An Afternoon Tea in Covent Garden

By Charleen - August 13, 2019

The Whittard of Chelsea Covent Garden Tea Bar 
London, England, UK. 

Afternoon Tea in London with all its accoutrements is truly a special treat! Whittard of Chelsea serves a delicious spread of finger foods accompanied by a truly excellent tea selection at their Covent Garden Tea Bar. Best of all, with all-day tea service from 10 to 10, you can enjoy tea with friends or family without the need for advance reservations.
First a note on terminology. There are several British tea traditions and high tea is not the same as afternoon tea. Furthermore, there are other lesser known tea times. You might have heard of elevenses, which was not invented by Tolkien for the Hobbits of Middle Earth, but consists of a late morning work break with baked goods and hot tea or coffee. According to historian Bruce Richardson as reported by NPR, the tradition of elevenses probably arose in the 20th century, but is now well engrained in British culture. 

Afternoon tea for the upper classes became popular in the mid 19th century, when tea prices dropped after the introduction of èŒ¶ (pronounced cha or tey)* from China in the 17th century. Also known as "low tea" because the crustless finger sandwiches, scones, macaroons and cakes were served around low tables surrounded by low armchairs or loveseats, it was reportedly popularized by Anna Russell, the duchess of Bedford and friend to Queen Victoria, as a fancy snack between meals. In contrast, high tea refers to a hearty early supper with tea that was enjoyed by the lower classes after work. These meals of kidney pie, potatoes or breaded fish with buttered toast and scones were served at a high dinner table or countertop with a pot of strong tea to nourish and revive body and spirits after a long hard day at work. Then there is cream tea, a variant of afternoon tea focused on scones with clotted cream and jam.
Irrespective of what time you wish to enjoy your tea with cakes and other food, the Whittard Tea Bar in the downstairs Whittard tea shop at Covent Garden is truly worth a visit. With a choice of over 100 loose leaf teas ranging from traditional to inventively spiced, the afternoon tea gives you a chance to sample new flavors with little risk. They will switch your pot to a different tea if you dislike your first selection. They also serve coffee, hot chocolate and cold beverages, as well as spirits and tea-infused cocktails. Plus it's fun to explore the shop and taste the samples of both hot and iced beverages. Notably, only the most popular teas come prepackaged. For the real selection of loose leaf teas, go to the back of the shop.
We asked our hotel to check on availability, and then set off for a lovely walk to the Covent Garden piazza. The first Whittard storefront we walked in directed us to their larger downstairs shop, where we were seated right away. Walk-ins are also available, and there was a small line forming by the time we got our tea. The three of us all opted for the full Whittard Tea experience at 30 pounds a person. This consisted of finger sandwiches filled with coronation chicken salad, egg salad, buttered cucumber or smoked salmon with lemon cheese. The type of chicken salad was originally prepared for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, and consists of tender chunks of chicken breast in a curried mayonnaise dressing. This was our favorite of the sandwiches. 

The next layer consisted of two types of tender fluffy scones served with small jars of butter and three types of tea-infused fruit preserves or chutneys. For the top layer, you have a choice of five small bite-sized cakes or selecting two slices of real cakes or brownies. Two of us went with the larger cakes, selecting the pear, cardamom & chocolate chip cake, the dark chocolate and raspberry cake, the cheesecake and the lemon tart, while the third got the small bites. I recommend choosing from the larger cake options, which can easily be shared. Although the sweet bites were colorful and fun, the cakes were superior in texture and flavor.
As for tea, the recommended Margaret's Hope First Flush Darjeeling had a fantastic flavor, consisting of intact tea leaves still attached to small tender stems. The masala chai and chilli mango flavored black tea were also extremely tasty. The individual tea pots come out at the perfect temperature, hot but with no danger of scalding, with small timers so you can pull out the cylindrical tea filters when it has achieved the strength you like. The cylinders are stuffed full of tea, enough for many refills.
There really is lot of food that comes with the Whittard Tea package. We ended up having to take several cakes back to the hotel to enjoy the next morning. While traditional etiquette demands that one does not appear hungry, daintily nibbling at a spread not designed to be finished, modern sensibility disfavors wasting food. Whittard does offer two scaled down versions for roughly half the price of the full experience, pairing the scrumptious scones with either cake or sandwiches. While they did not explicitly list cream tea, you can order this directly from the back of the menu for 9 pounds. Cream tea was my first introduction the luxuries of scones and clotted cream, which we enjoyed immensely in a castle in Ireland twenty years ago. Finally, perhaps as a nod to high tea, the Grocer's Tea adds sausage rolls and vegetable cheese tartlets to the sandwiches and sweet bites.
Afterwards, we wanted to buy all three teas, but found out that Margaret's Hope was really quite expensive with its intact rather than crushed leaves. I guess the most expensive cups of tea would have been the better value in the setting of a fixed price tea package, as they likely represent a pure, unadulterated grade of tea, but am really happy to have discovered the chilli mango tea. 

by Whittard of Chelsea 1886 
18 The Marketplace, The Piazza. Covent Garden, London, WC2E 8RB 
Open Mon-Sun 10 am-10 pm 
Downstairs in the Covent Garden Market. 

Tip: ðŸ¾Save a pound £1 by asking your server for a restroom pass. 
* The Chinese word for tea, èŒ¶, is pronounced chá in Mandarin, hence, cha, char, chai, chay, sa and other variants. In Fujian, which supplied most of the tea exports, èŒ¶ is pronounced te or tey, leading to the English word tea.

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Covent Garden Tea Bar
Reviewed by Love2Chow on June 16, 2019
Rating: 5

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