The rise of the Cardiff tea shop

January 9, 2013 No Comments »
Lois Seco, serves up a cippa in the Waterloo Gardens Teahouse in Penylan.

Lois Seco, serves up a cuppa in the Waterloo Tea Garden in Penylan.

Tea shops are making a comeback in Cardiff with one acclaimed city outlet winning fresh plaudits while another shopping institution prepares to swap clothes for cuppas.

Waterloo Tea Garden in Penylan, which serves an astonishing 70 varieties from English Breakfast to Chai and elderflower, has just been included in a UK top-50 list.

Elsewhere, Coffee Barker is about to extend its premises in Castle Arcade, closing the clothes store that has been in Cardiff since the 1970s, and open a tea house in units 8-14 of the High Street Arcade.

Waterloo Tea Garden owner Kasim Ali said he was on a mission to help customers discover the science behind the perfect cuppa.

The shop’s blends, which are sourced from countries including China and India, must be stored, brewed and served with the utmost care and attention, Kasim explained.

“If we had a customer who came in and had never had a cup of Oolong tea before, I’d want to make them the best Oolong they’d ever taste.

“There are very few places that serve great tea. When we were coming up with the idea for the shop, the only place you could get great tea was in an hotel. We wanted a cafe setting, something that younger people would enjoy.

“Some people come in and see all the teas and will try out a coffee first, but then they’ll move onto a tea and tell us it was the best tea they’ve ever tasted.”

The staff are drilled in what temperature to use for each tea blend, how long they must brew for and how they are to be served – all of which they pass onto the customer who may think it’s a simple case of “with or without milk”.

The cafe was last weekend included in the list of the Top 50 Best Coffee shops in the UK by national newspaper, The Independent.

Mr Ali, a qualified pharmacist, added: “It was nice to be recognised on a national level and being put in the same league as other great places.

“We hope this can act as a spark for a quality-focused cafe scene in South Wales.”

Coffee #1, which has several branches across South Wales, also featured in the top 50 thanks to its Wood Street cafe. Meanwhile, the popularity of cafes specialising in finely brewed tea is set to leap in Cardiff City Centre with clothing institution Barker swapping T-shirts for tea leaves.

The £350,000 refurbishment of the new tea room is a serious injection of confidence in a culture which owner Steve Barker said is quintessentially British.

“Places like Waterloo Tea Garden have done a fantastic job about being really passionate about what they do and people have really embraced that,” he said.

“There’s a whole sense of occasion about going out for afternoon tea, but not as serious as a meal or a big lunch.

“People have become educated about their food through television, and coffee culture is often seen as a very American thing, whereas tea is very, very British and people like that sense of ownership.”

But despite tea popularity boiling over, Mr Barker added that the coffee culture in Cardiff is still going strong.

“We are actually closing the clothing store to extend the coffee shop – we have queues out the door sometimes,” he added.

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