I'm never happier than when I'm having a good cup of tea, except perhaps when I'm having a good cup of tea with a good friend. One of my favourite spots to meet for an unpretentious afternoon tea is Yumchaa in Soho.
I first heard about Yumchaa at the Duke of York market just off the King's Road in Chelsea. My interest in tea was just starting to blossom when I discovered their stall with a huge selection of tea and an incredibly enthusiastic salesperson. I went back regularly and over the months developed quite a taste for their Red Chai - a lovely spiced Indian tea made with Rooibos and therefore perfect for a late night drink. On a whim I checked out their website and discovered they had a tea room in Camden and another branch in Soho.
It took, oooh, minutes before I decided to head over to the W1 cafe and I wasn't disappointed. It's a low-key room with bare brick walls, an eau de nil counter and mismatched tables and chairs. The real star of the show though is the tea. The counter is adorned with loads of little jugs containing a sample of each of the different tea leaves for you to smell - a great touch which should make choosing easier but actually makes it even harder! There is everything from Traditional English Breakfast to Lapsang Souchong but what I think marks Yumchaa out as somewhere a little different is the selection of flavoured teas. A particularly favourite of Coffee Boy's is their Caramel Sweetheart - a black Keemun tea with an intense caramel hit. It's a tiny bit sickly for me but the Berry Berry Nice based on a Rooibos and packed with such lovely things as strawberries, blueberries, vanilla and rose petals is absolutely delicious served as an iced tea.
When it comes to afternoon tea though I'm something of a traditionalist so last time I visited I opted for an Earl Grey and my friend, who I've written about so many times now I'm going to have to give her a moniker - Miss O (for Oh My Goodness, What An Incredible Cook!), chose a Sencha green tea with apple, cinnamon and almond, delightfully titled Wanderlust. She was very happy with her choice and I found my Earl Grey to be really bright and refreshing. Given that we were there for a catch-up we felt it would be rude not to indulge in a slice of cake or two. We chose an incredibly moist Organic Carrot Cake and, what has since become something of an obsession for me, a Toffee Fruit Cake. Normally fruit cake is the last thing I would go for but the word toffee was enough to sway me and I'm very glad it did. It was absolutely fantastic: gooey; packed with moist fruit; and with a delicious caramel undertone.
One of the lovely things about coming to Yumchaa is that it doesn't have to be just a special treat. Our two pots of tea and two generous slices of cake came to less than £8 which I think is incredibly good value, especially given the location. What was even nicer was that towards closing time (we had been there rather a while) the lovely chap behind the counter offered us another piece of cake each as "we'd been such good customers and they would only go to waste if they weren't eaten". We were pretty full but couldn't turn down such generosity. We managed to squeeze down one more piece between us and I took home the other for Coffee Boy who was equally impressed.
Yumchaa isn't necessarily a place for the tea purist - the flavoured teas, although fun, might not be to everyone's taste. But for anyone that wants an unpretentious cuppa and slice of cake in the centre of town at a reasonable price this place is definitely worth a visit. In fact, let's put it this way: since discovering it there is no other tea shop I've visited more often. And I can't say more than that!