and choose the Plump Pilgrims scones; after just one mouthful, you’ll be planning a return trip.
THE COACH HOUSE COFFEE HOUSE
New Romney, Kent
+44-1797-364583 • ourcoffeeshop.co.uk
About a thousand years ago, New Romney (county Kent) was a seaport steeped in smuggler legends, with fishing fleets moored beside the ancient Norman church tower (boat hooks are still evident). Now the land has been reclaimed from the sea. Instead of wooden boats, the handsome church tower, which adds a little touch of grace to the parishlike landscape, presides over a network of lanes and alleyways. This is where you’ll find The Coach House, an 18th-century barn conversion that houses a cosy, family-run business disguised as a coffee shop but with a remarkable stash of tea. Mum runs the kitchen whilst apron-clad family members serve the locals—eccentric artists mainly, who seem to spend their lives there just sitting at tables, quietly sipping tea and occasionally partaking in a temptation from the display tray of bakes. The moist coffee walnut cake will instantly have you wanting more, as will the sticky-centred chocolate cake—all presented with a perfectly brewed pot of tea. (Try the Red Bush from South Africa.)
THE BLACK DOUGLAS
83 Beach Street
+44 2304-365486 • blackdouglas.co.uk
If you’re looking for an alternative to the Victoria sponge, head to The Black Douglas in Deal (near the harbour town of Dover, county Kent), where the smell of freshly baked cake greets you at the door. It’s a splendid little shop, in a murky sort of way, with books and newspapers strewn around—as comfortable as an elderly relative’s sitting room. It oozes good vibes and is filled with colourful local characters and their pedigreed pooches, making it nothing less than an institution. The Black Douglas combines traditionalist principles, passion for good wholesome food, and root vegetables, which all go into creating, arguably, the healthiest gluten- and wheat-free cake you’re likely to find in England. The most popular cakes are created by combining parsnips, pear, and pomegranate; beetroot, apple, fig, and black currant; and stem ginger with cardamom seed. For perfection on a plate, have yourself a wedge of chocolate amaretto and fig brandy cake (with heaps of clotted cream) and a pot of Ugandan tea. The Black Douglas has reinvented afternoon tea, which is exactly why it’s such a success. Get there early to secure a seafront window seat.
MISS MOLLETT’S HIGH CLASS TEA ROOM
26 The Street
+44 -1233-758555 • missmollettstearoom.co.uk
Miss Mollett’s High Class Tea Room in Appledore, a white-picket-fenced village in county Kent, is a mecca for tea lovers, as it serves the best and most authentic tea in the region. Miss Mollett’s sorbet-pink walls are adorned with interesting tea-related knickknacks and landscapes by local artists. Traditional cottage furniture and hand-embroidered tablecloths have a time-honoured place here, as do mismatched harlequin tea sets already set out on the tables and ready to receive a brew, along with warm honey-butter scones and a selection of moist rich cakes. All are made to look even more extravagant under soft-lit chandeliers. Miss Mollett’s, owned by two sisters who tend to finish one another’s sentences (related to X Factor’s Simon Cowell), is a much-loved social centre for the locals who, judging by the continual flow of customers, evidently cherish it.
+44-1353-661100 • peacockstearoom.co.uk
An hour north of London, on the banks of the Great Ouse near Cambridge, in the market town of Ely, an altogether different tea experience beckons at Peacocks Tearoom. It’s a family-run, multi-award-winning cafe with more than 70 real teas and delectable bakes. You’ll be hard pressed to top the gluten-free fruitcake and the Billy Tea from Queensland, Australia, which requires a ritualistic brewing process.
THE TEA COSY
3 George Street
There is nothing subtle about The Tea Cosy in Brighton (county West Sussex). It’s not the kind of place you’ll visit for the run-of-the-mill cup of tea. It’s raw, in your face, shocking, utterly exciting, amazingly camp, and the last word in kitsch. Liberace would have approved of its pink exteriors and eccentric shrinelike interiors paying homage to the Royal Family. Its cream teas are a celebration of its Britishness with appropriately themed Royal menus such as the William and Harry Quick Tea or the Charles and Camilla Elevenses. Do try the black-currant and vanilla tea served in colonial china (encased in a pink tea cosy) and tiered plates oozing with cakes and scones. This is a boutique tearoom if ever there was one. Be sure to read the tearoom etiquette rules, or you may just find yourself sitting on the sidewalk.
It’s peculiar, the tireless optimism that comes of being British—which may be the very resolve that upholds the traditional British tearoom, even with modern Italian-style chains threatening to overtake the market. The sedate ambience of tearooms has changed little since their inception back in the early 1700s and serves as a subtle reminder to perform acts of self-kindness, making the world just a little better. Those are acts of tea, best practiced in these lovely English tearooms.
For a slide show of images, click here.
As a child in Africa, Cindy-Lou Dale heard her mum claim that a cup of strong Red Bush tea and a thick wedge of fruitcake would soon have her dad up doing chores around the farm. Cindy’s Dad, on the other hand, professed that if he waited long enough, things like tea and fruitcake would appear. He felt certain this twice-daily ritual made Cindy’s mum happy. Now in England, Cindy has adapted these principles to help motivate her own family. She strongly maintains that people speak more freely and become more creative against the soothing sound of a boiling kettle and the prospect of something sweet.
Editor’s Note: Due to the subject matter of this article and the author’s provenance, we have retained British spellings and vocabulary.
At the time of publication, the information above was correct. Please be sure to verify this information before making plans to visit to ensure it has not changed.