“Tea is just an excuse.
I am drinking this sunset, this evening
And you.” – Sanobar Khan, A Thousand Flemingos
Make tea, not war. Monty Python’s (rumoured) words echo my feelings. And during my research on the history of teapots for my other post – the eccentric teapot – I was fascinated by how tearooms change from country to country.
Think about this for a minute, my fellow tea enthusiasts. The oh-so-proper tea with scones and clotted cream in England could not be more different from a bunch of friends lingering for hours, chatting, laughing and smoking shisha in Egypt.
Let’s sip a fine brew then and take a tour of 15 of the oldest tearooms in the world: from the most recent in Glasgow, Scotland to the oldest in Kyoto, Japan. The object of this exercise is to find places that are not just steeped in history but still operational and continuing to serve their own brand of vintage tea.
On an aside, have you heard about the most unusual tea room on the planet? Or rather, not on the planet considering it’s atop the International Space Station. Apparently Tim Peake, a British astronaut, took his teapot with him and created a rather cozy corner on the space station to enjoy his afternoon cuppa. However, it didn’t make our list because it only opened in 2015. We have standards to uphold on this blog, after all…
Here’s to several adventures, vintage gems, love, life and all things spinning…..
A special thanks to one of my favourite instagrammers @fukuss who made the time to especially visit the Tea House by Firuzağa Mosque in Istanbul and take the pictures for this blog. What a wonderful gesture, especially in the spirit of a shared love for travel & tea. Gratitude Mr Cimok.
15. The Willow Tea Room, Glasgow, Scotland | 1904
Inspired by the temperance movement which became rather popular in Glasgow at the turn of the 20th century, a Miss Cranston conceived the idea of a series of “art tearooms”, venue where people could meet to relax and enjoy a cuppa tea in a variety of different “rooms” within the same building. When the doors opened in 1904, The Willow Tea Room was fitted out in the most fashionable style of the time – whether it was panelling, furniture, upholstery, cutlery, menus, or even the waitress uniforms. Following her death in 1917, her husband sold the business and it has since changed several hands – from a jewelery shop to a supermarket – but a gallery on the first floor continued to serve tea. The Willow Tea Room is currently closed for extensive renovations and is due to open in 2018
14. The Orchard, Grantchester, near Cambridge : 1897
On a spring morning in 1897, a group of students asked the landlady of The Orchard House if they could take tea under the apple trees instead of the front garden, as was the norm. And with that, opened The Orchard, as a tea garden in Grantchester. In 1909 when Rupert Brooke took lodging in the house, the place became hugely popular and he along with Virginia Woolf, John Keynes, Forster, Bertrand Russell, Augustus John and Ludwig Wittgenstein became the so called Grantchester group. Open every day of the year, The Orchard can be reached both by road by Cambridge or by punt down the River Cam
13. Hopetoun Tea Rooms, Melbourne, Australia : 1892
Bought for a princely sum of 18 pounds, Lady Hopetoun set-up a small tea room for Victorian Ladies Work Association in 1892. The Hopetoun Room today is a fully restored block arcade and continues its proud tradition of quality tea service and fine food.
12. Perlov Tea House, Moscow, Russia : 1890
It was from a diplomatic disaster that the great Perlov Tea House came into being. In the 1890’s a successful tea merchant Sergey Perlov built a tea house in bright colours with dragons and pagodas to appease a visiting Chinese ambassador, hoping to land a lucrative contract. But the ambassador never showed up, instead Muscovite’s took great fancy to this rather ‘odd’ building making it a huge success.
11. Lin Heung Tea House, Guangzhou, China : 1889
Lin Heung Tea House is the one of the oldest operational tea houses in China. In 1926, they opened two more branches in Hong Kong one of which is in Central where I ate the super yummy moon cakes, which apparently Lin Heung pioneered for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Their tea service includes classic dim-sum which people line-up for in queues that can take hours.
10. Tea House by Firuzağa Mosque – approximately 1850s
Turks have the highest per-capita consumption rates of tea in the world, about 1,000 cups a year. Perhaps because the locals prefer to meet and chat at a tea garden or a tea house rather than their own homes. Firuzağa Kahvesi being the oldest of them all. Tucked behind a 500-year old mosque, The fountain at the tea house bears inscriptions of three dates from the Hicri calendar that roughly correspond to mid-19th century and the owner of the tea house claims that his family’s been serving tea for generations here. I have to admit that Firuzağa Kahvesi’s history seems a bit ambiguous, so if someone knows better, I’d be grateful to learn.
