Friday, 15 October 2010


Be careful what you wish for?...a previous blog sounding off about Costa Coffee (and coffee houses in general) had me ranting about the high street takeover of these brands and their total ineptitude at providing good service. Their coffee is great don't get wrong, albeit a touch overpriced, but my problem goes far deeper than their ability to provide a single shot espresso after having queued for roughly 15 minutes. My problem is that the Caffe Nero's, the Costa Coffee's, the Starbucks are all so 'samey', lacking in any comfort, overpriced, and dull. The biggest problem is when the UK tries to replicate an American or continental idea. A bit like when you go to Disneyland World Showcase and Disney produces 'England' with thatched cottages, an English pub, Beefeaters and red letterboxes. Watch 'The Apprentice' to see what a pig's ear 22 year old marketing executives make of a 'concept' and I get the impression that the same applied when the Nero's etc were bandied around the marketing and branding departments of these companies. Yes, I daresay they are hugely successful, but not because they are 'world class' in service or product, but because they were a refreshingly new and 'trendy' alternative to the high street cafes. 
The alternative? My blog begged for the return of old-fashioned tea houses. I'm a little too young to remember Lyons Tea Houses that used to grace many a town or city centre, but after hearing my parents generation talk about them with a nostalgic sadness at their passing makes you yearn for their return. Classy establishments with booths or clean and comfortable tables and chairs, well-trained waitresses in clean black and white uniforms who serve you at the table, a wide range of tea served in decent crockery with teapots that don't leak all over the table and your hands, beautiful sandwiches and cakes made freshly that day on the premises on three-tier cake stands.... You see, that's what we used to be good at and we still could be. Brand UK. Check out Betty's Tea Rooms in Harrogate for a fine example of how this works beautifully. My personal favourite is a little Victorian tea room in Grange-over-Sands in Cumbria. They also have their own bakery and make their own chutneys so you are served the freshest and finest in food and tea, then get the opportunity to take a shedload home with you. It's pure heaven and I go there as often as I can to read their newspapers and sit back and watch the glow of happiness on the faces of the Grange townspeople that they get to enjoy this little gem all year round whilst the rest of us have to put up with Caffe Nero, Costa and Starbucks. 
And so today with uplifted heart, I read that entrepreneurs are hoping to step back into the halcyon days of the tea house by opening the first Cadbury Cocoa House next week to be joined by 50 more in the next five years. They want to challenge the coffee and ciabatta culture and return to more nostalgic and traditional 'Ritz-style' tea for two offerings such as smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches and baked scones combined with Twinings tea. They are looking to furnish the tea rooms with chandeliers and furniture made by British  craftsmen. Sounds great - just wish Marks and Spencer would have jumped on board as well as their tea and freshly baked scones are superb. Their global  brand name isn't bad either when it comes to quality and service. But I shan't complain, but will instead rejoice at the prospect of classy Tea Houses back on the High Street -  Hallelujah!     


  1. What did you think of the Tetley tea folk?

  2. They weren't a patch on the PG Tips chimps...

  3. Mind you, the 'older' generation are seeminly embracing these new High Street coffee shops. It was only yesterday that I went round to Nan's (for a brew, obviously) and she had great delight in telling me all about how you took her out for the day and she enjoyed a lovely cup of Starburst.