A strange sight would have met your eyes, were you to have entered the kitchen of Tea Head Quarters on the morning of the 10th day. I couldn’t get the stamps off the ruined envelopes, so there they sat, limp and discoloured on the draining board to dry while a bowl-full of cake mixture bubbles along contentedly from its prefered spot on the toaster.

We resent the cake again, this time using surgical tape and industrial quantities of string to stop the lids from erupting, while we completed the final stages of the recipe.

Delicious apple cake enjoyed with a cup of tea

After all the excitement of the last few days it’s nice to sit down with a piece of cake and a cup of tea. The end product is delicious, even if the smell has pervaded the entire house for over a week previously.

Beat cancer in 7 minutes

February 17, 2012

Perhaps? This certainly seems to be the message behind this BBC news article this week:


Tea has always been the darling of those who obsess about the health benefits of food. And for sure, from a medical and psychological point of view there is a lot to be said about for it. First we found out that it’s more hydrating than water, then that it speeds up your metabolism. Now we find out that it’s the single greatest source of antioxidants in the British diet and the longer we leave the bag in, the greater the concentration.

The trouble is of course that the role of antioxidants is little understood even amongst the medical profession. They seem to have a role in mopping up the free radicals which expose our cells to the risk of mutation and thus, theoretically at least, cancer. This much has been shown in laboratory experiments but it’s harder to prove this in real life. Are people who eat foods rich in antioxidants any healthier than those who don’t? Well yes, but you have to factor in the fact that they tend to be more health conscious generally. They probably eat less processed food, less salt, do more exercise and see their doctor regularly.

OK so the evidence is equivocable. As usual when these health stories break we’re left none the wiser but in this instance at least we don’t have to rush out and spend a fortune on organic rhubard and accai  berries. All we have to do is leave the bag in a little bit longer, so it’s got to be worth it, right?

I started writing this article some time ago but it got shelved due to time constraints. I had observed  that tea-based cocktails were coming into fashion – or I should say back into fashion. Now they have become so ubiquitous in all the trendy bars that I feel I can put off writing it no longer.

The practice of cocktails – that is to say blending spirits and other ingredients – does not seem to have gained much popularity until the mid 1800s and ironically it wasn’t until the days of prohibition in the 1930s that people actually started congregating to drink them. Some from the period we may still recognise, like the Old Fashioned, or the Sidecar but many others have subsequently fallen out of favour.

A selection of the kind of lurid, tecnhicolour cocktails popularised in the 1980s

As with many men, back in the 80s when my father had more hair and less of a paunch, he used to play barman and throw extravagant cocktail parties for his other yuppie friends. Growing up I remember leafing through all his glossy books filled with wonderfully lurid drinks in exotic glasses. The White Russian, the Pink Lady, the Gin Fizz, the Harvey Wallbanger, the Tequila Sunrise and the Singapore Sling. They were usually very colourful, very sweet and by today’s standards – like a lot of 80s popular culture – very tasteless.

Serving up a storm in a teacup: the growing trend for tea-based cocktails

Some cocktails called for small quantities of cold tea, such as Earl Gray, to be thrown into the mix – probably the most famous example being the Long Island Iced Tea. Rather like adding Angostura Bitters, the effect is to make the drink a little more savoury, a little more tannic, a little more interesting and a little more shall we say grown up. In contrast to the cloyingly sweet cocktails and ‘alcopops’ of the 90s and early naughties it is easy to see why these flavours are now reappearing on the cocktail menus.

Obviously at Noveltea we’re very partial to tea and not impartial to cocktails either so this fusion is right up our street. In addition to our usual research of finding decent tea rooms we have been on the look out for places serving good tea cocktails. The best so far is probably Papajis lively bar-cum-tearoom in Bristol who serve a selection of delicious aromatic cocktails including one particularly interesting one based around hot sake.

If you stumble upon any good tea-based cocktails then please do let us know. In the meantime here are some recipes for you to try at home:

1) The Oolong Moojito

  • 2 parts rum
  • generous squeeze of fresh lime juice
  • unrefined/cane sugar or sugar syrup
  • fresh mint
  • 2-3 tsp cooled Oolong tea
  • 1-2 drops of soda water to taste

The tricky thing about mojitos is the lack of mixers, which can make it a bit difficult to gauge quantities. The trick is to be generous with a good quality white or golden rum and buy plenty more limes and mint than you think you need.

Smack the mint leaves between the palms of your hands and muddle in the glass with the lime juice and sugar. If you don’t like the granular texture of the sugar then consider making up a litre or two of sugar syrup (boil water and sugar and allow to cool) which has a practically indefinite shelf-life in the fridge.  Add the tea. Fill the glass with ice, top with a small quantity of soda water and stir. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.


