As much as coffee has taken the city by storm, we think most Londoners still have a soft spot for a nice cup of tea and a sit down. And some cakes, perhaps a few sandwiches – and don’t forget the scones. Yet proper tea-focused cafés are few in their number – and that caff you go to for a mug of builders’ tea doesn’t count.
To a Tea is as quaint as it sounds. It’s a tea emporium and café that is incongruously located on a dull, grey stretch of Farringdon Street. It’s a much bigger space than you’d expect – with lofty ceilings and ample room for perusing the grand floor-to-ceiling display of the own-branded loose-leaf teas for purchase.
There are tall seats at counter tables for lone sippers; two long communal tables for chai chinwaggers; and along the wall goes velvety high-backed chairs for pairs.
The teas are keenly priced, starting at £1.95 for most teas and increasing only slightly for rarer and/or more interesting brews (dragon well, ‘monkey-picked’ tea, flowering teas). Iced varieties such as darjeeling with apple, simple jasmine, or Russian caravan (a blend that incorporates oolong, keemun and sometimes smoky lapsang souchong tea leaves) with ginger are refreshing thirst quenchers for a hot day.
Pots of tea are brewed by staff using timers to ensure you get the optimum flavour when they’re finally delivered to your table (goodbye bitter, overly tannic teas).
Cakes play a big role, and on our visit there were seven types on offer, along with scones, crumpets and cupcakes. A banoffee cake was supremely indulgent, as was a dark chocolate number rich with cocoa. Victoria sponge was oversweetened, but went well with Formosa oolong (a light-bodied tea with subtle floral notes and a cooling aftertaste).
Savouries such as sandwiches, salads (nothing fancy) and a hot daily soup (a soothing tomato, basil and Wensleydale cheese version on our visit) provides lunchtime sustenance for nearby office workers.
But it’s during a lazy afternoon that this place shines, when you can sit back with a pot of tea and a slice of cake to wile away the hours. It makes a lovely change to the frantic espresso-charged coffee culture of late.