Time for a cuppa and a cake: our favourite tea rooms
PUBLISHED: 02:58 22 April 2012 | UPDATED: 21:17 20 February 2013
Seek out one of Shropshire's wonderful tearooms this spring to enjoy the perfect cuppa-and-cake experience. Sarah Hart rounds up some of her favourites
Theres nothing quite so perfect, on a sunny afternoon, as sitting outside in the gentle warmth of the sunshine, savouring a revitalising cup of tea and a delicious slice of homemade cake or scone dolloped with jam and clotted cream.
The traditional-style tearoom is making a comeback, fuelled by the fashion for all things vintage and the growing demand for proper loose-leaf teas.
While cappuccinos and the like can be grabbed on the hoof, fine loose-leaf tea has to be savoured.
It cannot be rushed. It takes longer to brew. Loose-leaf tea served in a proper teapot is a waiting experience, explains June Turner, of Shrewsbury-based tea and coffee merchants Aroma, an outlet thats seeing growing demand for its loose-leaf and bigger-leaf higher-grade teas.
Longer leaf teas allow more control over brewing time because they take longer. They taste better.
Traditionally a tearoom, teashop or teahouse is a place, large or small, where tea and light meals are served. They became hugely popular in the first half of the 20th century and were at their most widespread in the 1950s.
Thomas Twining opened the first known British tearoom in The Strand in 1706. Most famous was the chain set up by J Lyon and Co, which opened its first teashop at 213 Piccadilly in 1894, and became known as Lyons Corner Houses.
Rocke Cottage, Clungunford
Considered not only the best tearoom in Shropshire, but the whole of the country. Last year Rocke Cottage, at Clungunford, near Craven Arms, was named by The UK Tea Council as their Top Tea Place 2011. Owner Karin Clarke was hoping to retain the title this year.
Rocke Cottage has all the ingredients of a perfect tearoom - memorable cakes and scones, a wide selection of fine, loose-leaf teas served in vintage fine bone china, 1930s band music playing in the background, all in an immaculate, unhurried, period setting that Miss Marple would be proud of.
In fine weather theres nothing like taking tea in the pretty cottage garden. Rockes three-tiered afternoon teas must be booked in advance.
Queenies Cupcakery, Ironbridge
Going for a Queenie has become a byword in Ironbridge for a mouth-watering trip down memory lane to the delectable vintage tearoom Queenies Cupcakery.
Once through the door of this happy, little, bunting-strewn teashop on The Wharfage, visitors are instantly transported back to the 1950s. Almost everything in here has vintage credentials - from the old shop counters, antique tables and squashy sofas that customers flop into, to the gold-rimmed china crockery, tiered cake stands and the dulcet tones of Ella Fitzgerald drifting over a speaker. And proprietor Claire Shaw is quick to remind us of the cupcakes ancestry going back to 1920s America.
Its very flattering when people say theres cupcakes, and then theres Queenies, says Claire who has been fascinated by the Queen and all things vintage since she was a little girl.
Many of her delicious cupcakes are a take on traditional teatime recipes, such as cherry bakewell, Victoria sandwich and coffee and walnut, and they sport regal sounding names like Elizabeth, Anne, Charles. Seasonal varieties include summer fruit pavlova and strawberry cheesecake.
The icing is smooth and buttery much nicer than the stiff sickly mixture topping lesser cupcakes. And the centres, too, hold deep surprises, infused with melt-in-the mouth sauces, fruits or jams.
You wont find cappucinos here. Theres a selection of Clipper organic teas, traditional cordials, good old-fashioned lemonade and proper American diner style shakes made from milk, ice cream and fresh fruit. Coffee lovers must settle for Americano.
Queenies also caters for vintage tea parties and celebration cakes. Open every day, except Wednesdays.
The Winding House, Bridgnorth
Trish Ludlow has transformed the tearoom in the former cliff railway station house, on Castle Terrace, since taking over last summer. Diners step back into a 1940s world of slow jazz music, starched white tablecloths and nostalgic ways of doing things.
She serves loose-leaf teas and all food is freshly prepared on the premises. An outside seating area on the terrace affords customers spectacular views over Low Town.
