It’s called TR&D (Tea Research and Development).
And why I was in Scotland sipping my way through 4 days of tea in gorgeous Edinburgh. The goal: ingest as much Scottish Breakfast Blend teas as humanly possible. (And find the best Gluten Free Scone.)
It was a short trip packed with a lot of nothing but tea, and I started every single morning sitting at the glass dining table in a lovely little Airbnb Castle Apartment in the Grassmarket overlooking the Edinburgh Castle. Each morning started perfectly gloomy and rainy but then turned into blue skies later in the day, or wafting clouds, or a drop in temp, or a rise in temp, or a sprinkle of rain or a dust of snow. As my taxi driver to the airport said to me: “We have 4 seasons in one day here.” Absolutely true.
The only “plan” I had was to do at least 1 afternoon tea a day.
Day 1: Arrival in Edinburgh
After dropping my bag off at the apartment, I set out on foot to find my first cuppa. I had no agenda and no map. I just turned right outside the black gate and started walking. I eventually decided to head over the National Museum of Scotland. There are 3 places to have tea inside the museum: A Brasserie on the main floor, a small cafe on the 2nd floor and the Tower Restaurant on the top floor. I sat at the small cafe with a small pot of tea as I made an online reservation for afternoon tea at the Tower Restaurant. I walked the museum until my 2pm seating which was at a table by the window with a gorgeous view of the city roof tops and architecture. They offered a gluten-free option which I ordered, a pot of Breakfast Blend and a glass of bubbles. The GF Scones were expected and nothing to write home about, but the clotted cream? So thick! So creamy! Best I ever had.
With a belly full of caffeine and carbs, I headed out to wander (again) to see where it would lead. Which to my surprise and delight it was The Elephant House – made famous by J.K. Rowling because it’s where she wrote Harry Potter. I asked for a table in the backroom, a pot of Breakfast tea and waited for the magic to find its way into my bones. Many writers have visited here and I can see why J.K. spent many days at the table in the back by the window writing and sipping. This would be the first of 4 visits I’d make during my time in the city.
Fully tea-logged I set out on foot again and stumbled upon a wee tea shop called Cuttea Sark. I walked in to this postage stamp sized adorable and authentic treasure and met John Bowman the proprietor who’s had the shop for 21 years. This was his “after retirement project.” We had quite a long chat talking about teas and specifically Scottish Breakfast Blends. He was sure to explain the marketing gimmick of blends like Scottish, Irish and English Breakfast. I purchased his blend and after his recommendations on where to find some old antique bookshops, I continued on my way finally making it back to the Castle Apartment for yet another pot of tea to unwind from a very long day of my walking tea adventure. This time just an herbal concoction of peppermint and spearmint I brought along from my own garden.
Day 2: Tuesday
Waking to a dust of snow on the castle, I sat at the little table writing and sipping a pot of Cuttea Sark’s Breakfast Blend which was quite good! Had earthy malty notes I was looking for, but the Ceylon really came through. Very brisk and surprisingly smooth.
As I’m prone to do, I had no plan. On this day I turned left outside the black gate. First stop was Armchair Books, then another bookshop and another and yet another until I found my way to Loudon’s at the recommendation of my Airbnb Host. It was now time for lunch and I opted for the GF quiche, a GF Scone (to compare) and a pot of orange Oolong. I’m not one to typically enjoy a flavored oolong since the natural taste is so gorgeous on its own, but since it was on the menu I gave it a chance. Decent cuppa tea, but not one that would change my mind about wanting flavored Oolongs. The GF scone was actually a bit more flavorful then the Towers, but still had that dry crumbly quality we all must endure.
With my full belly (again) I headed out walking to Princes Street and along the gardens below the Castle eventually making my way to the famous Sir Walter Scott Memorial to pay a visit to (one of) my ancestors. I lost count at how many steps to the top. The climb up the stone circular steps are not for the faint of heart, those who feel claustrophobic or get dizzy easily. The higher you go the narrower the steps become until you must turn a bit sideways to make it up to the top and then… you are gifted with a spectacular view of the entire city in all directions!
After my climb down, I headed over to Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill also known as the “disgrace of Scotland” because it was only a partial build of Greek columns since they ran out of money and couldn’t complete it. All that walking awakened my need for tea and luckily a small outpost (food truck of sorts) called Milk was ready and waiting to serve up a surprisingly good cup of Milk Oolong. A few sips and off I went again until daylight faded and I realized I had logged 8.89 miles on my FitBit. I headed back to the flat but not before stopping at I.J. Mellis for local cheese infused with truffles and local GF crackers to have with an evening herbal infusion of mint, and watch British TV. It was that night that I was introduced to England’s most famous gardner: Monty Don.
Day 3: Wednesday
Now into my morning routine of tea, toast, writing and staring at the Castle, I contemplated the days tea-adventure. I had heard of an independent tea shop called Pekoe Tea on Levin Street and decided that would be my first destination. It was a small shop that’s been around for about 7 years and slightly more contemporary in style, selection… and price. There seemed to be a good representation of single origin teas among the many blends they offered. What I loved was the small intimate feel of the shop and how you could sit at the tiny bar in the window and people watch. Which is what I did until it was time to pop into an acupuncturist for a treatment just across the street, and then meet up with a friend for (no surprise)… Afternoon Tea.
