Take a Tea Safari in London

British culture is synonymous with tea and dates back over three centuries. Wherever you travel in the country, you're sure to find numerous and enticing tea shops, located in every borough, town and city. However, if you're in search of a wide selection, then set off on a tea safari in Britain's largest city, London. Central London is rife with excellent tearooms and teashops that are easily accessible by taking the Underground Tube or walking through the city's scenic streets. Moreover, each shop tends to offer their own unique signature tea(s) and each tearoom or hotel purveys a signature afternoon or cream tea as well.

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Tea. Do you savor a steamy mug while lost in a book, or take delight in the romance of an exquisite, afternoon tea? Whether it's an aromatic, full-bodied black tea, or a delicate white infusion with subtle nuances, tea is a passion, a tradition and even a pursuit.

Covent Garden Market and the Tea Palace

For the first stop on your tea safari, journey to Covent Garden Market (Tube Station, Covent Garden) to the Tea Palace, located in the Apple Market section. The Tea Palace opened in the Covent Garden Market in 2009, gaining a laudable reputation for high quality teas. Their inviting purple insignia extends from the color of the shop's charming exterior to the lovely tea tins lining the shelves. Several of the Tea Palace's best sellers include their Palace Breakfast, Earl Grey Excelsior and Diamond Jubilee.

Read about taking a tea safari in London at http://www.offbeattravel.com/london-tea-safari-shops.html
In addition, the Tea Palace also tenders a fine selection of herbal, fruit, white, green and black teas. One of the most outstanding of their black teas to try is the Darjeeling First Flush Badamtam 2013. The characteristics of this top grade SFTGFOP1 (Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, grade 1) tea from the Badamtam Estate, reveal a light but fresh taste, subtle and lovely aroma and smooth finish on the palate. This Darjeeling is definitely a trophy to add to your collection.

After perusing the Tea Palace's two floors of fabulous teas, must-have accessories and teapots, inquire about their affordable Bespoke Blends. Whether you wish to create your own customized tea blend or to personalize an existing blend on a purple tea caddy label, it is a wonderful option for tailoring your tea anthology.

Stroll to The Tea House

When ready for your next quest, take an easy stroll to the renowned The Tea House, located on 15 Neal Street; just five minutes from the Covent Garden Market. You will need a small city map or an internet map on your phone, as the streets zigzag a bit. Once you arrive on Neal Street, you can't miss the vibrant, red-on-black shop sign with accompanying 22-accessory-filled windows. The Tea House, a family-owned business, opened in 1982. It is unquestionably one of the best teashops in Central London with a wide selection of high quality teas. For a relatively small, Asian-inspired two-floor footprint, they use every square inch to advantage. Take your time while browsing, as the shop incorporates excellent tea books, teapots, clay pots and accessories.

The Tea House, revered for their exceptional white and green teas from China and Japan, ship to discerning customers worldwide. Their aromatic Imperial Jasmine, Shencha Fuji High Grade Shizuoka and coveted Silver Needles tea are outstanding. Peruse the black tea section on the wall and you'll find Earl Grey varieties as well. Earl Grey teas differ widely in their taste profiles, due to the quality and origin of tea leaves used. And, the origin and amount of Bergamot Oil added for its distinctive flavor. For a full-bodied and perfectly scented cup, experience the Earl Grey Superior; it will reset your expectations. Further, flavored teas may not be on an enthusiasts list, but The Tea House blends some of most aromatic and deliciously flavored black and green teas in the UK. Their Sweet Almond green tea has the aroma and taste of Italian Amoretti Cookies. The Coco Choco is well-balanced and rich with a luscious coconut/chocolate essence but guilt-free.

If you can't decide upon a particular tea(s) or require more information, the staff at The Tea House is impressively knowledgeable and friendly. You won't find snobbery but a genuine interest in helping you to discover the fascinating realm of tea.

Camellia's Tea House

At this stage of your journey, you are probably hungry and looking to sit comfortably, while sipping a cup of your favorite brew. The next teashop to visit also incorporates a casual but superb tearoom, Camellia's Tea House; located on Carnaby Street in the Kingly Court, second Floor (Closest Tube Station, Oxford Circus). Camellia's opened five-years ago and is family-run by Lubna and Jessie Madan. Due to the success of their award-wining teas and inviting tearoom, they have expanded and now possess a global following. The personal touches of mother and daughter infuse the tearoom with a warmth and comfortable aura for a relaxing afternoon tea, a light, cream tea or lunch. Their scones and sweet treats are divine, such as salted caramel, carrot and green tea cakes that are served in lovely, large wedges for your tea

Camellia's stocks a fair variety of excellent quality teas in their signature black and gold tins and bags. Their most popular is the 2012 award-wining Earl Grey & Tea Blossoms with an aromatic and medium scented Bergamot with bright-orange top notes; a stellar black tea infusion! The notable teas of special interest are their Hand-Made Herbal Infusions, blended for health. For a vitality booster, try the Dancing Rose and Violet infusion for a complex but delicate floral and fruit flavor. They are currently looking for another space and they recommend you check their website camellias tea house for updates.

