Starbucks is a terrible place. The coffee is poor, the decor is designed to actively discourage lingering, and the bloody company doesn't even pay its taxes. Boo hiss. But not many other chains - taxes aside, as far as we know - are much better. Full of sofas that look comfy from a distance but are actually disconcertingly unyielding, they tend to be staffed by baristas who are either frazzled and unsmiling or so horrifyingly overfamiliar that if there wasn't a large plastic croissant-filled cabinet between you and them you'd be worrying for your personal safety.
And it's not as if London is without plenty of excellent independent coffee shops, all of which sell far better coffee than the chains, in spaces with much more ambiance and way fewer tourists. But sometimes - being British - one wants a cup of tea instead of a paper cup full of frothy milk and ground beans. And for that, I usually head to a small and select London-based tea chain; the pleasingly named, Yumchaa. As a peaceful, calm cup of tea is to a hastily-grabbed take-away coffee, so Yumchaa is to the Neros and Starbucks of the city.
|The interior of Yumchaa on Tottenham Street|
A far cry from the crowded tiny tables and shrink-wrapped slivers of cake of the larger coffee chains, Yumchaa is a peaceful place to sit, drink several cups of tea, chat and work in peace. Large wooden tables surrounded by mismatched chairs, positively encourage the spreading out of papers, whilst the free wifi acts as an efficient student-magnet. Each branch stocks a vast range of teas which can be served steaming hot with silver strainers or whizzed up over ice on a hotter day (ok, maybe less what you might be feeling like in December). And no cup of tea is complete with a decent piece of cake to keep it company. (After some extensive personal research - you're welcome, by the way - I can highly recommend a wedge of Yumchaa's chocolate velvet loaf cake.)
Yumchaa has a very cosy little branch in Soho, and a few larger shops off the Tottenham Court Road, and in Camden; one on the Lock and one on Parkway. On the nights when yet another trip to the pub sounds less than enticing - and there are rather a lot of them around now we're fully immersed in the Christmas party season of forced festive frivolity - Yumchaa has become a welcome alternative for my work chum, the Accidental Ally, and I, after office hours. In a rarely civilised way for London, Yumchaa doesn't firmly close its doors at 6pm. Joy! Sipping our teas shortly before 7 the other evening a cheery member of staff approached our table. Thinking we were about to be politely asked to leave so that they could start cleaning up we readied our bags and murmured about just being on our way. 'No! No!' she reassured us, 'I was just coming to tell you we'll be closing up in an hour!'. Relieved we slumped back into our chairs. Maybe there'd be time for another wedge of chocolate velvet loaf cake...