The new Stoke Newington Tea House, as one might expect, does tea exceptionally well. The teahouse is a reincarnation of the Daniel Defoe, an old school boozer on Church Street, which got taken over by small pub chain the Yummy Pub Company. Now they’ve reopened it as a specialty tea place, with a menu of 100 loose-leaf teas that is difficult to choose from.
Thankfully, the staff are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about tea, guiding you skilfully through the menu: “Lapsang, Pu-erh, Oolong, stem only tea, flowering tea . . .”
Who knew tea was so exciting?
“. . . some have been buried, some have been put in a cave, some smell like sewage.” Fantastic…
The menu also explains the provenance of each tea and why it has been mixed the way it has, something we’d never encountered elsewhere. The house special is Earl Grey-based, with dried fruit peel. It’s tasty, lighter and less bitter than the usual supermarket stuff.
The Hong Shui Oolong, from Taiwan, is a fermented green tea, lighter and far less bitter. In fact it is more like a herbal tea, tasting of fruit and honey. “It’s a whole new world of flavour, like nothing you’ve ever tasted,” our friendly waiter assures us. I wouldn’t go that far, but it is lovely.
Prices at least won’t make you feel like you’ve been mugged, with most teas £2–3, although the more rare varieties push up towards £4.30.
And for the non-teetotal there is a selection of tea-based cocktails. The apple, elderflower and green tea mojito is refreshing and less sweet than its caffeine-free counterpart.
But the so-called Robinson Crusoe cocktail was less successful. Bombay Sapphire, honey, Earl Grey tea – all delicious. Together? It was like drinking gin and squash.
If you fancy a ‘proper brew’, the bar area offers a selection of craft ales and pub drinks. But it hasn’t the charm or atmosphere of a proper boozer – nor is it cosy enough to settle down for an afternoon of tea-drinking. And the food menu consists of only a limited selection of pub staples. Alas, our choices were either overcooked (chicken breast) or lukewarm (chips).
For a fancy cup of splosh look no further, but we felt the Tea House was trying too many different things to a less high standard, a risky strategy with so many other watering holes and cosy cafés to compete with on Church Street.