This week’s post is written by Guest Contributor, Marie Peeler
A tea drinking journey through Edinburgh
“I’m what I refer to as a tea-nerd, AKA a tea-geek.
Not to be confused with a tea-professional, such as Caroline Hope, or simply a tea-drinker, like billions of people world-wide, a tea-nerd is enthusiastic about drinking, serving, and learning about tea without a business connection to justify the pursuit. I take courses about tea, partake of afternoon tea, visit tea plantations, and trade teas with like-minded friends, just because, well, I like to.
I’m also an avid traveler and I love to combine my passions. On a recent trip to Edinburgh, I sought out all manner of ‘tea-places’ and was richly rewarded for my efforts. I was surprised just how many Edinburgh tea rooms were located within a short walking distance from the castle. On my first day of a two-week trip (I wasn’t wasting any time) I headed southwest and west of the Old Town on a search for places that sold or served tea. Here’s what I found.
A delightful shop on Bruntsfield Place, Rosevear Tea demonstrates what happens when people who truly love tea open a shop and only hire people who truly love tea. The shop has a clean, modern, yet warm aesthetic and the owners and staff are all knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and personable.
While you may find a cake plate with something delectable on it to eat, Rosevear is not a café. It is a tea shop and they are serious (but friendly) about tea. With over 60 varieties of loose-leaf teas and herbal infusions the shop is a tea aficionadas paradise.
On this, my first visit, they had just added two Jukro teas from the Hadong Province of South Korea to their selection. I did not purchase the rare teas but thought them to be an impressive addition to their selection and I loved their enthusiasm for the teas. On a subsequent visit, craving a ‘comfort tea’ I purchased an organic blend called Bruntsfield Breakfast, which lived up to expectations for a robust full-flavored breakfast blend.
From there, on a bit of a tea high, I floated about a quarter of a mile down the street to Pekoe Tea where I was quickly deflated. When I entered, someone sitting at the counter told me that “she’s” downstairs and would be up in a minute. When the woman being referred to did come upstairs, she ignored me and carried on talking to the person at the counter whom I surmised was a vendor. After a bit, I left without ever being acknowledged.
To be fair, I did try again later in my Edinburgh stay and this time I was greeted, but the shop, which stocks teas displayed mostly on lower shelves, and the tea selection itself, just weren’t appealing to me.
Loudons Café and Bakery
By this time, I was hungry, so I made my next and final stop of the day at Loudons Café and Bakery.
While not strictly a ‘tea-place’, Loudons made my list because:
- They serve tea and value it enough to have a tea menu.
- They serve cream tea, my favorite pick-me-up, as well as a more robust afternoon tea with little sandwiches (gluten free bread available), scones with jam and clotted cream, and cake, all with or without prosecco.
The tea menu is a well-curated, if quite basic, collection of the usual suspects: English Breakfast (also decaf), Earl Grey, Darjeeling, a black tea blend they call Blue Lady, Yunnan, Jasmine Dragon Pearl, an Oolong, and an assortment of herbal tisanes. The website currently notes that Pekoe, mentioned above, supplies their tea.
If one desires something other than tea, the meal or the drink, Loudons has extensive breakfast, lunch, and coffee menus, as well as an amazing selection of tempting baked goods. Their scones were consistently good. (I know. I subsequently enjoyed them on multiple occasions.) For my American friends: Please note these were not the sugary triangle shaped confections that we call scones. Rather, these were proper English scones, the perfect base for sweet jam and clotted cream – you can learn to make these with Caroline!
Royal Mile Tea Rooms
Forsyth’s Tea Room
The next day on the Royal Mile, where I again searched for sustenance (read tea and scones), my first stop was Forsyth’s Tea Room. Tucked inside a close, one of those tiny alleyways for which old Edinburgh is known, it was a bit tricky to find. I was the only one there save the blue-haired lady owner behind the counter and the friend or employee with which she was chatting. After I selected a table and waited a bit, frankly, the deserted windowless café felt creepy and inhospitable, so I escaped, apparently unnoticed.
