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Where to Go Tea Tasting in London

by | Aug 3, 2019

Looking for the best places to taste tea in London? Fancy a tea tasting course or masterclass? Read our guide to the best tea tasting experiences in London, from specialist tea shops to luxury hotels.

Yellow Wedgewood tea cup and saucer

Sip Darjeeling tea from fine china cups in a one of London’s oldest purveyors of tea, get heady on the smell of lavender-scented blends from Provence in Covent Garden or take guidance from an expert tea sommelier at a luxury hotel, with these special places to go tea tasting in London.

 

Tea is Britain’s favourite drink. More than any other beverage, a ‘nice cup of tea’ is what we want.

It helps us start each day, it soothes our troubles and it’s how we come together as friends to connect and catch up. We drink a staggering 60 billion cups of tea each year in the UK.

Like wine, once you dare to go beyond your usual morning cup of English breakfast tea and delve into the world of tea growing, tasting and blending, a whole new journey of discovery opens up. Start in London with one of these tea tasting experiences and your love of tea might just turn into a budding passion.

 

Best For London Tea History: Twinings Tea Masterclasses

 

Ornate entrance to Twinings Tea Shop London

Twinings Tea Shop, The Strand, London

Twinings hosts regular 2-hour tea tasting masterclasses for groups of up to 6 people. Participants try six different teas and get an introduction to the types of tea, their origin and the tea culture in Britain. Private masterclasses are also available. Booking is essential.

Cost: £48 per person

Ready to book a Twinings tea tasting masterclass? Book here.

 

Twinings Tea Shop

Twinings is London’s oldest and smallest tea shop. It stands opposite the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand. The tiny tea emporium is so narrow it would be easy to miss without the huddle of tourists gathering outside.

Look up and you’ll see a golden lion reclining above the entrance and beneath it two life-size statues of China men, sitting like bookends, a not-so-subtle clue to Twinings illustrious past.

Despite the tiny space, Twinings today is the world’s second largest producer of tea. The company sells nearly 200 different blends to over 115 countries.

Twinings History

Thomas Twining, an apprentice at the East India Company, founded the company back in 1706. He originally opened it as a coffee house where coffee, brandy and water were served in the small courtyard to the side of today’s shop.

Being savvy, he quickly switched to tea when he noticed its rise in popularity among Britain’s social elite. Thomas would buy leaves at tea auctions and then create personal blends for his customers.

Step inside the store and the wall-to-wall wooden shelves are stacked high with pre-packed loose teas and bagged teas presented in colourful boxes embossed with the Union Jack.

Customers can smell the blends from jars and ask to sample teas at the tea tasting counter where tea is poured into little porcelain cups.

Family portraits hang on the walls of the shop and at the back, there is a small tea museum. The display of tea memorabilia includes the Royal Warrant given by Queen Victoria.

It’s rumoured that the ghost of Mary Little, who ran Twinings for over two decades in the eighteenth century, stills keeps a beady eye on the shop.

 

The Foodie Travel Guide Tip: Taste Twinings Earl Grey tea. It’s said that Earl Grey tea was created when Earl Grey, the prime minister, asked Richard Twining to recreate a citrus-scented tea he had been given by a Chinese diplomat.

Best For Tea Etiquette: Fortnum’s Tea Adventure Masterclasses

Fortnum & Mason's tea tasting studio London

Fortnum’s host regular Tea Adventures. These hour-long masterclasses take place before the store opens. Guests learn about the history of tea, how tea is harvested, brewing tips, tea drinking ‘etiquette’, as well as having the opportunity to taste plenty of delicious tea.

Cost: £15 per person

Ready to book a Fortnum’s tea masterclass? Book here.

The Foodie Travel Guide Tip: The new Tea Studio on the first floor serves complimentary tea tastings at 11am and 4pm (conveniently timed for an elevenses or an afternoon tea cuppa when you’re busy doing your shopping).

Fortnum & Mason Tea

The name Fortnum & Mason is synonymous with tea in Britain. Although back in 1707, the store first started out by selling candlesticks (cunningly created by melting down candles used by the Royal household), it later began importing tea from China.

Much of this famous Piccadilly store is dedicated to tea. Displayed on the walls of the wooden stairway are grand oil paintings of ‘tea clippers,’ ships that would set sail in May and June with the new season’s tea. The race back to Britain was fiercely competitive as the first boat back commanded the highest price for its haul.

