There's no doubt that going out for afternoon tea is a special treat: the cakes; the scones; the little sandwiches. But tea-drinking is not just about leisurely afternoons spent overdosing on sugar: sometimes you just fancy a good cuppa. At home this is no problem - I need only open my overflowing tea cupboard and take my pick from the forty or so teas (!) therein. But what to do when I'm out and about?
I know lots of coffee shops have supposedly "good" tea but I've never found any worth stopping for. A limp teabag on a string floating in a huge heavy mug of scalding water just doesn't do it for me. No, if I'm out of the house and fancy a hot beverage I'll usually just make do with a coffee. But the other day I found it - the holy grail of the casual tea drinker: a cafe that specialises in tea but manages to make it feel like an everyday treat. I had spotted Tea Pod at Butler's Wharf when visiting the Design Museum but each time it's been too busy or I've been in too much of a rush to stop for a cuppa. But the other day, after my sister and I failed to meet a friend for lunch (an epic modern communication error), we spotted another branch in the Fashion & Textile Museum just behind London Bridge station. Sadly, the museum itself was shut as it was a Monday (must remember to go back there) but with the cafe open and lots of seats free we decided it would be churlish to walk on by.
Well, I'm so glad we didn't. Tea Pod was great. Kind of like a Starbucks for tea. But I don't mean that as a criticism. I know we all like to bash Starbucks and talk about how they're putting independent cafes out of business but I just don't remember that many places serving good coffee before Starbucks and the other chains came along. Sure there were always your Bar Italia's and the like but if you were in a small town in England or even outside of the very centre of London you were as likely to be served up cup of Mellow Birds as a good espresso a few years ago. Anyway, I digress. Tea Pod was a revelation: bright colours; large tins of proper tea leaves (black, green, oolong, white, infusions - the lot), specially made cakes and scones - in case you do need a sugar fix with your cuppa, and simple but clean tables and chairs on which to enjoy your tea and the free wifi.
I chose the House Blend to drink, which was an Assam, Sri Lankan Uva mix and a scone with clotted cream to munch on. My sister gave the tea a miss (are we really related?) but went for a chocolate brownie with raspberries and white chocolate. We took a seat and waited for our order to arrive a couple of minutes later. I was especially pleased to see that the tea was served in a little Japan Zero beehouse teapot which gives enough room for the leaves to move around but won't stew them, and a proper cup and saucer. No big fuss was made but a little card came with the tea explaining the suggested brewing time for whichever type you've ordered. It was just what I had been looking for: an unpretentious place that takes tea seriously but doesn't make too big a deal about it.
As for the sweet goods accompanying the brew, they were pretty darned good too. I was given a choice of fruited or plain scone (woot!) and a generous portion of jam and clotted cream to accompany it. And my sister's brownie was pretty spectacular too: rich and chocolatey with tart raspberries cutting through. Yum. In fact it was so good I actually forgot to take a picture before it was nearly all gone!
I think Tea Pod is a real find. It's not a destination tea spot - not somewhere you'd make a big plan to go to - but if you're near London or Tower Bridge and fancy a well-made cuppa at a reasonable price I can't imagine you'll find many places that do it quite as well. Luckily for me London Bridge is my main transport hub (I won't be saying that when the Olympics roll around...) so I can imagine I might well be making a few trips down Bermondsey Street when I'm out and about. And for the rest of you, get lobbying the Tea Pod people to open some more branches. More quality tea served the way it should be can only be a good thing.