Top Ten Places To Have Tea

One day in China 4,700 years ago, leaves from the Camellia plant are supposed to have accidently fallen in some boiling water. The Chinese Emperor Shen Nung is then said to have drunk the resulting brew and liked it. People have been drinking tea ever since.

These are our personal favourite top ten places to have tea. Some are very smart, and some are casual. After all tea itself is very adaptable. It can be smart or casual.


Hay's Galleria


10. Hay's Galleria, London

Have tea at the dock where nineteenth century tea clipper ships - like Cutty Sark - ended their long journeys from China. London's old tea dock at Hay's Wharf has now been filled in, and turned into an arcade of shops and restaurants, known as Hay's Galleria. Pictures at the entrance show the Galleria as it once was. A huge, surreal bronze sculpture of a ship, called The Navigators, commemorates the maritime heritage of Hay's Galleria. Having a cup of tea in one of the teashops in Hay's Galleria has a special resonance.









"... we talked together of the interest of this country to have peace with Spain and a war with France and Holland. And afterwards I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I had never drunk before." (Samuel Pepys writing of his first cup of tea, after a chat with colleagues in Whitehall on 25th September 1660. Tea had recently been introduced to England.)





9. Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire

Anne Marie, the 7th Duchess of Bedford is credited with inventing England's afternoon tea ritual at Woburn Abbey in the 1840s. She needed a refined snack to get from lunch through to a lavish evening meal, and afternoon tea with thin toast and fine breads evolved to help fill the gap. Tea is still served in the Duchess's Tearoom at Woburn today.








"There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." (Henry James in A Portrait of a Lady)




Gamble Room


8. The Gamble Room at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Gamble Room is the original refreshment room built at the Victoria and Albert Museum in the 1870s. Visitors to museums today might not think twice about the provision of a tea shop, but the Gamble Room was actually the world's first museum tea shop. Interestingly this room was not meant to be a break from all the culture and art in the museum. Instead the quiet moment of having some refreshment was itself an opportunity to appreciate all the decorative art on display in the Gamble Room. The windows are decorated with Victoria's mottoes on the nature of eating and drinking - such as "hunger is the best sauce".

When you have finished your tea, the museum has an extensive collection of ceramics related to tea.












"A simple cup of tea is far from a simple matter." (Mary Lou Heiss inThe Story Of Tea)



Tate Modern Tea Shop

7. Espresso Bar, Level 3, Tate Modern, London

From the oppulence of the Gamble Room to the airy minimilism of a modern museum refreshment room. The tea bar on level 3 of the Tate Modern has fantastic views through picture windows across the Thames to St Paul's Cathedral. The designer of the Gamble Room, Henry Cole, wanted it to be a place where the quiet time of taking tea allowed visitors to reflect on the art of the museum. The Tate Modern Espresso Bar does the same thing, making London itself one of the museum's exhibits.









"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." (C.S. Lewis)





6. Tea room at Flatford Mill, Suffolk

Another lovely tea room where the quiet moment of having a cup of tea allows the appreciation of a great view. The nineteenth century artist John Constable found most of his inspiration near to his home in the Stour Valley in Suffolk. Living in East Bergholt, his father Golding Constable, a wealthy miller, often had business at nearby Flatford Mill. This lovely area was to provide the scene for many of Constable's most famous paintings, and has been preserved as a memorial. The tea shop provides a view out over the same stretch of river across which Constable's famous hay wagon made its journey in 1821.










"I say let the world go to hell but I shall always have my tea." (Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Notes from the Underground)



Mount Snowdon Vistor Centre


5. Tea room at Mount Snowdon visitor centre, Gwynedd, North Wales (1085 meters)


The tea room at Mount Snowdon Vistor Centre - perhaps the ultimate in a cup of tea contributing to a meditive moment. The tea is ordinary enough. But the view through down angled windows is one of the best you'll get while having a drink.









"Who would then deny that when I am sipping tea in my tearoom, I am swallowing the whole universe with it." (D.T. Suzuki, Zen And Japanese Culture)




Gilbert White's House


4. Tea Parlour at Gilbert White's House, Hampshire

Getting back to the tea itself, the Tea Parlour at Gilbert White's House, won a Tea Council Award for Excellence in 2013. This lovely little tea shop is a personal favourite. It has been created in an elegantly restored dining room in the house which once belonged to pioneering ecologist Gilbert White. The house also includes a museum to Lawrence Oates who died with Captain Scott in Antarctica in 1912. Tea made for Scott's expedition can be drunk in the tea parlour.







"A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water." (Eleanor Roosevelt)




Bluebell Railway

3. Bluebell Railway, East Sussex


The Bluebell Railway offers a lovely afternoon tea served in original Pullman carriages on its stretch of line between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead. Part of the appeal of tea is its steadying quality, the ritual which does not seem to change even as the world does. This effect is only enhanced by having tea in a luxurious Pullman carriage once used on Golden Arrow trains which ran between London and Paris in the 1920s and 1930s.






"A cup of tea would restore my normality." (Douglas Adams in A Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy)




Brown's Hotel


2. Brown's Hotel, London

A number of London hotels offer excellent afternoon tea. The Ritz and the Savoy are justifiably famous in this regard - and the Savoy has Savoy Tea, a small tea store inspired by London's Edwardian shopping arcades. But my personal favourite place to have tea in London is Brown's Hotel. I had a birthday celebration there, where the tea room pianist played me Happy Birthday. Historian David Starkey was sitting at the next table. He cast a happy birthday smile in my direction. Brown's is the oldest hotel in London, established in 1837 by Lord Byron's former valet James Brown.

The hotel is important historically - Alexander Graham Bell made his first demonstration of the telephone here, and Agatha Christie used it as a setting for one of her novels. But more important for this top ten is the lovely afternoon tea. There's a great balance between formality and friendliness, and the tea is wonderful.





"We had a kettle, we let it leak:

our not repairing it made it worse.

We haven't had tea for a week.

The bottom is out of the Universe" Rudyard Kipling





1. Bettys Tea Rooms, Yorkshire

Bettys Tea Rooms in Harrogate, Ilkley, and York are unsurpassed. Bettys' founder was a Swiss confectioner named Frederick Belmont, who intended to move to the south coast of England to set up his own business. In a new country, unable to speak a word of the language, he got on the wrong train and ended up in Yorkshire. After initial dismay, Frederick decided he liked Yorkshire and set up his business there. His Bettys tea shop in York was an immediate success. In the 1920s Frederick was able to open branches elsewhere in Yorkshire, and there are now branches in York, Northallerton, Ilkley, and at the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens at Harlow Carr. The York tea room was particularly popular during the Second World War. American and Canadian aircrew used to meet there, and many of these men engraved their signatures on "Bettys Mirror" using a diamond pen. The mirror remains on display at Bettys in York today.