East India Company

Number four in the London tea safari is the traditionally British and upscale, The East India Company, located on Conduit Street. The shop is just eight minutes walk from Camellia's Tea House and routes down Regent Street (a great street for its architecture and shopping). There is quite a history to this tea and fine food shop. In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted a formal charter to the British East India Company to carry on trade in the East Indies. This introduced tea to the British on a larger scale and it eventually became infused with British custom and culture. Today, the company has shops in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and several in the UK.

Read about taking a tea safari in London at http://www.offbeattravel.com/london-tea-safari-shops.html
The East India Company's British-India chic interior draws you in with displays of exquisite china teapots and tea ware. Rows of elegant brass tabletops feature treasures from exotic teas to gold canisters and enticing gourmet delicacies. If you fancy British tea traditions and use loose-leaf tea, you may wish to look at their silver, long-handle tea strainers. These gorgeous silver strainers are not easy to find outside of the UK, except perhaps on the sets of Downton Abbey.

Several notable East India Company teas worth your perusal are Boston Tea Party and Royal Flush. The Boston Tea Party blend combines black Chinese Keemun tea with black and green Yunnan teas, for a full-bodied and hearty tea. It is also based on the teas thrown overboard during the infamous Boston Tea Party of 1773. The inspiring Royal Flush is medium-bodied, delicate and stems from a tea bush planted by Prince Philip during his visit to Ceylon. And, Queen Elizabeth II planted several tea bushes on the same estate during her coronation tour.

Postcard Teas

Your next teashop location is a mere seven-minute walk from The East India Company and is a true tea connoisseur's paradise. Located on 9 Dering Street, just off New Bond Street, Postcard Teas is small but one of the most respected tea purveyors in London. The company is environmentally conscientiousness and the first in the world to sell tea exclusively from small farms; small producers of less than 15 acres. In fact, teas sourced or blended by Postcard are sold to numerous famous restaurants and cafes, as well as major department store retailers, such as Selfridges, Harrods and Liberty.

The shop's modern, Asian-inspired interior is light and minimalist but a perfect backdrop for the remarkable postcard artwork on the tea canisters. As mentioned, the shop is small; however, you are encouraged to sit at the tea bar and sample a variety of teas. Moreover, the gracious staff at Postcard are all tea experts and happy to offer advice or information on their amazing teas. Several teas that are "must-tries" while visiting are Lotus Lake Green and Beijing Breakfast. Lotus Lake Green's heavenly, lotus flower fragrance is derived from 1,500 flowers to make just a kilo of this delicate and light tea. And, it is made by only a few families on Hanoi's West Lake. Beijing Breakfast is from the Taoist mountain Laoshan in the Shandong province; the single estate black tea is malty and full-bodied with caramel notes.

Tea Safari Tips

Most of the tea stores are open seven days a week but make sure to check hours. If you can, start your trek to the teashops on a Sunday morning when the car and pedestrian traffic are light. It's perfect for taking your time and admiring London's scenic architecture and better for photographs as well. Although tea is lightweight, it can become quite heavy after visiting several teashops and adding weighty accessories and teapots. Make sure you have a plan to take your bagged trophies to your hotel before they burden down your expedition.

Hotels For Fabulous Afternoon Tea

The magnificent Chesterfield Mayfair Hotel, located on Charles St., is a member of the prestigious Tea Guild and is dedicated to serving the finest tea. Their award-wining afternoon tea, served in the gorgeous conservatory with a lovely garden and fountain setting, is the ideal atmosphere for a leisurely chat. Your three-tiered cake stand, filled with luscious scones, clotted cream, dainty cakes and pastries will delight even the most discerning afternoon tea enthusiast. Make sure to make reservations, particularly during the summer season.

The Athenaeum, located on 116 Piccadilly, is an award-wining afternoon tearoom. The sumptuous and chic decor is spot-on for a divine, afternoon tea while enjoying fabulous delicacies and admiring the elegantly fashioned patrons.

Read more about Hotels, Sights, and Attractions of London England

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Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site OffbeatTravel.com and is a regular contributor on travel radio shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: March 4th, 2014 September 1st, 2015

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