Three-tiered afternoon tea is available. Australian-born Trish has injected an Antipodean flavour by adding Australian lamingtons to the ensemble of finger sandwiches, scones, pastries and cakes. Afternoon tea must be booked in advance.
Dearnford Lakes Caf, Whitchurch
There can be few more relaxing settings for enjoying afternoon tea than beside a lapping lake watching paddling swans, geese and ducks.
Dearnford Lakes Caf, on Tilstock Road, near Whitchurch, is a modern take on a tearoom. Opened in April last year by Rob and Christina Bebbington, it has made a big impression on hungry lake visitors. Its cakes and scones have earned a reputation as some of the tastiest in Shropshire. A childrens nature play area is due to open in May.
Lady Berwicks Tearoom, Attingham Park
Based on the upper floors of the National Trust mansion house, this is the only tearoom in Shropshire devoted purely to afternoon teas. All sandwiches, scones and cakes are made in-house, often using produce from the kitchen garden. Visitors sip their loose-leaf teas or coffee in beautiful relaxed surroundings more Hercule Poirot Art Deco than Miss Marple - whilst enjoying magnificent views over the park.
The Libertine, Shrewsbury
On his world travels Sam Taylor noted how people in Holland and Germany were as particular about their tea as Australians and New Zealanders were about their coffee.
Everywhere served loose-leaf tea, not just the more swanky places, he says.
So, last June, when he opened The Libertine, in Butcher Row a cocktail bar by night, a vintage tearoom by day he was insistent on serving only quality loose-leaf teas. Theyre complemented beautifully by the raved about cakes of local baker and caterer Jane Rushworth.
Jane, who was part of the recipe-testing team for The Hairy Bikers Big Book of Baking, loves conjuring up traditional teatime treats, such as Bakewell tart, Battenburg, fairy cakes and American Red Velvet chocolate cake, but she also enjoys coming up with new taste-tickling recipes. The Libertine now offers full afternoon tea.
Designa Cake, Shrewsbury
When Karen Bill started baking cakes for her four-year-old daughter a couple of years ago she caught the baking bug big time. She discovered she was really good at it, other people began asking her to make cakes for them and, before she knew it, she was churning out show-stopping decorative celebration cakes for weddings and birthday parties.
Since September 2010 she has built up a following of 3,000 cake lovers on Facebook and just before Christmas 2011 she opened her own cake shop and cupcake caf, Designa Cake, in Fish Street, Shrewsbury.
Her bespoke celebration cakes are supreme artistic creations. Her cupcakes come in all manner of flavours - including a delicate Earl Grey - topped by deep swirls of icing.
Sprinters serves the most incredible cakes; in my opinion, among the very best in Shropshire.
Cake baker Julie Anderson is a perfectionist, a cake connoisseur who has been collecting and adapting recipe ideas from around the world for the past 14 years.
Her selection of cakes varies from week to week, many with exotic flavours or unusual combinations - such as butterscotch banana cake with passion fruit icing or cranberry and white chocolate fudge slice and new fabulous recipes appear all the time.
Her legendary carrot cake, a near constant staple, is difficult to beat. She prides herself on using only quality ingredients and permits only perfect cakes to leave her kitchen. Her range of gluten-free cakes, like chocolate noisette torte, are just as good. Her repertoire now includes over 1,000 recipes.
The Buttercross Tearooms, Market Drayton
The Buttercross Tearooms have the best of three worlds - a traditional J Lyons style teahouse downstairs, a contemporary coffee lounge upstairs, and a continental style street caf on the cobbled pavement.
Their tempting cakes are made by the best cake makers in town, claims owner and chief taster Stan Martin. They profess to the best millionaire shortbread in Shropshire and serve an original recipe of the Welsh tea bread bara brith.
Other Shropshire tearooms near you serving up a great slice of cake:
Ludlow Castle Tearoom
The Boathouse, Ellesmere
The Copper Kettle, Much Wenlock
Fordhall Farm, Market Drayton
The Bear Steps Caf, Shrewsbury
Jemimas, Church Stretton
Cafe Retreat, Shrewsbury