Afternoon Tea at The Sussex Teapot
I have a soft spot for The Sussex Teapot. I cannot say it serves culinary masterpieces, but that is not why I go. I had visited here before with a friend over a year ago and absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, I moved out of the area (far, far out of the area,) and so I hadn’t had another opportunity to go back. Last week I found myself staying down the street from The Sussex Teapot so I set up tea time with a friend one afternoon.
There is something infinitely comforting in the quaint decoration of the tea room. The Sussex Teapot is attached to the Shamrock & Thistle British/Irish Grocery & Gift Shop. Founded by some Brits (hailing from East Sussex and Yorkshire,) the room has an unassuming, homey feel without that overwhelming sense of kitsch you find in other places that are clearly trying too hard. Sure, there are fake plants round the top of the room, antique signage, and the wallpaper isn’t something I’d ever have in my own home (probably) but it all works together quite well in a relaxed, cozy fashion. If you are looking for modern flash and style, this is not the place for you. There is a fantastic normality to this place, as if you would find a shop just like it on any street corner.
I was the first to arrive, so I started out with a pot of the house tea while I waited. The Sussex Teapot serves PG tips brand tea as their house tea, though you can request other brands or blends. According to PG tips’ website, in the UK, roughly 150 million cups of tea are consumed daily, with around 35 million of those being PG tips. That is a lot of tea. PG tips uses the top two tips and the bud of tea plants to make their tea. Their recipe is a closely guarded secret, I guess, because when I tried to look up exactly what kind of blend it is, I came up empty. Its flavor is most like a traditional English Breakfast Blend (or possibly an Afternoon Blend – I’d have to try one to see since I can’t remember the last time I had it) and is excellent black or with a bit of milk and a sugar. I let the pot sit for just about three minutes before pouring myself a cup. I tend to always have it with milk and sugar when I am at tea, I cannot explain why. I really love the delicate teaware.
My friend arrived, and we discussed the menu options. I appreciate the fact that their menu is rather specific; it ensures a consistent level of quality in both food and service. I suggested the High Cream Tea option (because I like to eat), though perhaps next time I have tea with her I’ll opt for the Afternoon Cream Tea option since I ended up eating one of her sandwiches. With the High Cream Tea, you get unlimited tea (this goes without saying, really,) soup of the day, tea sandwiches, side salad, crisps, and fresh scones with homemade jam and cream (usually Devonshire, sometimes clotted. Thinking about it right now makes me want a scone with Devonshire cream and strawberry jam, actually. Sigh.) I warned her that this option had quite a bit of food, but she went for it, anyway.
The soup du jour was split pea, a surprisingly thick, rich affair of pureed peas and chunks of ham. I do not often have split pea soup so I cannot really compare it to any other establishment’s, but I found it delicious and more filling than expected. I was kind of starving that afternoon, so there’s that to consider.
Following the soup came the sandwiches, crisps, and salad. With one slice wheat and one slice white for each sandwich, I selected salmon and cucumber and my friend chose the coronation chicken. My goodness, try the coronation chicken. It was a delightful blend of a kind of chicken salad gently curried and slightly sweet with raisins. Next time I am absolutely getting that as my sandwich. The flavors were fantastic.
Thus far, one pot of tea had already been consumed and our server was fairly good about checking up on us. I will say, whenever I go to tea, I allot a couple of hours for it. I see it as a time to sit back and enjoy conversation, to relax and live unhurriedly, even if just for a little while. With a new pot of tea, still-warm scones were brought out; one plain, the other made with raisins and orange zest. Homemade strawberry jam and Devonshire cream accompanied the scones. Needless to say, I consumed it all (yes, even the strawberry in the picture above.) Apparently I prepare my scone in the traditional Devon fashion: first cream, then jam. Though sometimes I will prepare jam first, in which case this is in the Cornwall tradition. Who knew?
After finishing the scones, we sat and had a little more tea and a lot more conversation. It really was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon with a friend, and I hope I’ll be down in the area again soon for another trip to The Sussex Teapot.