Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a tea obsessive. I’m actually a certified tea taster, for what that’s worth.
I drink tea with friends and when enjoying time alone, to wake me up and to help me sleep. Needless to say, I’ve drunk my fair share of brews in my time here in York.
Here are my top tearooms (and cafés) in the city. I tried to squeeze them into ten, but failed, so here’s my top eleven favourites:
- Best for the luxury British experience – Bettys. I’ve talked before about my love of Bettys and while this list comes in no particular order, it would be wrong to put this Yorkshire institution anywhere other than the top. Yes it’s touristy, but it’s also a favourite with locals like me. To avoid the queues I prefer to go for a late lunch in the main dining room or book a table for afternoon tea upstairs in the Belmont (the Lady Grey afternoon tea with Champagne is a bucket list must). Bettys is indeed one my favourite places in the world. Harking back to a nostalgic dream with its art deco interiors and gentle piano accompaniment, somehow all feels right in the world.
- Best for a refined afternoon – The Grand Hotel & Spa. Sometimes the tourist crowds can get a bit overwhelming, especially around Christmas time. The only five star hotel in Yorkshire is a welcome retreat from the masses. Situated just a few minutes walk from the train station, I often stop here before I properly start my day. With a lovely little spa (probably the best in the city), and serving a range of excellent afternoon teas, The Grand is medicine for the soul. I always seem to be in a rush and generally opt for a simple green tea. However my husband has left me to check out our new home in Chile, and I’m in the UK doing the single parenting thing so I think I deserve something a little stronger. Yes, it may be the (very early) morning, but next time I’ll be ordering the Hendricks Tipsy G&Tea. Cheers!
- Best for the quaint English tearoom experience – Bettys Stonegate. Putting Little Bettys at number four doesn’t mean I like it any less than its bigger sister at number one. In fact, in many ways I love it even more. The tearoom used to be called Taylors and locals like me managed to dupe the crowds who didn’t realise it was one and the same as the bigger Bettys on the nearby St Helen’s Square. Annoyingly they changed the name and now clued up tourists bulk up the queues. I still love it though. It’s a cosy, higgledy piggledy place with exposed beams and creaky floor boards. While it’s a little less grand in style, and getting a baby buggy in is not so easy, service and food are just as impressive as you would expect from its better known sibling. For me, Little Bettys is a very comforting reminder that I’m home.
- Best for hipsters and coffee aficionados – Brew and Brownie. Until recently it felt that York was a place of tourist traps or beautifully quaint tearooms, but with nothing in between and none of the more modern instagram worthy cafés. Now York is flooded with them, but they’re not all as good as they look on the website. Brew and Brownie really is as good at it looks however, and is a firm favourite among students, young professionals and northern hipsters (yes, they’re not all in East London). While I’m a tea drinker, the coffee here is very, very good. The food is simple, but excellent, with local produce reigning throughout.
- Best for a cosy afternoon – Barbakan. I recently discovered this fabulous little Polish cafe tucked down Walmgate. With its random knickknacks and antiques in every space, it feels like visiting a great aunt from abroad. Stop here for a light lunch, (the borscht is a winner) or something a little heavier (the ginormous Polish ales and pirogi dumplings are not for calorie counters). Cakes are just like the Polish grandmother you never had would bake, although our screaming toddler forced us to leave before dessert time. Staff are a happy bunch and seemed to be on first names terms with a stream of regular customers. Aside from all the different Polish beers, a wide range of unusual herbal teas and speciality vodkas are on the menu. On our visit, our waitress was extolling the flavours of a new blackberry vodka, as well as their signature honey blend. As my youngest screamed his lungs out, I decided that next time I’d be skipping the borscht and going straight for the vodka.
- Best for special diets – El Piano. I’ve reviewed this vegan, gluten free café before and I really do love it. While the owners are Spanish, and food is served according to tapas and racion sizes, the menu is influenced from all over the world. The gigantic salads with ginger slaw, chunky hoummous and seasonal vegetables are enough to fill up the most hollow of legs and I challenge anyone not to fall in love with the velvety rich homemade chocolate ice cream or coconut milky hot chocolate. As you might expect from an organic vegan hangout, interiors are wonderfully eclectic and topsy turvy. The founders have won numerous awards and while it’s not fine dining, if you’re vegan or just love healthy food, then it really is damn fine.
- Best for foodies – Mannion and Co. I first discovered this super little bistro through its sister in the Yorkshire town of Helmsley. I’ve loved Mannion in Helmsley for a while but silly me, apparently the York bistro has been popular for some time now. I’m annoyed for not having discovered this place sooner. Expaters, if you’re on the hunt for somewhere refined but not formal, with great food but without needing a reservation, then Mannion and Co is for you. With home baked artisinal breads and beautifully prepared seasonal specials, as well as their now trademark boards of charcuterie and local cheeses, it’s more of a relaxed bistro than a mere café. The pastries are well known among locals in the city – be sure to stock up for your ride home.
- Best for sightseers – Café Concerto. Ideally situated just a stone’s throw from York Minister, this is a great place for soups and simple sandwiches. The cakes are top class – so much so that a former school friend who worked here would accept part of her pay in lemon cheesecake. The décor hasn’t changed in years – tea stained music sheets and rusty musical instruments line the walls and menus are dotted around on chalk boards. The whole place is very narrow so good luck getting a buggy in, or a cheesecake filled belly out.
- Best for comfort cake – Wheldrakes. Friendly staff, a happy local vibe, and again spitting distance from York Minster. There’s no surprise this tiny café tops Trip Advisor rankings. If you’re allergic to chintz, then this place might not be for you, but if you appreciate fantastic service and a range of truly scrumptious homemade cakes then you really can’t go wrong here. The simple café menu is pretty decent (soups, sandwiches and so on), but it’s the cakes which are the showstopper here. A word of warning – it’s closed on Wednesdays and on my last visit they’d run out of their chocolate beetroot number – even the cold cakes sell like hot cakes, so get there in good time.
- Best for breakfast – Burr Coffee. This one is handily located on my walk into town, so it’s a place I now like to go for breakfast. I’m a tea geek and the gunpowder green ain’t half bad at all, but as you can guess from the name it’s rather popular with coffee addicts too. Breakfast is its thing here and I do like the mushrooms with halloumi on sourdough. If you’re up for a late liquid breakfast, then a good selection of Yorkshire ales is on offer too.
- Best for buggy access (and cyclists) – Café 68 at Cycle Heaven. If you’re looking to take a stroll (or cycle) along York’s riverbank, then there is a place I can recommend for a breather on the way. While on the tin it says it’s a café for cyclists, I bet most of the regulars have never cycled in their last decade. Yes, there are some seriously expensive cycles here and you do spot the odd bit of lycra, but don’t let this put you off. I’ve packed my bicycle to be shipped to Chile, but that doesn’t prevent me from stopping for tea and cake here every couple of weeks. The vegan lumberjack treacle brownie is very, very good. So good that last time I ordered all 13 slices for myself (to take away, of course… I’m not greedy). There’s a little play area for the kids, plenty of room for buggies, decent parking space if you’re coming by car, good changing facilities and staff with a permanent smile. Oh, and bikes.
Happy tea time!
P.S Word on the block is that The Teddy Bear Tea Rooms is also great. However as this tiny shop has no lift and a narrow staircase, it’s not at all buggy friendly so I can’t vouch for it. Guy Fawkes lived on its cobbled medieval road called Stonegate and just as importantly, legend has it that the Teddy Bear Tea Room’s sourdough sandwiches are as well stuffed as their bears. If you go, do let me know your thoughts.