Traditionally ‘Tea’ has been thought of as a stuffy or rather old-fashioned affair. A modern day tea party is rarely found beyond the compounds of little girls celebrating with their bears. My experience of ‘tea’ is limited to a weekly affair at my grandparents (biscuits normally but freshly baked cake or shortbread on a good week) and a rather luxurious trip to the Ritz for a cousins birthday. Possibly as a result of these dated connotations, tearooms haven’t made that much of a splash on the average high street. Is the pastime of tea, something which is so quintessentially British dying out?
Coffee shops have managed to establish themselves as a place for socialising, work, lunch and pretty much any other stationary activity you can think of. Whilst this could have something to do with the slightly addictive nature of the beverage, their domination of the high street is unprecedented. At any time large swathes of the nation can be seen pacing around in a caffeine induced frenzy clutching over-priced, heavily branded paper-cups. The curious thing is, people obviously still drink tea, in-fact they drink it by the gallon. It’s just that its consumption appears to occur within the confines of ones own home or in the aforementioned trendy coffee shops.
Leeds’ very own countyYorkshire is still making a valiant effort to keep the tradition alive. Betty’s tea-rooms are a chain with outlets in Ilkely, York and Harrogate. These towns are actually strewn with tearooms as they channel the spirit of days gone by. However these are all tearooms in the old fashioned sense, something of a very civilised nature, which can be intimidating for many. For a while there has been no middle ground between having a brew with friends and family at home and a grand afternoon tea session.
However there is a growing trend of cooler, more retro tearooms. Still a lifestyle statement of indulgence and frivolity, these places are more accessible for a younger audience. Headingly offers ‘Love Rouge’ bakery; cupcakes and sandwiches on tea stands in an extremely kitsch setting. Such is the palette of colours used in the décor it almost feels as though one has walked into a cartoon. It is a huge hit with students, even males brave the oestrogen fuelled environment to savour the delicious treats. Less formal than a traditional tearoom but retaining all the important features, this slightly vintage approach could be the modern answer.
Beyond this, many places one would instinctively class as coffee shops are actually also pushing a large and impressive array of teas. Perhaps teatime has evolved to span new territories. Take Mrs. Atha’s, (located on central road near Kirkgate market), where the aesthetic is reminiscent of something one would find in New York (exposed brick walls and low lighting). Tea here is served in adorable teacups from delightful teapots and homemade cakes can be devoured. All the crockery here is slightly different, scoured out from multiple car-boot sales and ebay creating a marvellously quaint atmosphere. Could this be another modern alternative to the traditional affair? Or is it too far removed from the original concept to enter the running.
Within the Union, places such as the hidden café seem to be more focused on the tea side of things, with delicious and enticing cakes on offer as well as a huge array of infusions attracting knitting clubs and other such societies where focus is not on efficiency but enjoyment. Perhaps this is why tea has lost its way somewhat in the modern world, one where we’re always rushing forwards and rarely ever taking a minute to savour the present.
words: Lillie van den Berg