Katie Byrne finds that there is so much more to tea than milk & two sugars when she visits Camellia’s Teahouse, Soho
Do you love tea? I’m an addict. I glug green tea like it’s going out of fashion, can tell my Rooibos from my chamomile and for some reason have always turned my nose up at ‘two sugars’. So naturally I was in paradise when I stumbled across Camellia’s Teahouse in Soho.
In this age of Starbucks-on-every-corner, it is fair to say that the popularity of ‘going for tea’ has waned slightly. However, with the emergence of teashops such as Drink, Shop & Do, and Camellia’s, the humble cup of tea is once again becoming the epitome of cool.
Tea-crazy siblings Lubna and Ajit Madan have been running Camellia’s since 2007. I fell in love with its friendly atmosphere, vintage décor and – of course – the amazing tea (try their white apricot tea: it’s divine). Here are five reasons why you will fall in love with it too.
1) THE LOCATION
Tucked behind the manic hustle and bustle of Regent Street, Camellia’s is a haven. The salvation of a thirsty tourist, the discovery of an exploring shopper or the Mecca of a loose-leaf enthusiast, the shop boasts around 120 teas, all with a variety of health benefits. Close enough to the centre of London to be easily accessible but far enough of the beaten-track to be that little bit exclusive, Camellia’s is ideally located for meetings, catch-ups and – slightly more unusually – the odd hen-party or two…
2) THE LAY-OUT
Think 1950’s sweet-shop. Shelves and shelves containing jars of tea decorate one wall of the shop, whilst on the facing wall a host of old-fashioned china is displayed. Tables and chairs are dotted round the shop floor, and despite its cosy proportions the shop feels luxurious rather than cramped. The balcony outside the shop is perfect for enjoying a cup of tea on a sunny day (should there every actually be any sunny days – summer, hurry up!)
3) THE EXPERTISE
Lubna and Ajit both have various strengths which combined together sum up to Camellia’s. Lubna’s background in homeopathy means that she has an extensive knowledge of the properties – and healing powers – of a host of herbs and flowers, and she creates all of her tea-recipes herself. ‘Sometimes I wake up shaking,’ she told me when I visited, ‘as I’ve just dreamt up a really exciting tea recipe.’ Ajit meanwhile handles the facts and figures, and also holds the secret to the perfect cup of tea: always leave it to brew for three minutes. Whilst I was there, I also learnt how to actually taste what I was drinking: inhale as you take a mouthful of tea, and letthe liquid run over your tongue.
4) THE VIBE
If you’re a bit of a tea novice, you could quite easily feel daunted by the array of teas on display. However, Lubna and Ajit are so friendly that you need not fear – they and their staff have a great deal of knowledge, and are incredibly passionate about what they do. The shop itself is very chilled-out; the lighting is slightly dimmed, the music is in the background (and you only really noticed the retro twangs when you stop chatting to take a sip of tea) and the precinct the shop is in is pretty much the definition of cool. Celeb visitors include Amy Winehouse, hottie actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Shizuyo Yamasaki and Chinatsu Wakatsin, two of Japan’s biggest stars (who loved it so much that Camellia’s is now featured in Japanese guidebooks of London).
5) THE TEA (AND CAKE)
The tea is served in a selection of china; some is vintage, some is sourced from Asia, and some of the pieces – such as the pretty jewelled glass I drank from – is made by the Madans’ mother, Jessy. Whilst there, I drank white apricot tea (absolutely divine) and also got the chance to blend my own concoction: I used rosehip, berries, lavender, star anise and liquorice to create ‘Kay-Tea’, which, if I say so myself, could give PG Tips a run for its money.
At the far-end of the shop are the till and the food; delicious wedges of cakes, as well as quiche, pies, sandwiches and other treats. The staff make and bake quite a bit of the food, and it is all healthy rather than naughty (some of the recipes are gluten and wheat free, and are made with tea).
So check it out: to describe it as ‘pret-tea cool’ would be an understatement (as well as an awful pun).
Camellia’s Teahouse can be found at Top Floor Kingly Court, Carnaby Street, London