“Something brewing this way comes … and it’s not coffee!” – so read a sign posted in the latest shop to be renovated on Broadway Market last week. I put on my detective hat, and deduced that the gathering pace of London’s tea movement, (along with the shop name ‘Tiosk’) suggested that if it wasn’t coffee, then this was going to be a new-wave tea shop.
Talk of London’s ‘Tea Revolution’ has indeed been brewing for quite some time now. Of course, tea rooms are deeply-entrenched in British culture. From Devonshire’s clotted cream teas, to the Bakewell tarts in Peak District tea rooms and the Chorley cakes found even further up north, it’s not like tea and all its traditional accoutrements are any huge revelation.
What I’m talking about here is second-wave tea appreciation. Unlike the tea rooms nestled into Derbyshire dry stone walls, these new shops are urban and concrete. Forget the tea cosy, forget the PG Tips. The new movement is aimed at ‘connoisseurs’. It’s a movement which borrows language from the world of wine-tasting: first flushes and cold-brews and precise steeping temperatures; and also the coffee-revolution which had devotees pitching aeropress against drip-filter.
As is often the way, the first rumbles were detected across the Atlantic, where the food scene is commonly a couple of leaps ahead of ours. Teavana (est. 1997) was the first to coax urban Americans en masse onto a cup of tea over their beloved cup of Joe. Two years ago, their success was cemented when they sold out to Starbucks for $620million, opening the floodgates for new-wave tea rooms like the Samovar Tea House, many of which are listed on Bonnie Eng’s blog, Thirsty For Tea, which documents the country’s growing demand for more diverse teas.
In London, there are several tea pioneers who have been carving out new paths for the humble cuppa. Firstly, Henrietta Lovell from The Rare Tea Company (est. 2004) and also the Lalani brothers from Lalani & Co., who promote tea-tasting in Riedel ‘0’ glasses. A couple of summers ago, Lalani & Co went into partnership with legendary chef Anna Hansden for a one-off curated afternoon tea at The Modern Pantry, pairing six teas with six courses. Recently, things have gathered even more momentum. There was Emilie Holmes’ successful Kickstarter project to launch Good & Proper Tea. Then the opening of the UK’s first T2 in Shoreditch, a mecca for tea-lovers. Even Whittard of Chelsea have jumped on board with their new-age Cold Brew T Bottle.
Back to Broadway Market though. The first thing you’ll notice about Tiosk is the decor. Forget the doily coasters and floral wallpaper of the traditional tearoom. There’s not so much as a glimpse of chintz. White-brick walls, filament bulbs, and wood benches replicate the utilitarian feel which is pretty standard in nearby coffee shops: Climpson & Sons, nude Espresso and Exmouth Coffee…
It’s not only the decor which Tiosk has borrowed from the coffee revolution, but also its the sincerity. “This is a very delicate Earl Grey blend” I’m told as I’m handed a cup. “Do you usually drink Earl Grey with milk?” the ‘tearista’ (as they’re called) asks.
I confess I do. She suppresses a wince. “It’s just that we really take pride in this particular blend…we’re a little precious about it at the moment” she apologises. “Perhaps you can try it without milk, just to see…” So I collect my tea, and bypass the bottles of soy milk, almond milk and menuka honey at the end of the counter, and pop just a sliver of lemon in my cup to drink the Early Grey as it was intended.
“I don’t get it” Tom says, as he chugs his ‘Posh Builders’ which is admittedly very similar to a regular-builders tea. “I know how I like my tea, and I don’t see why you’d go to a tea shop and pay all that extra for someone else to do it.”
“I get it for coffee” he ponders. “I get that if you have a ‘posh coffee’, then it’s going to be better than an instant Nescaff. But I don’t get it for tea.”
He makes a good point. But then I take a sip of the Earl Grey, and – oh, hang on – it is a delicate blend. This isn’t the sort of brew I start my morning with, or the afternoon cup of builders which gets me to the end of the working day. This is the kind of brew I’ve only had at a proper afternoon tea. The kind where someone has started the process by taking the tea out of a caddy, and ended it by catching the leaves in a silver strainer.
So perhaps the analogy is flawed. Just as Broadway Market’s baristas make much better coffee than I do, so Tiosk’s taristas are doing the same. I don’t know. There are thirty different blends…so I’ll just have to go back and try another to make sure…
For more information, visit: http://www.tiosk.co.uk/
33, Broadway Market, London E8 4PH