On the store’s busy ground floor, there is an almost frenzied buying of Fortnum’s famous eau-de-nil loose leaf tea caddies by the thousands of tourists who visit each day.

Customers can sample teas at the tea counter, smell the blends and read the flavour profiles of each one.

 

Fortnum's Royal Blend Tea

 

Fortnum’s Royal Blend Tea

Fortnum’s most famous blend has royal connections. Royal Blend Tea was created originally for Edward VII in 1902. Fortnum’s describes this tea as ‘an upgrade on your regular morning brew, with a malty, honey-like flavour’ and ‘an ideal partner to a strong breakfast marmalade or lunchtime Rarebit’.

Royal Blend Tea is on the tea menu in the fifth floor Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon where afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason is served.

 

Foodie Travel Guide Tip: For a refreshing botanical tea, taste Fortnum’s gin and tonic tea. I like to make an iced tea and top it up with Fever Tree tonic water and plenty of ice cubes.

Just a word of warning – you may also find it quite hard to resist purchasing some of Fortnum’s lovely teaware . Fortnum’s blue stripe range and the collection of alphabet mugs all make great gifts for tea lovers. 

 

Best For Tasting Tea-Infused Dishes: Mariage Frères Covent Garden

Interior Mariage Freres Tea Emporium Covent Garden London

Mariage Frères is known for its unique Cuisine au Thé concept. Throughout its menus, tea is used as a delicate ingredient, spice or flavouring. Customers can take afternoon tea in the Salon du Thé upstairs. It’s also open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner.

Private tea tasting events are hosted in the rooms upstairs.

Ready to book a table at Mariage Frères? Book a table here.

Home to the World’s Largest Collection of Tea

Step inside this elegant tea emporium, housed in a five-storey Georgian townhouse, and you’ll enter a world of French sophistication and oriental glamour. With its low lighting and staff dressed in mandarin-style suits, it’s no surprise that this iconic French brand is favoured by super models and celebrities.

Behind the long apothecary-style tea counter there’s an impressive wall of antique black canisters displaying around 1,000 tea varieties from over 36 countries.

 

Dark interior of Mariage Freres Tea Shop in Covent Garden London

History of Mariage Frères

The historic French tea company isn’t new though. Two brothers founded Mariage Frères back in 1854 when they began selling tea in the Marais district of Paris. On the second floor, the tea museum showcases the family’s travels and beautiful tea caddies, teapots, and antiques from around the world.

Although Mariage Frères is probably the closest you can get to tea heaven in London, there are no tastings in the Comptoir de Thé. Tea novices should start by picking up a price guide which lists tea by country, region and time of day for drinking, and then ask to smell a blend.

The shop is a shrine to perfection and beauty so it can be intimidating initially but the charming tea ambassadors are only too happy to advise you on your purchase so don’t be shy.

 

Tea flavoured with rose petals Mariage Freres London

 

Try a whiff of the best-selling Marco Polo tea (available to buy from Amazon) with its heady aroma of fruit and flowers. The Earl Grey Imperial smells of spring dew on a freshly mown lawn. This Darjeeling tea is made from the much prized ‘first flush’ spring leaves so the concentration of flavour is more intense.

For a decadent tea adventure, buy the ‘The Jaune des Cinq Dynasties’. It’s the only tea that’s available to buy in small quantities. A mere 10g of tea will set you back an impressive £25.

 

Foodie Travel Guide Tip: At the front of the Mariage Frères shop in Covent Garden is a small takeaway counter so you can pop in and buy a cup of tea. They also offer free samples to passers-by to entice them into the store. 

 

Best For Going to Tea School: Postcard Teas in Mayfair

Exterior of Postcard Teas London shop in Mayfair

Every Saturday, Postcard Teas runs relaxed tea tasting workshops with one of their widely travelled tea experts. Each week there is a different theme. For example, you can delve into the history of black tea consumption from Wuyi to Assam, via Japan, Taiwan and Darjeeling. Advanced booking is required.

Cost: £20 -£80 per person.

Ready to go to tea tasting school? Book here.

Postcard Teas is all about Provenance and Small Tea

You’ll find Postcard Teas hidden away in a side street, just off London’s throbbing Oxford Street.

This handsome Georgian building is home to a tea company that in 2008, became the first in the world to put the maker’s name and location on all its 60 teas and blends.

The company was started by Tim d’Offay who after living in Japan, became fascinated by tea.

But it’s not just provenance that matters to Tim. He also believes in promoting ‘small tea’: tea from small producers who farm less than 15 acres so that the actual growers directly receive the financial benefit of their labour.

