"In far away lands, or wherever you be/ Friendship is welded by a good cup of tea." This sentiment was echoed by Japanese Ambassador Masaki Orita during his visit to the Bramah Tea & Coffee Museum.
According to Edward Bramah, Founder and Director of the Bramah Tea & Coffee Museum, the English caught the tea-bug from the Japanese. However, while the Japanese have been drinking tea – largely of the green variety – since the 8th century, it was only in the mid 17th century that the habit caught on in England.
To celebrate the history of tea, Mr Bramah has introduced a Bramah City Tea and Coffee Walk. This two and a half hour loop takes the visitor across the river and through the City. The Thames by London Bridge, just three minutes north of the Bramah Museum, is lined with wharves and warehouses where the tea clippers once docked and unloaded their fragrant cargoes – including one called the Boston Tea Party Old Tea Warehouse.
Just across the river, the financial heart of London is still home to insurers like Lloyds, which grew to prominence thanks to the tea and spice trade. The original auction houses are also here – on Leadenhall Street and Mincing Lane – as are coffee houses (the original 'cafés') and tea gardens (now lovely parks) dating back to the 1600s.
The Bramah Tea & Coffee Museum, just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from other visitor attractions like Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and Borough Market, really is the ideal place to spend an hour or two before or after the walk, educating and indulging oneself.
On the one hand, the Museum provides a wealth of information on the history of tea and coffee between 1600 and 1950, ranging from China and Japan through India and Ceylon to Europe, the Americas, and Africa – as well as highlighting developments specific to London. Seminars covering the history of tea, a tea tasting, and practice in preparing the perfect pot of English leaf tea are also on offer, and Mr Bramah runs a tea auction for tourists once a month. (1998 was the last year a commercial auction was held in London.)
On the other hand, the Museum is fronted by a large tea room where traditional afternoon teas and coffees are served – the tea being exclusively of the orthodox slow-infusing variety. Mr Bramah expresses horror at the advent of the teabag in the 1950s, and sells only the best loose leaf varieties at the Museum. Teabags are to leaf tea what instant coffee is to fresh-brewed. "Who wants a quick brew?" asks Mr Bramah. "Not me. There are no better things in life than tea and time."
Aside from launching the Bramah City Tea and Coffee Walk, the Museum has also introduced a group package whereby a tour of the museum, a talk and a cream tea can be included in a standard price.
• Bramah Tea & Coffee Museum, 40 Southwark Street.
• 020 7403 5640