Sweet Treats: TWG Tea Leicester Square

Sweet Treats: TWG Tea Leicester Square

A cup of Darjeeling from TWG Tea! I couldn’t resist tasting another cup from 2019 first flush.

On our last day in London, after visiting a flurry of museums and marching through lovely parks, the clouds started to gather. Hilariously, we’d enjoyed beautiful balmy sunshine during the trip, even though we’d left after days of chilly rain in Chicago. With our checklist of “places to see” almost entirely checked and our other checklist of “souvenirs to gather” taken care of, we didn’t have much in mind—except sitting down for afternoon tea.

I 💗love💗 afternoon tea. (It’s the lolita fashion meetup type most likely to lure me out of my cozy little hermit hole.) I’ll happily sit down to drink a cup of tea and savor a dessert in almost any café, but a full afternoon tea service gently thaws my frozen little heart. (And I get cranky about the misused term “high tea”!) Looking at savories and sweets that seem almost like edible dollhouse food always entertains me. I appreciate standard fare, such as currant scones or cucumber sandwiches, and I’ll happily try something new and inventive if the chef exhibits creativity! Given the tea culture in the UK, it seemed somewhat like a waste to leave without having a full tea service. As it was just my husband and I together on our last day, logistically this became a bit easier than trying to get a last-minute reservation for a larger group.

The incoming rain seemed like the perfect signal to get indoors to a tea house. We also substituted this as our “evening” meal (despite the fact that it was still afternoon) so that we avoided overwhelming our budget.

We selected TWG Tea for a few reasons: we within a 10-minute walk of the location, we’ve been given their teas as a gift and enjoyed them, and trying to have afternoon tea without a reservation at a hotel is rather difficult. I adore afternoon tea hosted in a hotel, as they often have more luxurious ambiance than a restaurant, but when checked with a few that would have been close by they were understandably unable to accommodate us. TWG is a relatively newer tea company (founded in 2008) and based in Singapore, so it wasn’t a particularly British-themed excursion, but that wasn’t really high on my priorities at the time. If we find ourselves in London again, I plan to make an actual reservation in advance at a place or two after some reading and research.

We decided to stop in and enjoy tea at TWG rather than wander in the rain!

Luckily, we did not have to wait when we entered the tea room at TWG; they were able to seat us immediately. I believe that we were given two set menu options that were very similar: a “Paris” afternoon tea that came with a pot of tea, finger sandwiches, two miniature croque monsieur with tea-infused béchamel, and desserts, and a “London” afternoon tea that included two scones instead of the croque monsieur miniatures. (I feel like I may be misremembering some element of this, because I didn’t snap a picture of the menu and I can’t seem to find a copy to reference.) My husband selected a smoky black tea and I, once again, ordered Darjeeling (Castleton estate). He ordered the set with croque monsieur, and I ordered the set with scones. (I’ve actually been on a bit of a scone-kick since our trip, but perhaps I should save that for another day.)

A variety of delicious finger sandwiches accompanying the tea set!
My husband’s tea came with tiny croque monsieur sandwiches, but I did not want to pass up on scones!
Delightful desserts from the set menu for tea!

Both sets came with the same finger sandwiches and desserts, an assortment of chicken salad, smoked salmon, cucumber, and egg salad. Nothing particularly unique, but everything tasted well and appeared to be freshly made. I didn’t catch a picture of my husband’s two tiny croque monsieur, but I tried a bite of each and quite enjoyed them! I’ve been thinking about making something inspired by them at home. The scones were fluffy, one herbed and more savory and one with dried fruit on the sweeter side. The tiny desserts included a variety of flavours and textures. I really enjoyed how neatly-formed they all were, without anything out of place.

The teas themselves tasted wonderful. 💖 I appreciated trying another Darjeeling, and my husband found his tea enjoyable.

One of the things I particularly liked was that the shop left a “book of teas” on the tables during your time in the dining area. It arrived with the menu, as it came with small paragraphs describing each tea, so in a way it supplemented the tea menu. However, they did not collect it with the menus, so I read through it while we enjoyed our afternoon tea time and used this information to plan for my selections in the shop below. I was able to read the notes in the book and make a short list for the downstairs shop of tea that I wanted to smell. This made our shopping very efficient! I picked up the Earl Grey Gentleman for a friend who prefers very robust Earl Grey and some Oud Night for myself, curious about the perfumed aroma.

Also, stopping for tea at TWG and having another cup of Darjeeling cemented my resolve to go back to Mariage Frères and purchase the Darjeeling I had initially decided I could live without. All in all, it was a lovely way to wait out the rain, enjoy a delightful meal, and immerse myself once again in tea! 🎀

Sweet Treats: Twinings London

Sweet Treats: Twinings London

Until we found ourselves in London, I didn’t think terribly often about Twinings. I don’t dislike their teas, but in the United States they’re primarily a grocery store brand of tea bags, which I don’t tend to purchase often. However, that certainly didn’t mean I wanted to pass up a chance to visit their shop. I only realized after the fact that I’d been to their flagship shop, which has been open for over 300 years! (I initially described the shop as “Dickensian” to my parents, although actually that’s about a hundred years late.) You can see more about their flagship store on their website!

The Twinings flagship shop on London’s Strand, starring my amazing travel outfit~

The shop itself is very deep and narrow, with tea and other treats in tidy shelves on either side. They had a few “London Edition” boxes near the front and a variety of shortbread and other biscuits in old-fashioned tins. I picked up a few as gifts (teas and biscuits), and they were very well-received! Considering the generally reasonable prices and the many “buy [number] get [discount]” offers in the shop, it felt quite convenient and successful. The salespeople were very helpful when we had a few questions, showcasing that they were both knowledgeable and polite.