9. Hi Xin Tea House, Shanghai, China : 1885
Probably the oldest teahouse in China, the Hi Xin Ting is situated in the middle of Yuyuan Garden. Its actually in a pavilion located in the middle of a lake which was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), however the tea house came to be only during Qing Dynasty in 1885.A two-storey structure in classical Chinese architectural style is an oasis of comfort in the midst of a bustling Shanghai! Jasmine and flower teas are the most popular here.
8. Mariage Frères, Paris, France : 1854
Around 1660, two brothers – Nicolas and Pierre Marriage made several trips to Persia and India in search of exotic goods on behalf of the royal court of King Louis XIV and in the process found Tea. The tea trade started to boom in France and successive generations of the Mariage families continued to grow the enterprise. In 1854, the current Mariage Frères tea company was formed and with that came the Mariage Tea Salon. With the longest list of teas on the planet i.e. over 600 varieties, served in classical French panache, and a museum from the 19th century this Marais gem a tea-lovers paradise.
7. The English Tea Room, Brown’s Hotel, London, UK : 1837
I’ve spent many a winter afternoon, sitting by the window next to the fireplace with a perfect cuppa of tea in this glorious room at the Brown’s Hotel. Its one of my favourite places in the world and infact the inspiration to write this blog came when I was here last. What a noble thought, except it fades rather miserably to think that Ms Agatha Christie’s was also inspired to write her famous novel “At Bertram’s Hotel” sitting at the same corner table! Winner of several awards, the current interiors is a clever mix of tradition and modern.
6. Al Fishawy, Cairo, Egypt : 1773
Open 24-hours a day, 12-months a year, Al Fishawy hasn’t closed its doors since it opened in 1773! With a history of over two centuries, this mirrored cafe is a respite from the ancient 14th-century Khan el Khalili bazaar. Men and women spend hours here, beneath cracked archways and tin lamps, drinking several cups of mint tea and smoking shisha in a room packed with wobbly tables and lots of laughter.
5. The Strand, London, U.K. : 1717
At a time when there were few, if any, place where it was acceptable for women to be unescorted by a male, Mr Thomas Twiningred set-up The Strand. Not just for the women though … Mr Twining, who was a tea merchant by profession bought the space to serve tea as an alternative beverage to coffee, with a classy and high fashion service and immediately associated tea with style. How brilliant, I say! The Strand, is one of the oldest tea-rooms in London and Twinning an iconic tea.
4. The Bat’s Wing Tea Room, Isle of Wight, UK : 16th Century
Located in a grade II building, at the bottom of a beautiful curving road that leads up to the church is this vintage gem. With a garden at the rear and the lace shop in the front, this is truly a place for a large cup of tea and a novel
3. The Bridge Tea Room, Bradford Upon Avon, U.K., 1675
Double winner of the UK’s top Tea Place award, The Bridge Tea Room is picture perfect when it comes to vintage tea. Fitted out in Victorian style furniture, white linen and waitresses wearing victorian costume, this place is simple adorable.
2. Azari Traditional Tea House, Tehran, Iran, 14th Century
The Azari Tea House in Tehran is one of the most famous chaikhanehs (tea houses) and certainly the oldest known to locals and tourists. In Iran, a tea house was much more than a place of gathering over a cuppa tea – it was also a place where new art form was created the art of teahouse painting. Paintings typically illustrated religious and mythical themes, several of which are still on display at the historic Azari.
1. The Tsûen Teashop, Kyoto, Japan : 1160
When Furukawa Unai, a martial arts master and vassal of the famous samurai Minamoto no Yorimasa retired, he built a chashitsu (tea-house) on the eastern end of the Uji Bridge. Since then it has served travellers journeying to or from the capital, or along Yamato Road. The building which stands today was built in 1672, a beautiful example of machiya architecture, with deep eaves and a wide entrance with tea jars spanning several hundred years are lined up outside the shop. The Tsûen Tea shop is not just a space to have tea but also to enter a space that’s been around for 850 years and is as much about an aesthetic and intellectual fulfilment as it is about craving for tea!
Watch a video on traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony here