Drink - Shane Watson takes tea in style
I'm strictly a takeaway cappuccino girl, so a chic tearoom seems poncey
In Britain, the traditional cuppa is being elbowed out of the picture by coffee, with sales of teabags down 16 per cent. In France, tea sales are up by the same amount, but all is not as it seems. The tea the French are getting out of bed for is high-quality, perfumed with natural oils and being marketed as the civilised alternative to coffee. Dozens of tea houses are springing up selling specialist teas to sophisticates who abhor the caffeine-rush culture and appreciate spending time over tea and its formal presentation.
The same tea chic is, inevitably, catching on over here. The Tea Palace, the UK's first specialist tea emporium, recently opened in Notting Hill, west London. Kate Moss and Stella McCartney have been spotted there. Taking tea is officially cool. Connoisseurs who couldn't care less about the clientele will be impressed by the 150 varieties of tea on offer, all served in white Wedgwood bone china by specially trained "tea masters". There is also a health angle for those who are interested: the Tea Palace has the widest selection of green teas in the country, and all its teas are rated for their caffeine content.
I confess, I was not looking forward to investigating this trend. I'm strictly a takeaway cappuccino girl, and the concept of a chic tearoom seems poncey - something for the ladies who lunch, Botox and go for their Brazilians across the road at Heidi Klein, not for those of us who fancy ourselves less silly. My fears were confirmed within minutes of us arriving at our window table when a gang of kids paused to snigger and point.
Yet it feels surprisingly nice sitting down to tea at a linen-draped
table, in a big airy room with no pop music and no one shouting for more Chardonnay. The atmosphere at the Tea Palace is super-soothing, the service charming, and the tea was nice, too.
In the interests of research, we chose varieties that cost upwards of
£8 for a small pot (white peony with pink rosebuds, and a jasmine tea called "Dragon Phoenix Pearls") before moving on to the non-vintage stuff, which is still £4 a go. Such prices don't help banish the sense that you are being manipulated by people who get rich people to spend even more money. On the other hand, there's no doubt that treating tea leaves like Chateau Petrus gives
the experience a frisson of self-indulgence it would otherwise lack.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where, as any retailer will tell you, people value things more the more expensive they are, and the papal purple surroundings and eye-watering prices make the tea-shop experience the equivalent of meeting at the Ritz for cocktails. Sort of. Anyway, it's no poncier than stopping off for a soya mochaccino with vanilla.
Tea Palace, 175 Westbourne Grove, London W11 (020 7727 2600)