Travel. The best invention. It not only opens your mind, expands your point of view, challenges your comfort zone and delights the tastebuds – it can even bring new friends into you life. In this case, it was Vanessa (originally from Edinburgh) who I first met in Reykjavik, Iceland two years prior. And now here we were meeting again to enjoy afternoon tea at Eteaket. We both opted for black teas: Darjeeling 2nd Flush for me and Breakfast Blend for her. Talking and sipping and talking and sipping and snacking and sipping made the time fly and before we knew it… the sun was setting. The afternoon tea service was lovely, as was the atmosphere and company, and the GF scone was really quite good and not too dry.
I admitted to Vanessa that I have been on the hunt for a toast rack. After watching Ladies in Lavender, I’ve been on a mad search to own one. Not common in the US as we just put our toast on a plate. But the idea of toast, standing upright… in a rack? By God I must have one! She humored me and took me to John Lewis (love!) and low and behold: A ceramic toast rack! Made even better by the fact that it was on sale!
After a my toast rack adventure and a mini tour of the coast, I was back at the flat. I decided to step outside for some air and a brisk walk finding my way yet again back to the Elephant House. A nice chat with Jane from Ireland over the virtues of Scottish teas and her finally admitting her love and loyalty to Barry’s Tea. And then, in the blink of an eye, she was handing me slice of GF carrot cake to take home. Best I’ve ever had and not just because it was free. Elephant House magic…
Day 4: Last Day
The plan was to spend another full day wandering and find one last place for Afternoon Tea. I turned left out of the black gate and headed to Edinburgh Castle and walked up that fabulously steep hill to tour this ancient beauty which dates back to the Iron Age. I was too early for the tearoom to be open, but the mere fact that you could also have tea in a Castle delighted me. I did however enjoy my first ever Whiskey tasting. (I’ll be sticking to tea.)
My walk along the Royal Mile had me stopping at the recommended Gladstones which is one of the oldest buildings on that road. I had strict instructions by Meredith (one of my tea customers) to pick up Crystal’s Shortbread because, “it is the best and not sold outside of Scotland.” As I continued along making my way, I had a chance to stop into the Writers’ Museum which is tucked away just off the Royal Mile. A nice look around reading up on Sir Walter Scott and other noteworthy Scottish writers.
Back on the Royal Mile and I’m not making much headway with all these tempting tiny shops to duck into. Finally, I’ve made it to the Queens’ residence when she stays in Scotland: Holyrood Palace. No photos are allowed inside – only the outside and gardens are permitted. I decided to take a tour but in retrospect I’d have been ok passing this up and saving the 17 pounds. I will say the gardens are the real show stopper and the gift shop had absolutely stunning replicas of royal tea ware and patterns. Very tempting indeed.
I realized that time was flying and I hadn’t had Afternoon tea yet. Since I was on this side of town I decided to walk over to The Dome and enjoy my last formal tea of the trip. The Dome is gorgeous. It was a former bank turned into a bar/restaurant with a Georgian Tearoom on the 2nd level. It was just as spectacular. The menu and selection was limited but covered what anyone might want. My choice was the China Green with Jasmine. Highly floral just the way I like it. Whole leaf teas in a silver teapot and a tower of treat arrived. The verdict: Best. GF. Scone. Ever. The light hint of vanilla was surprising and noteworthy. Not too dry and the apricots and raisins made it perfect. My tastebuds were singing.
My day was nearing to a close, but there was still more to do. I powered up and continued to walk back towards the Grassmarket to have a last look in Cabaret and Curiosities and her eclectic collection of antique jewelry – specifically the antique brooches. As I walked through the Princes Street Gardens and on the Mound, I saw the Scottish National Gallery and decided to go in for a look around. In one of the rooms was an older gentleman sketching a section of a painting. You can see the photo below. So much gorgeous work… don’t miss out on this one.
From there I headed back to the Diagon House / Museum of Context also known Harry Potter Shop on Victoria Street – to see if I could find a book. I did in fact find a 1997 UK Special Edition of the first book with the original title before American publishers forced J.K. to change the name from the Philosophers Stone to the Sorcerer’s Stone. With new (old) book in hand there was only one place I was going to sit for my very last night to read: The Elephant House. I took the back room table in the corner by the window. Ordered some herbal tea, a bowl of vegetable soup and read Chapter 1. I made sure to buy a tin of their Royal Blend of black tea and say goodbye to lovely Jane from Ireland who yet again, gifted me with a slice of GF Carrot cake to take away. Off I went back to the Castle Apartment to pack and relax for the journey home on Friday.
There were many other places to have tea but some of them didn’t make the cut because there either wasn’t a Gluten-free option or I ran out of time. I have heard good things about the following (and plan to do a Part 2 trip in the near future):
I can not say enough good things about Edinburgh. It’s topped my personal list of favorite cities and if there was a way to live there and drink tea all day long, I’d do it.
So after 4 days and logging 8+ miles of walking a day:
- The best cuppas of the week: Darjeeling 2nd Flush: Eteaket; Breakfast Blend: Elephant House
- The best GF Scone: The Dome
- The best view during tea and the best clotted cream and blackcurrant jam: The Tower Restaurant
- The best cafe with Vegan and GF selections: Loudon’s
- The best GF Carrot Cake: The Elephant House
- The best small authentic teashop: Cuttea Sark
The work now begins as I take my “research” and create a new member to add to the Pearl Fine Teas family: a Scottish heritage blend. It’s debut is TBD.
Hope you enjoyed this post, the photos and find it helpful should decide to spend 4 days drinking tea in Edinburgh!
~The Chief Leaf