Taking Tea in Durham, UK: A Defensive Strategy

Lapsang Souchong China black tea loose leaf
Lapsang Souchong China black tea loose leaf

When visiting a new place, it can be hard not to become overwhelmed by the number of things there is to do and see. It is tiring to bounce from one thing to another, without a break, in an attempt to see as much as possible in your time there. My strategy for avoiding such a fate is simple: I break up my itinerary with a rejuvenating and refreshing cup of tea. This works particularly well in the UK because of the abundance of tea rooms that you can fortuitously come across (in the USA I usually have to plan out stops at tea rooms more consciously, or settle for a less than stellar cup of tea if I am really desperate). This was a strategy I applied wholeheartedly on my recent visit to Durham, England.

As often happens on my travels, in Durham I walked a lot—everywhere actually—and it was a chilly time of year. These two factors combined meant that regular tea stops were a must and, luckily for me, Durham has a number of nice offerings. Vennels Café was one that particularly stood out. Located in a 16th century courtyard accessed through a narrow alleyway, the café is tucked away from the main street, giving you the feeling of having stumbled on a well kept secret. The name of the café comes from its location, as “vennel” is the word for a small alleyway between two buildings.

Vennels Café in Durham, England
Vennels Café in Durham, England

Vennels Café is particularly famous for their slices of cake (which I can confirm are delicious), but they also serve breakfast and lunch food. Most importantly though, they have some nice teas—both loose and bagged. First I had to ask which teas on the list were loose and which were bagged. Having eliminated the bagged teas, I opted for a tea that, in my opinion, is very hard to do badly: lapsang souchong. As anticipated, it was smoky and full-bodied, and with a bit of milk it was the perfect tea to warm me up and give me a boost (the slice of cake helped too!). One of the things that I enjoyed the most about ordering this tea was the fact that it was served in a beautiful vintage china teapot. I happened to notice that this was not the case for the other teas being served—most others seemed to be served in the standard small metal teapots often found in hotels and restaurants. They work perfectly well, but how much lovelier to use a vintage china teapot! I definitely got the better deal.

There were several other places that I stopped to get tea, but Vennels Café was the one that stood out the most. Durham is a very hilly town, and with a lot of walking these tea breaks were very much appreciated. But more so than the physical effort, it is the overstimulation that so often tires me out when travelling. Taking the time to stop for tea is a great way for me to keep my energy up and, ultimately, it makes me more able to enjoy and appreciate a place. The benefits of tea never cease to amaze me.

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