 

Foodie Travel Guide Tip: If you’re looking for a special but inexpensive gift for a tea-loving friend, send a Tea Postcard ™. These beautifully illustrated postcards each contain 50g of tea and can be sent anywhere in the world.

 

Best For Tea Blending and Tasting Courses: Bird & Blend Tea Co.

Bird & Blend Tea Co. host regular tea blending workshops at its London stores in Islington and at Borough Market in Southwark. Customers can blend three different teas to take home. The company also offer tea speed dating events and tea lock-ins.

Bird & Blend Tea Co. has stores in Brighton, Tunbridge Wells, Manchester, Bristol and Nottingham.

Cost: £40 for two people

Ready to buy a Bird & Blend Tea Mixology Workshop? Buy from NotontheHighStreet

 

Tea Mixology at Bird & Blend Co.

New kid off the block is young Brighton-based tea mixology company Bird & Blend Co. The company is opening up tea tasting to a new generation of London’s tea drinkers at its bright and cheerful stores 

A wall of over seventy loose leaf teas is displayed in colourful jars like a giant Pantone chart inviting bright young things to come in and try. In store tea mixologists mix up iced teas and tea lattes.

Blends are quirky and modern – for example, strawberry lemonade, gingerbread chai and carrot cake rooibos

 

Foodie Travel Guide Tip: If you’re looking for a foodie gift for a twenty-something, a tea tasting class will go down a treat.

Best For Your Own Personal Tea Sommelier: The Ritz Hotel London

 

The Palm Court The Ritz hotel London

The Ritz is the only hotel in the UK to have a certified Tea Sommelier. Giandomenico Scanu travels around the world to various tea plantations to source the wonderful teas listed on the tea menu.

 

Afternoon tea at The Ritz hotel in Mayfair is the place to celebrate a special occasion with friends and family.

Held in the luxurious surroundings of the Palm Court with the tinkling of the ivories in the background, it’s a unique experience. Ian Gomes, the resident pianist previously worked with Frank Sinatra and is known for his popular rendition of ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ which is a short walk from the hotel.

Ready to book afternoon tea at The Ritz? Buy a Champagne afternoon tea experience at The Ritz from Virgin Experience Days here.

 

Foodie Travel Guide Tip: Try The Ritz Royal English tea, a blend of Kenyan, Assam and Ceylon Orange Pekoe or for something completely different, the Chocolate Mint Roobios. The tea is blended with peppermint and cocoa nibbs.

 

 

Best Place For Tasting The Most Expensive Pot of Tea in London

If you’re feeling flush, book afternoon tea at The Rubens hotel opposite Buckingham Palace. It serves a pot of rare Golden Tip tea for £500- that’s £166.66 a cup!

The tea is produced in the highlands of Sri Lanka, where tea pluckers pick it by hand and dry it on a velvet cloth to turn the buds from silver to gold, giving the rare tea it’s name.

 

Tips For Tasting Tea:

 

  • Use loose leaf tea instead of tea bags. It has much more flavour and can make several good infusions
  • Use a teapot and fresh water from the tap rather water left in the kettle
  • The hotter the water, the more tannic your tea will be taste
  • A short infusion will give a sweet, delicate tea. A longer infusion will bring out more bitterness from the leaves
  • Use left over tea leaves for the garden – sprinkle them around your roses to help them flourish

 

 

Best Book for Going on a Tea Tasting Adventure

Henrietta Lovell has a fantastic job. She travels around the world sourcing fine and exquisite teas for her business The Rare Tea Company. Known affectionately as ‘The Tea Lady‘, her expertise is sought by the world’s best hotels and restaurants including Claridge’s in London.

I loved reading her new book  Infused: Adventures in Tea’ in which she tells the story of how she left corporate life and set up the company, bravely fighting off cancer along the way.

In each chapter, she takes you on her intrepid travels around the world as she seeks out interesting and rare teas.

From the parched earth of the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa in search of wild rooibos, to the luxury of Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood where she mixes up jasmin martinis for fellow guests, she will have you reaching for your best teapot and finest tea leaves as you sip and taste tea with her.

The Foodie Travel Guide

The Foodie Travel Guide

Sally is the founder and editor of The Foodie Travel Guide. She travels around the UK and beyond in search of the best foodie days out, tasting experiences and delicious places to stay. She loves a glass of English sparkling wine, afternoon tea with friends and escaping London for gastronomic adventures.