Near the back of the shop is a tea bar with samples of tea brewing in front of a wall of tea canisters. We tasted a variety of teas and enjoyed chatting with the friendly associate manning that station. Twinings teaches “tea masterclasses” in that area, which sounds interesting but wasn’t something we had time for. As I mentioned when talking about Mariage Frères, Twinings promoted their own Darjeeling first flush from 2019 (Chamong estate). (They had the 2018 and and 2019 shelved near each other, and my husband and I spent some time smelling the samples and discussing which one we preferred.)

Teacup featuring Thomas Twining, displayed in the Twinings Museum!

The part I most enjoyed was the “tea museum” at the back of the shop. A few glass cases housed an assortment of historical tea-related memorabilia. I took several photos, which I’ll share below, although I apologize for the poor quality. My excuse will have to be that it was our first day and we’d immediately begun our excursions after getting out of the airport without any kind of break. Glass cases are always tricky, honestly, due to the reflections. I tried to get a few angles that were less obvious, but most of these would not win any photo awards.

An assortment of Earl Grey tins from throughout the years!
Assorted tea boxes from different eras!
A page related to tea and its revenue-generating notes, including taxation!
Some additional books and china on display!
One of the final cases in the tea museum area!

I’m glad we decided to stop in and see the shop! It’s not exactly a tea house anymore, in terms of being able to actually drink tea there other than samples or take-away, unless they had a magical secret tea room area that I completely missed. It was still a lot of fun, and I enjoyed viewing the items in the museum area. It’s fun to see how tea tins have changed and stayed the same.

Sweet Treats: Mariage Frères Covent Garden

Sweet Treats: Mariage Frères Covent Garden

Madeleines and other desserts with tea at Mariage Frères ♥

I adore tea (some things never change!), and I always look forward to opportunities to try new varieties—particularly in lovely settings! Several years ago I was fortunate enough to be in Paris, and I convinced some family members to take a trip to Mariage Frères. I can’t quite recall where I heard of this company… possibly from a friend in Japan, as there are several tea salons from the brothers Mariage throughout the country. Our experience in the Paris tea salon remains a fond memory, so when I realized we’d be taking a trip to London I wanted to see if there was a Mariage Frères location even though it’s a French tea company rather than a British one.

I was lucky to travel with several extremely indulgent people who enjoy desserts, so not only did we visit—we returned! The tea emporium in Covent Garden deserves its name: it’s a large and well-appointed shop with a few museum-like areas and a restaurant. I believe it’s quite new; a few articles I read implied that it opened in 2019. (This article has some beautiful pictures of the emporium!) The tea shop sections on the first floor have an elegant dark-wood apothecary feel while the upstairs restaurant is crisp white with a somewhat tropical impression. A large skylight and tall front windows flood the emporium with natural light. I felt quite thankful that the hours are generous (10am to 10pm while we were there), as it enabled me to dart back for one last purchase before we headed home.

A small cherry blossom-themed cake that was unexpectedly blue!

Although they do offer a full tea service, both times we opted for pots of tea and a few desserts. The desserts varied each time, and our selections (a small citrus cake and a cherry blossom-themed cream dome) tasted marvelous and looked beautiful. A set of two tea-infused madeleines, a staple item on their menu, were so well-received that we ordered an additional set the second time. The tea infusions included Earl Grey—golden brown and so aromatic, the rich emerald tones and grassy notes of matcha, and bright pink floral fruitiness from a tea called “Happy”.

The teas themselves stood out as highlights. I could not have felt luckier to be in London for the sale of 2019 first flush Darjeeling—it’s probably my favourite varietal of tea, and all the shops were selling their new harvest! Mariage Frères offers Darjeeling from several different estates from the region. I loved being able to select from so many options and compare the tastes. (In the end, I brought home some from Monteviot… and considering that I can’t find it on the website, I’m particularly glad that I went back for it!) I wish I could have tasted them all; the Castleton, Monteviot, and Namring King Upper were all absolutely lovely. 🍃

Mariage Frères Covent Garden
Earl Grey and Happy madeleines with a cup of Castleton noveau 2019 Darjeeling ♥

Although I’ve enjoyed Darjeeling for many years, I didn’t really know as much about it until I started reading a few articles in my 2019 first flush excitement! I wasn’t aware that it’s a particular plant as well as from a specific region—Camellia sinensis var. sinensis instead of Camellia sinensis var. assamica (called “Assam”). It has smaller leaves and is harvested by hand. It’s grown at a higher elevation than most teas. It’s also subject to a significant amount of fraud: 40k tons are sold per year and 11k tons are produced per year. (I’m reminded of counterfeit concerns regarding olive oil and balsamic vinegar…) I feel even more appreciation for this tea now that I’ve done a smidge of reading about it! I plan to continue learning more.

I wish there was a Mariage Frères tea salon closer to my home… I’d love to be able to take a book there, order a pot of tea, and read. The setting, service, and quality of tea (and sweets!) definitely impresses me. Maybe someday the United States will get a location, but until then I’ll have to keep an eye out when I’m traveling!

Tea, tea, and more tea from my adventures in London!

At least I can now brew a few cups at home in my own tiny Mariage Frères tea pot! It was a gift, and one I am enjoying quite a bit more than I expected! It serves just under four teacups worth of tea and has a usefully wide opening at the top, as well as a generously-sized metal steeping basket. I’ve owned other petite tea pots that are more a of a nuisance to clean than they are worth or which don’t have enough brewing space for the leaves to open. The silver tea scoop is extremely pretty, as well, and I no longer feel anxious about using it since I learned how to properly polish my silverplate!

Of course, we didn’t stop only at Mariage Frères—I plan to share a few thoughts about the Twinings and TWG shops as well. 💕 Please look forward to it! ☕