Last Updated on October 26, 2019 by Larissa
I’m an avowed tea lover, and finding a tea shop in London is always a special treat. The city is great place to shop for tea. Every time I visit, (when I’m not visiting my favorite free things to do in London ),I search out spots were I can find old favorites or a new special blend.
Here are my preferred tea shops in London. Some are super sophisticated, and I always learn something new while there. Other tea shops are cosy spots where I can browse to my heart’s content while sniffing delicate aromas. There’s even one shop that is a total no-nonsense purveyor–nothing fancy, but the prices are terrific! If you’re looking for where to buy tea in London, check out the places below. (Note: these shops are ONLY available in London. There are some fine shops that have stores elsewhere, but that’s not the focus of this article. 😊)
Best Specialist Tea Shops London
Serious tea drinkers seek out London’s specialist tea shops when looking for that perfect variety or tea blend. These are the shops where you’ll be able to learn exactly where a tea is sourced. You’ll learn whether it’s a designated region of a country or a specific tea estate, or even which harvest during the year (such as spring/fall or 1st or 2nd flush). Teas are almost always sold loose, by the gram (or, depending on the status of Brexit, the ounce 😉).
Specialist tea shops in London are also very skilled at explaining how to brew different varieties of tea. For example, some teas require boiled water, while others use water that’s not quiiiiite boiling (some tender varieties get bitter with boiling water). Brewing time and whether the tea is suitable for multiple infusions are also useful bits of information. You will have an option to sniff the aroma of the dried leaves, and, in some cases, they will brew up a sample for you to try.
London Tea Exchange: Exclusive and Elegant
This is my go-to spot when I’m looking for something super-special. London Tea Exchange is arguably the best specialist tea shop in London. They carry teas from all the world’s major growing regions, as well as a few teas from some more obscure locations, such as the Himalayas. The quality is top-notch. If you’re looking for an Indian single estate Darjeeling or a dark pearl oolong from Taiwan, this is the place.
On my last visit I was fortunate to meet Sheikh Aliur Rahman, who is London Tea Exchange’s Chief Executive. He does all the buying, traveling to the world’s tea-growing regions to personally select the teas that are carried in the shop. Sheikh Aliur explained that for many of the teas he actually requests leaves that are only grown on certain places on the plant. For example, the fresh, young leaves at the tips of branches are smaller and more delicate than larger leaves lower down on the plant. Now, that’s specialized!
Don’t just take my word for it; London Tea Exchange makes speciality blends for some pretty impressive clients. Members of the Twinings family (yep, that Twinings family . . . see below), purchase some more exotic blends here. And London Tea Exchange created a blend for certain members of the Royal Family. (???WHO???) They would not specify which Royal, however they did share that the Prince’s Trust has held some events in conjunction with London Tea Exchange. I’ll leave it to you to connect the dots . . .
Selecting tea at London Tea Exchange
The shop is located on Brick Lane, and is one of the cool things to do in Shoreditch. Browse the shelves, and the experienced staff will make suggestions based on your preferences. Or better yet, have a seat in their recently expanded tea room and order up a pot, along with a slice of cake to accompany it. This is an excellent way to determine if you’d like to take some of the tea home with you. Tell one of the staff what type of tea you like. They will then scour the 300+ varieties and return with 3 or 4 similar teas for you to consider, before brewing up your selection. It’s a fun shopping experience, an education in tea, and a lovely, relaxing interlude all in one. Whether you live in London or are just visiting, 50g of excellent, hand-selected tea is a special treat to take home.
What we love: The spectacular selection of ultra high-quality teas, the knowledgeable staff, and the opportunity to purchase a pot to sample before you buy.
Drawbacks: Only a small selection of teas in tea bags. But if you’re here for a single-estate Assam, you’re probably buying loose tea anyway 😉
The Tea House: Tea shop Covent Garden
If you’re looking for a tea shop in Covent Garden, this is the place. This friendly spot has been offering an excellent selection of loose teas for almost 40 years. The Tea House carries about 200 types of tea, including black, green, and herbal blends. Plus they also carry some more obscure varieties, such as white, yellow and pu-errh. The cosy shop is made for browsing.
Selecting tea at The Tea House
Loose teas are organized by variety on custom-made shelves around the shop. Little nooks contain pre-measured house-packs of tea, so you can just “grab and go” if you know what you’re seeking. However, each tea section also has a small, capped glass canister filled with the tea beside it. This gives you a chance to sniff a sample of each tea you’re considering before purchase. I find this particularly useful when considering herbal/fruity blends.
The Tea House’s location, on pedestrian-only Neal St., is right in the thick of Covent Garden shopping, and near to the West End theatre district. If you’re visiting London on vacation, chances are you’ll be in the neighborhood and can stop in for a souvenir to take home!
What we love: The wide selection, and the ability to sniff the samples to your heart’s content.
Drawbacks: Tastings, if offered, are limited to a particular blend they are featuring. The shop is small and can get pretty crowded during busy shopping days.
Twinings Flagship Store, 216 Strand: Historic and Authentic
If you love tea and its’ history, this shop is a must-visit. As tea drinkers, we’ve probably all sipped Twinings at some point in our lives. This shop, a short walk down The Strand from London’s West End, is a tiny capsule of the history of tea in London. Established in 1706 it’s the oldest tea shop in London. And it really is TINY: the shop is so narrow you can stretch your arms across from one wall to the other! (So you can forget any ideas about a massive “flagship” with huge displays and aisles and aisles of products. That’s just “not done” here 😉)
The Twinings Museum London
Tucked away in the back of the Twinings Flagship Store is a small museum commemorating the history of tea. It’s really just a couple of glass-fronted display cases, but it’s interesting nonetheless. (And to be fair, Twinings calls it a “Tea Exhibition.”) There you’ll find historic packages of Twinings tea from the past 300-ish years. There is also historic teaware on display, including teapots, tea caddies, infusers and the like. It’s a fun and interesting diversion amidst your shopping for tea.
