When Americans visit England, most of them are eager to jump into to the tea scene. Whether it is drinking tea instead of their normal coffee or going for afternoon tea. I love the excitement and eagerness to get into the culture.
There's just one problem.
Americans have no clue how to drink tea.
If it's not iced, Earl Grey or herbal- it gets awkward.
We know Brits drink milk in their tea, but it kind of sounds gross when we imagine it being in the tea we drink. How do you drink loose leaf? Do you wait to let it steep or go straight in? And what do I say when they ask me what type of tea I want? Green? Earl Grey? ... Iced?
I'll make it really easy for you. Unless you really know tea and what you like, don't order Earl Grey. It's NOT the most common tea here, and, despite America's assumption that it is the most British choice, it isn't. (I used to think this, too!) Also, if you do get Earl Grey- try lemon in it. Adding milk to it is a bit gross, as it is so floral. Don't get me wrong, loads of people still drink it... but, if you're an amateur to tea, follow my lead here.
So what do you do?
When your waiter or server asks you what type of tea you'd like, ask for either English Breakfast or an Afternoon Tea. (These are the most standard black teas.) Or, if you're at a place that isn't overly posh, you can say "Builder's Tea"... or if you get stuck, just simply say, "regular black tea." They'll know what you mean.
These are the teas that you put a splash of milk into (not too much where it starts looking grey). A cup like this will go great with cakes and sweets. When you taste this, you'll "get" how it all works- the flavors are perfect together. And don't forget to toss in a sugar cube to get the full experience.
Now I know some Brits may chime in here and say that they only drink Earl Grey or that they would prefer herbal teas, etc. I know, I know! I often do, too. But, for the average American trying to get the quintessential tea time experience- you can't deny that the standard cup of tea that is served is a breakfast blend or afternoon tea... or just "normal" builders tea. So just nod your head and don't confuse anyone. As Americans, we are already confused enough about what to do. :)
But actually- if you are a bonafied Brit, please feel free to weigh in with any other thoughts. While I love tea and talking about it, it still is a bit of a "second language" to me. I've learned all I know late in life.
PS. These photos were taken at Candella- a really sweet tea room off Kensington Church Street, near the Palace and Kensington High Street Tube Station. A great place to spend the afternoon. Walk in on a slow day, or book ahead to guarantee your table to make sure you have one. (There are only 5!)
If you're looking for great places for tea in London, read about some of my favorite teas in London here.
*images by Sara Kerens