Chinese Tea at the Heart of Bloomsbury

lrbBeing both a bookworm and a tea connoisseur, I’ve wanted to go to the LRB tearoom ever since I heard of it. What could be better than a tearoom, in a bookshop! In July, we finally found time in our hectic schedule, between filming, and the convention period, to pay it a visit.

The London Review Bookshop is about five to ten minutes walk from Tottenham Court Road Tube Station, on Bury Place, one of the numerous side street opposite the British Museum. As you enter the bookshop, the tearoom is in the adjoining room, connected to the shop floor by a small passage. It is very small, and simply furnished. The counter takes up almost a third of the space, with small square tables being shuffled around like sliding puzzle pieces to accommodate parties of varying sizes.

I was impressed with the selection of Chinese tea on offer.  As well as the usual good quality green and black teas, they not only had a nice Tie Guan Yin oolong, but also the 凤凰单枞or Phoenix Dan Cong, whose rich and complex flavour is an acquired taste, and one of my personal favourites. I tried their Bai Mu Dan 白牡丹 (Peony White). Even though my pot could have done with a few more leaves, it was pleasantly light and lived up to the subtle cucumber fragrance promised in the description in the menu. My companions ordered the Mao Jian and Peony White with Rose.

The Mao Jian was very clean and refreshing. Mao Jian 毛尖 literally means “furry tip”, but their translation, “Jade Sword”, was rather interesting. “Jade” because of the famous colour of this type of Chinese tea, and “sword” because its Chinese character shares the same sound with “tip” and because the shape of the leaves resemble tiny swords.

The Peony White was served in glass teaware, on a miniature Cha Pan tray. Simple and functional, the tiny tea trays are adorable and it delighted me to see the kungfu tea ceremony live on in a teashop in the heart of London. However, when we our tea was served, it became clear that the presence of the tray was only a homage.

The waitress, who insisted on showing us how to use the tea set, proceeded to turn the teapot to a 90 degree angle, leaving it standing in the top of the common cup. We realized this demonstration was out of concern for the teaware, capturing the delicate glass lid in the lip of the cup, rather than any understanding of how this equipment is actually used. There was no rinsing or warming of the cups, and no way to share your tea (each customer is presented with their own set and a single cup). Chinese kungfu tea is a very social affair, where the tea is served, and refilled by the host, guaranteeing an even flavour in each cup, all without breaking the flow of the conversation.

This said, I did take a liking to the nearly spherical glass cups. With their double walled style, allowing you to appreciate the colour of the soup, without burning your hands.  It’s just a shame that the scent of the rose added to the Peony White was far too overpowering for such a delicate tea.

Aside from the teas, we also indulged in their selection of cakes, and have to say that both their raspberry peach tart and triple chocolate cake were very tasty, with a good sized slice. A cup of tea, and a slice of cake worked out at around £6.50

Also on offer, was a guest tea, which in this case was a green tea courtesy of Master Lou from Postcards Teas over on Dering Street, It could be ordered as a set plate, with apricot compote, yoghurt and pancakes. An idea I absolutely loved, an oriental version of the Afternoon Tea, where Chinese meets English.

I will definitely revisit them, probably whilst visiting the West End museums. It will be the point I go to when I fancy a bit of peace, quiet, and a nice cup of tea, if I can get a table.

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