Do you love tearooms? I love tearooms. I used to have a dream of opening a tearoom, but my research revealed that tearoom owners don’t just sit around all day with their customers drinking tea, but that they actually work very, very, very hard. (It was a nice thought, anyway.)
The first tearoom in England opened in 1706. Though no longer a tearoom, tea is still sold there: Twinings, 216 Strand, London. Twinings Tea remains a family-run business, and they hold a Royal Warrant, meaning they supply goods to HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh or HRH The Prince of Wales. RoyalTEA, I suppose.
I have no idea how many tearooms there are in England (the term “a lot” springs to mind), but for tea enthusiasts like me, the dilemma is usually: How do you know where to find a good tearoom when you fancy a cuppa?
Fortunately, Simon Duffin and Anita Volkert have already done the leg work and provided some answers. Their book, Fancy a Cuppa, lists 50 great places across the UK for tea* and cake – each with a story to tell.
Fancy a Cuppa is not a “Top 50″ collection of one individual’s favourite places for tea; I mean, face it – we could all write a book like that. Instead, Fancy a Cuppa shares with its readers 50 places for tea in the UK that meet the following criteria:
1. Serves really good food and drink.
2. Located in a beautiful and/or historic location.
3. Has a story to tell, either about the history of the building itself or the philosophy and approach of the owners.
Now that is a tearoom guide worth reading!
First things first
At the front of the book, the Nifty Fifty are listed geographically, each with a brief 3-4 sentence “teaser” of its unique quality. These descriptions are just enough to whet your appetite, leading you to delve further into the book. Here’s an example:
Fancy a cuppa in this 16th century barn where tea has been served since the 1920s - a stone’s-throw from the picture-book medieval castle? The scones here are something special, and they let you choose whether it’s whipped or clotted cream…
He said. She said.
The tearooms are then listed by theme – Best overall experience? Best story? Best cakes? Best view? Best building? etc etc etc – with Simon sharing his choice, followed by Anita sharing hers. (Guess what? They don’t usually agree.) This is my favourite part of the book! It’s like being in a tearoom, eavesdropping on the conversation of the couple sat next to you. (Not that I ever do things like that.) *cough*
The rest of the story
The remaining hundred or so pages cover each tearoom entry in detail from the particulars (address, open hours, directions – even parking tips) to the fascinating tales behind the owners, the building, and the setting. Colour photographs add to the enjoyment.
Apart from the engaging stories about owners and buildings, I was impressed with the number of tearoom owners who strive to locally source as much of their food as possible, and who offer home-baked cakes and bread. These are places worth supporting.
If you don’t have a particular need for the name of a good tearoom, or even if you don’t live in the UK, Fancy a Cuppa is still a worthwhile read. Like history? Learn about tearooms located in a former 15th c Tudor house, 16th c barn, and 18th c pub. Foodie? Delight in distinctive menu offerings some tearooms provide: Lardy Cake, Pilchards on Toast, Maids of Honour, Molly Cake, and Yorkshire Parkin.
I have read dozens of tearoom guides over the years, but Fancy a Cuppa takes the cake. (Get it? “Takes the cake.” Cake. Tea. You know, tea and cake. Right, forget it.) Seriously, I highly recommend Fancy a Cuppa by Simon Duffin and Anita Volkert. It’s an excellent resource for tea lovers, day trippers, tourists – or anyone searching for a decent cup of tea with a twist.
Be sure to visit the Fancy a Cuppa website where you can read more about the tearooms featured in this book. Additionally, a new book covering tearooms in 80 UK Cathedral towns and cities is in the works. (There is also a Fancy a Cuppa US book.) Find Fancy a Cuppa tearoom tweets here: @FancyaCuppaNow
*Fancy a Cuppa books also include recommendations for a good Cup of Joe (coffee).