2) a REAL long Island Iced Tea

  • 1 part vodka
  • 1 part tequila
  • 1 part light rum
  • 1 part dart rum
  • 1 part tripple sec
  • 1 part cold Earl Gray
  • Good squeeze of lemon
  • Coke

There are 101 recipes for Long Island Iced Tea but trust us, this is the daddio. Coke is NOT a main ingredient of this drink and it is a big mistake to use too much. It is only used to top up the last finger or two in order to add colour and to carbonate the drink. You will need to invest in several different spirits. I like to spread it over several different shopping trips so as to conceal the cost.

Place all the ingredients (except for the Coke) in a shaker with ice and mix thoroughly for at least 30 seconds. Top a tall tumbler up to the brim with fresh ice cubes and pour over the mixture. Finish with Coke and a sprig of mint.

We received a question the other day by email:


“Hi, I have recently moved to the UK from Canada. Many things baffle me about this country, but nothing more so than the word, ‘tea’. What on earth does it mean, please?”  Jake, London.


Dear Jake,

Thank you for your question. It is one which troubles not only visitors to these shores, but many locals too. The word “tea” is used in different contexts. Confusingly it can refer to two things:

1) A drink (usually served with milk and a healthy dose of gossip, as in “let’s stop for a cup of tea”)

The word ‘tea’ on its own usually means a meal. Lower and lower-middle classes, and many people in the North of England traditionally refer to the meal eaten between 6-8 as “tea”, which originates from the practice of only eating 3 meals a day (breakfast, dinner – meaning lunch – and tea). If they wish to distinguish between “tea” (the meal) and “tea” (served between 4-6 with tea, bread, cakes etc.) they say “high tea”.

English upper and upper-middle classes tend to eat somewhat later, and refer to the meal served between 7-9 as “dinner” (formal) or “supper” (informal). The meal served between 3-5 is referred to as “afternoon tea” or sometimes just “tea”, as there is no risk of confusing it with any other meal.

Or 2) or a meal (as in, “I’m starving, what’s for tea?”).

People of all classes and backgrounds also enjoy tea as a standalone entity, but tend to distinguish it from a meal by quantifying it i.e.  “a cup of tea”, or just “a tea”.

The bottom line:

People get very worked up about this distinction. Indeed, even amongst the British, etiquette is a great source of stress (even fear). Allow me to impart the following advice:

1) Don’t worry! Take solace in Dr Seuss’ mantra that “those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter”. Any self-respecting English host will make clear their intentions on the invitation and will be graceful, kind and humorous should any mistakes arise.
2) If in doubt ask. There is such an acceptable variation in what is meant by “tea” that there is no shame in asking for clarification.
3) Enjoy! The English tea custom has fascinated me for many years. Wherever you go for tea, whatever you eat, and whoever you share it with, you will not only experience one of our most interesting social rituals, but one of our tastiest!

Debretts etiquette for girls book opf modern manners

Teatime etiquette in modern Britain: Minefield.

For more information have a look at my website www.noveltea.co.uk

Ceylon Tea

May 25, 2011

Tea signs in Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

Ceylon has always been associated with tea, and it seems that this connection goes more than skin deep. Everywhere you go in Sri Lanka there are signs and placards advertising tea to tourists and locals alike. These are some picutres we took in the South.

Chai Adventures in Tea,


EH1 2QD.


The first adventure here is to navigate your way through an eclectic (some might say bizarre) cultural buffet of uncomfortable-looking furniture which greets you as you enter. We neglected the wooden ottomans, low poufs and contemporary wicker in favour of a divan by a pillar and some high backed thrones. Also unusual – although perhaps the mode this far North – was the presence of a pleasingly well-stocked bar, serving a range of promising-looking tea-infused cocktails served (from what we could gather) from breakfast onwards. So far so good. Rough little brown tea pots arrived which were disobedient to the point of stubbornness and sat on weighty brown perforated trays which enjoyed more of the excellent brews than we did. There’s a large range of (mostly) China tea including some personal favourites like Silver Needle and more exotic sounding specimens like White Monkey, both of which we sampled and neither of which disappointed one little bit – even at £3.50 a pop (this sort of price scheme does actually make sense if you plump for multiple infusions which they were happy to do for us at no extra cost). There was a choice array of bar snacks but slightly lacklustre collection of cakes; it pays to ask though because I was brought some wonderfully light oven-fresh scones, scalding to the touch and steaming to the tear. To accompany them, butter in place of clotted cream (unexpected in the nation that proudly calls itself Congenital Heart Disease home) and a plummy raspberry jam. Perhaps we were unrealistic to hope that the “adventure” we had been promised would include elephants and dancing bears, and the tatty laminated menus looked a little out of place but the concept’s sound and you’ll eat and drink in style.

Tea in India

May 11, 2011

No photos this time I’m afraid. My camera, which has suffered weeks of abuse at the beach, the bar and bazaar, had finally had enough. No matter…

Sri Lanka is only separated from India by a few kilometres of sea at the closest point, but they feel worlds apart. We arrived in Chennai airport almost a week ago and have been mixing exploring the Tamil Nadu region with a bit of voluntary work in the Christian Missionary hospital in Vellore. Compared to Sri Lanka it’s hot, dry, dusty, dirty and overpopulated. There’s a lot more poverty evident here, and many people live without basic sanitation, or even a roof over their heads.

