What is a tea room?

The Thomas Oaken Tea Rooms in Warwick, in the most traditional of buildings.
The term ‘tea room’ can cover many different types of establishment. Many will think of a tea room as a traditional venue serving leaf tea in a teapot, along with cakes, scones with clotted cream and jam, and delicate sandwiches. However the term is used to cover a much wider range of establishments, ranging from cheap and cheerful cafes serving a selection of cakes to restaurants with an extensive and expensive menu, but again with a wide selection of cakes.

Tea rooms found during this exploration have generally fitted into one of three broad groups.

  • Traditional tea rooms, offering a wide range of leaf teas, an extensive range of cakes and scones all made on the premises, and dainty sandwiches, served by staff in outfits that wouldn’t have been out-of-place a century ago. A selection of light morning meals and lunches may also be available.
  • Tea rooms that are similar in their offering to a restaurant, serving a wide range of meals depending on the time of day, but with a good range of cakes and scones and a selection of teas, though the scones may not be made on the premises and the tea might be in teabags.
  • Tea rooms that are small family run cafes, mainly serving regular local customers, but welcoming to well-behaved strangers. The selection of teas is likely to be limited, but there will be a good range of filling cakes.

Typically, tearooms are open within normal office hours and slightly less typically are not licensed to sell alcoholic drinks.

There are, of course, many places that serve afternoon tea yet don’t describe themselves as a tea room: afternoon tea in a restaurant of one of London’s most expensive hotels is a well known extravagance. Excellent though their teas may be, you won’t find them here. To appear on this site an establishment must:

  • describe itself as a ‘Tea Room’, ‘Tea Shop’, ‘Tea Garden’, or as ‘Tea Rooms’ or some other title including the word ‘tea’, either in its title or publicity materials — something and tea… (e.g. ‘Cafe and Tea Rooms’) is also acceptable;
  • be accessible without payment of an entrance fee — thus many of the tearooms within heritage sites are excluded;
  • welcome customers without them necessarily having a reservation — though bookings are advisable for larger parties and may be mandatory for those wanting a full afternoon tea;
  • serve tea (the beverage, not necessarily the meal).

Coffee shops are strictly excluded.