Clarinda’s Tea Room
Back out on the bustling street, I made my way to Clarinda’s Tea Room, also on the Royal Mile. Clarinda’s is bright, quirky, and was quite busy the day I was there. Inside the entrance, there is a sign instructing patrons to share the tables. But joining a table can be a bit of an awkward affair, as it’s easy to feel like a party crasher at the small tables. The house tea at Clarinda’s is Brodies (the breakfast blend, I believe.) I thought it was a nice enough tea but if you order afternoon tea or cream tea and want something else, you must specify, and be prepared to pay extra. This didn’t bother me as it was stated on the menu but it is a bit quirky and, online, some people were annoyed.
Clarinda’s is charming almost to the point of being kitschy and I believe that is, indeed, the establishment’s main draw. It’s not the service, which was adequate. It’s not the tastiness of the baked goods which I found a bit dry and some say are overly sweet. It’s certainly not the cash-only policy which is another quirk and sends a steady stream of patrons in search of an ATM. But with an abundance of cabbage rose wall-paper, mis-matched china, and Robert Burns memento laden walls, Clarinda’s has a certain vibe of old-fashioned ‘Britishness’ with a Scottish flavor that is enticing.
The lovely Anteaques found on Clerk Street between Old Town and Newington, was a treat, tinged with disappointment, ONLY because I did not have time to truly savor it.
I was there simply on a reconnaissance mission with the intention of returning later if I liked it, but it wasn’t to be. I was there late in the day, having already eaten, and they were closing the next day for their summer holiday. I was able, however, to briefly experience the knowledgeable and friendly service administered by the smartly attired staff at the tea counter, where I enjoyed learning about the varieties of tea that I was considering for purchase.
Tea shops and tea rooms can be vastly different enterprises. Often, the former has little, if anything, to offer for a dining experience and the latter frequently does not have a highly sophisticated selection of teas or a high level of knowledge about tea. Anteaques was a welcome exception to both rules, with an extraordinary tea shop in the front of the place and a enticing tearoom set in an antique shop in the back.
I purchased lovely Keemun and Yunnan teas with the sadness that, at least on this trip, I would miss the experience of dining here.
My last tea stop was in New Town on Frederick Street at the Eteaket Tea Room. Eteaket also focused on both serving food and selling tea (with a tea concept store also around the corner) but didn’t feel so much like a tearoom as a modern café.
In addition to the traditional afternoon tea and cream tea, Eteaket offered a third iteration, called “High Tea.” I tend to think of High Tea as being larger and grander than afternoon tea because it evolved as a meal rather than a bridge between meals. But, in fact, here it was smaller and just what I was looking for with a half sandwich, a scone with jam and clotted cream, a pot of tea and a mini-pastry.
I enjoyed my sandwich choice – the brie, pesto, and sundried tomato – as well as the scone, but I found my tea selection, the Jasmine Chun Hoa, to be a bit bitter. I was surprised as I’ve not known Jasmine green teas to have a propensity for bitterness. However, the service was a bit slow, I waited a long while for the tea which came after my sandwich, and I had to wonder if it sat for a good bit before it was delivered to my table.
This disappointment aside, Eteaket offers nearly 40 different black, oolong, green, and white teas, herbal tisanes, and tea lattes. I would certainly give them another try when in Edinburgh again.
And my conclusion……
I’d be delighted to do the entire Edinburgh tea rooms tour again..… with the addition next time of a few places that I missed.”
Marie Peeler is an Executive Coach based in the USA, near Boston, MA. Her firm, Peeler Associates, helps leaders focus on what’s most important, create action plans, and achieve their goals. Living her dream life, Marie takes her work worldwide, house and cat sitting in the UK and other foreign lands and indulging her passion for tea.