As you might expect from a “flagship” store, the entire Twinings range of teas is available for purchase here, including mostly black, green and herbal varieties. The front of the shop (the part that’s really narrow) is devoted to popular blends, which is mostly pre-packaged bagged teas. There are small canisters on the shelves for you to sniff those varieties. But there’s more in the back near the tea “exhibition” . . .
Selecting tea at Twinings Flagship Store
Attention, loose tea lovers: don’t discount this shop based on the pre-packaged offerings up front. Intrepid tea drinkers know to make their way to the back of the shop, where they keep “the good stuff.” Back here, the space opens up. (It’s about twice as wide as the front, so still not huge, but definitely more spacious.)
One wall along the back is devoted to a “tasting bar,” while the opposite wall holds a selection of about 30 specialty loose teas and blends. At any given time the staff will be brewing up 4-5 of these specialty blends. So you can “belly up to the bar” and sample a few. The staff are knowledgeable and will educate you about the teas origins, flavor notes and brewing recommendations. If the tea you’re interested in isn’t one of the brewed varieties, the staff will brew up a small pot for you and add it to the tasting bar. Which is how I got to try a High Grown UVA from Sri Lanka.
NOTE: Twinings holds a tasting class several times a week, where you’ll learn all about tea and taste several varieties. It’s £38 per person (about $48 US). Check the Tea Masterclass Experience more details.
What we love: The history of this shop, along with the tea exhibition, just oozes “Ye Olde London-town.” And the tasting bar in the back is a great way to try unfamiliar varieites.
Drawbacks: The shops tiny size literally makes it a “squeeze” during busy times. Specialty teas are only available in 125g sizes, which is a bit large/expensive if you’re experimenting with something new.
Where to buy tea in London: old favorites
London has been a tea-drinker’s town for centuries, and there are plenty of places to purchase good quality tea. Following are some tried-and-true spots for picking up supplies for your favorite cuppa:
Harrods: Venerable and Trusted
The massive Knightsbridge department store may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think “tea shop.” And purchasing tea may be the first thing you think of when shopping at Harrods. But the venerable retailer carries a respectable selection of loose and bagged teas, many of which are their own proprietary blends.
Selecting tea at Harrods
The tea department is contained in The Roastery & Bake Hall section of Harrods renowned Food Hall. While they carry several well-known brands of tea, such as Kusmi, I would focus on teas you can only buy here. Many of their signature blends, which are labelled by number– Blend 15, Blend 49, etc.–are available in either bags or decorative tins. Most of these are black tea blends of Indian varieties, such as Darjeeling, Assam and Nigris, along with some Sri Lankan and Kenyan mixed in. My sister and her family are devotees of Blend 49, and stock up on it every time they’re in town!
Harrods also offers 15-20 single estate loose teas, which are packaged to order. For something really fun and unique, spend some time with Angelo Tantillo. Designated as Harrods “Tea Tailor,” he will query you about your flavor preferences and craft a bespoke (such a charming British word!) tea just for you. How personalized is that?!
What we love: Getting a custom-made (okay, “bespoke”) tea is fun, and Harrods traditional blends are reliable and tasty standards. Plus the Harrods Food Hall is an experience unto itself.
Drawbacks: While there are good selections from India, teas from China and Taiwan are under-represented. During the holidays this store is JAM-PACKED, don’t count on a leisurely, personalized shopping experience then.
Algerian Coffee Stores: “Old School” and Great Value
I know, I know, Algerian Coffee Stores doesn’t sound much like a tea shop. But trust me on this one–they carry a lot of tea. In fact, they actually have more varieties of tea (over 120!) than coffee (about 80). Go figure.
Algerian Coffee Stores has been providing tea and coffee to Londoners at this SoHo location for over 130 years. (Despite the plural “Stores” in the name there is only a single location. The term “stores” in this case refers to “provisions,” and not multiple shop locations. The atmosphere is very different from virtually any other tea shop. It’s a real “old school” kind of place. The shop is a small, cramped room, complete with old-time-y wooden shelves (probably original to the building) stuffed to the gills with tea and coffee paraphernalia. If you love a retro, “old world” vibe, this is the place for you.
Selecting Tea at Algerian Coffee Stores
All the loose teas are kept behind the counter, and most of them are pre-packed on site in 125g bags (about 4 ounces). Tell a knowledgeable shop attendant what you’d like, and they will fetch it for you. Note: They do a brisk business; when it’s your turn at the counter, be ready with your selection, or they’ll move on. I generally prefer sampling my tea before I purchase. And I also like to buy new varieties in smaller quantity until I’m sure I like it. However, at Algerian Coffee Stores the throughput is high (ensuring freshness), and the prices are terrific. In this case I don’t mind taking a chance on something new. On my last visit I got 125g of Keemun Mao Feng for about £8 (about $10 US)—about half of what it costs elsewhere. And the quality was excellent.
What we love: The excellent prices—probably the best I’ve seen anywhere in Europe OR North America!—and the wonderful old-world market atmosphere. And if you feel like crossing over to “the dark side (coffee)” they have a great selection of that as well!
Drawbacks: Cramped quarters and no chance to sniff or taste your selections before buying. But at these prices, who cares?
Looking for more in London? American visitors will love visiting the Benjamin Franklin house (the only one still standing!), or the quirky (and somewhat sad) tomb of Benedict Arnold. For more quirky sights, explore these 7 Rather Odd Hidden Sights in London.
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We’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our free travel newsletter here.