The Covent Garden area of London has a plethora of tea shop options; even with a full afternoon of time to check a few out, I had to pick and choose. So I ended up at Twinings’ flagship store, Whittard’s, Mariage Freres, and The Tea House.
At 216 Strand, Twinings isn’t in the Covent Garden square itself; it was a short walk back down the Strand to get to Covent Garden proper and the next tea shop. But I’m very glad I went to this one – not only is Twinings one of the oldest tea shops in London so you get a taste of the history of tea in their small museum area at the one end of the store; I’ll admit to drinking hundreds of cups of their English breakfast over the years. It’s still one of my go-to’s to take with milk to start a regular workday.
As I was there just before Twinings was planning a big refurbishment of this store, I’m not sure how closely my photos will resemble the post-refurb store. The store is long and narrow and just seems to keep going and going. You walk down rows of tea on each side until you get to the back, where the tea-tasting area is. They will brew any tea for you to try before you buy, a great aspect to the in-store experience.
There’s a little jar of each tea that you can smell, and I loved the option to just fill a gift tea box of various sizes with exactly the individually bagged tea you want.
There’s a few teas in-store that you can only buy there, which are specially mixed for various hotels or other third parties. And some of the higher-end kinds are at the back in black packaging – loose leaf and Pu-erh options as well. Leave a little time to browse, smell and taste and ask questions of the shop personnel – there’s plenty of options to check out!
Tea store #2, Whittard’s, is directly in Covent Garden proper, and is not only a big, two-story store right in the middle of CG, they’ve got another space for store and Covent Garden Tea Bar on the other side of the square. Even though there were quite a few fellow tea-lovers shopping in the store that Friday, we had no trouble getting to the shelves and teas we wanted to try, and everyone in the store was very helpful and knowledgeable in answering our questions about the products.
Call me a tea geek or what you will, but I loved the little paper cups with their logo that were in abundance at every tea-tasting station! And there were plenty of teas to try; they seemed to be around every column or framing our view out the windows to the rest of Covent Garden. And not only tea, but their specialty hot chocolate varieties were on hand to try as well.
Even my long-time Londoner friend didn’t know that Whittard’s had an extra space one courtyard over, nor that they served afternoon tea, including a few ways you could enjoy it. Their afternoon tea bar is in the lower floor, and felt cozy and inviting with its whitewashed brick walls, and bar where you could check out the tarts and cakes and specialties before deciding how you wanted to take your tea and whether you wanted to go more traditional or savoury.
We already had plans elsewhere for our sit-down tea that afternoon, but this one is definitely on my list to try out on my next trip to London!
Tea shop #3, Paris-based Mariage Freres, came next, just down the street from the market square itself. This is another upscale tea shop, more on a par with East India Company – we were even served by a Frenchman! Grab a price leaflet when you walk in if you’re looking to try new samples to hone in on which ones you may want to try, as you figure out how you want to spend your shekels.
The interior is just gorgeous – can’t really tell before you step in the shop. We enjoyed just walking in the store and taking in the ambience – the beautiful wooden floors, skylight to let in natural light, distinctive tables with tempting products shown off to best effect, bin after bin of tea to try. Their packaging is beautiful and range of products can keep you browsing for awhile.
I walked out with a couple of black tea blends to try – the choices are a bit dizzying, but then, they kind of are at all these tea shops! Everyone’s got their own farms and blends – I think it’s really about finding the ones to your taste for a few go-to flavors you know you can count on. Then leave yourself open to trying new flavors for special occasions. It’s hard to tell from just smelling tea leaves; tasting is the way to go to see if it’s one you’ll want to go to them time and time again.
The final tea shop of the day, The Tea House, was another of my overall favorites – for me it had a cozy, exotic feel and somehow felt simply stuffed with all kinds of teas and tea paraphernalia in every corner, up the staircase to the half-floor above where we found sale items like tea towels, mugs, tiered trays.
I found my new favorite tea mug from Cha Cult on sale here. It’s the handle that totally does it for me – never seen one like this, with a place for one’s thumb! making it infinitely comfortable to hold – see picture below. Not to mention found a couple of great Ulster Weaver tea towels with woodland themes on sale as well.
As this was my last tea shop in a multi-day crawl that included quite a few shops, I limited my tea purchase to their version of one of my favorite black tea flavors – an apple blend. I will note that it’s the best apple flavor I’ve had – big chunks of dried apple that you could almost cut up into even smaller pieces – you open the bag and the aroma just hits you – and it’s luscious.
This was the last of my tea shop experiences on this trip to London, but it leaves plenty more places to check out next time. I hope you have opportunity to walk into a few and just see what treasures and great-tasting tea favorites you can find!