As in our country, tea is one of the great social unifiers here. Everyone from the maids and rickshaw drivers to the wealthiest businessmen start their day with a cup of chai. At the hospital canteen where we have breakfast it’s served piping hot in two small metal cups, the contents of which you transfer backwards and forwards to cool it. The doctors, nurses, cooks and cleaners make this look very easy but to the uninitiated like ourselves the result is usually several burnt fingers and a big mess.

Last weekend we explored Pondicherry, an old French settlement to the South, and next weekend we’ve booken tickets to an IPL match – India’s new 20-20 cricket premier league – in Bangalore. Cricket is probably overtaking tea as a national obsession so it will be fascinating to experience it first hand.

Hopefully we’ll have mended/replaced our dying camera by then…

5am start to see sunrise over Sri Lankan tea plantations

Unreliable internet access has meant we’ve been unable to blog as regularly as we would have liked. Now we’re in back Colombo to watch the Royal Wedding so here’s a little update…

Last week we arrived in Ella, in the foothills, famous for it’s lush green jungles and orderly tea plantations. On the South Coast it had been scorching hot, well into the 30s and as soon as we got up to pour a drink we’d break into a cloying sweat. It was naive to think, however, that in a country as verdant as this, the weather would hold. Of course, we were wrong.

In Ella the monsoon rains came. It rained and it rained and it rained. Then there would be a small sunny window, where folks would start to put out their washing… and then it would rain again. With the rain, the mosquitoes disappeared, but in their stead came the leeches. We suffered terribly as we trekked through long grass and scrabbled over the wet rocks, and when we came home we had to burn the little blighters off one by one.

One morning, we got up early and climbed a rock the locals call “Little Adam’s Peak” – an hour’s climb from the town – from where we were rewarded with fantastic views of the sun rising over the plantations, and the famous ‘Ella Gap’.

From Ella, we headed further North, to Nuwara Eliya, the highest settlement on the island, where the early colonialists flattered the hilltop forests and planted row upon row of immaculate tea bushes in their stead. The road winds up and up through the hills, and on either side, the ramshackle tea factories vie for pride of place. We stopped for a few tastings along the way and finally reached the Grand Hotel where we were treated with our first afternoon tea in an incredible 3 weeks!

Our first tea in Sri Lanka...

We’ve arrived in Sri Lanka, and here we are on the South Coast enjoying our first tea of the trip. They make iced tea the old fashioned way with freshly brewed tea, fresh lime, ice and LOADS of sugar. The result? About the most refreshing drink you can get until the sun crosses the yard arm,

Amongst our most pleasant discoveries since arriving is that yard-arm-sun-crossing seems to happen much earlier here…

Next week, we head North to the foothills, for our tour of the tea plantations.

24a Bridge Street,

Bradford on Avon,


BA15 1BY.


01225 865537

Afternoon tea at the Bridge tearooms, wiltshire

"Journey back in time to the Victorian Era". Oh piss off.

Bare with us on this one because The Bridge is an excellent tearoom…. but there are some issues need sorting out. It does try very, very hard to cling to its noble lineage. Built sometime in the 17th Century in the picturesque riverside town of Bradford-upon-Avon, near Bath, it commands pride of place by the river and has won numerous awards for its traditional afternoon tea. They market themselves as having, “authentic Victorian surroundings” but unfortunately rather than actually appearing Victorian, it just looks like they’re trying to appear Victorian and the electronic till, refrigerated cabinets and wireless credit card readers are slightly incongruous with the low ceilings, oak beams and period costumes. Anyone with so much as a passing interest in tea, history, architecture or even just good taste would see through the sham immediately. The bridge isn’t the only tearoom we’ve come across now where this has been a problem and we would strongly encourage those proprietors who do dress A Level students olds up like dowdy maids in the hope of appealing to tourists – unless they derive a kick of personal gratification from it – to give the practice the boot. And while we’re at it if you’re going to go on endlessly about 32 varieties of loose leaf tea, fine bone china and three tier cake stands in your literature don’t bloomin’ well use plastic table cloths and paper napkins. It’s not on guys.

What’s frustrating is that they could be excellent. If you can look past this – and we’re glad we chose to – you can look forward to some very fine tea and brilliant service from waitresses clearly rushed of their pins. It’s frantically busy during season so you need to book and they only start serving tea at 2:30 so if like us you’re trying to sneak in a crafty few before lunch it’s not ideal. Reasonably priced by afternoon tea standards but you’d feel a little hard done by if you parted with £37 a head for the Champagne model. We look forward to returning as soon as we receive written confirmation that they’ll be dropping the tiresome Yea Olde Worlde facade.

See more tearooms in the South West