Black Swan Tearoom and Patisserie, Helmsley

Try a cup or nine in the tearoom at the famous Black Swan, Helmsley and you won't be disappointed, says Tony Greenway

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Tea, as the old television advert used to tell us, is the best drink of the day.

That’s doubly true at the Black Swan Tearoom and Patisserie in Helmsley (part of the Black Swan Hotel, known for its excellent rooms and fine dining restaurant).

Here, tea isn’t just a drink. It’s an art form. Recently the Black Swan Tearoom was awarded entry into the prestigious Tea Guild, where it now takes its place alongside other world-famous hotels including The Ritz and The Dorchester.

Last year, it was awarded the Tea Guild’s Top Tea Place 2010. So, of course, the tea here isn’t just any old cup of char with a splash of milk and two sugars. In fact, the Black Swan is so taken with tea that, earlierthis year, it commissioned its own range of quirky, specially blended large leaf teas.

These are now being served in the tearoom itself; but, after Christmas, will also be available to buy in the shops in their own striking packaging.Called Teas with Soul, they come in a variety of flavours and have been created by tearoom manager and passionate tea enthusiast Alison Souter, and blended by master tea maker, Alex Probyn.

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When we arrive, the leaves of all nine teas are laid out on a table in littlebowls, awaiting our arrival with some hot water. Apart from the loose teas,Alison holds up a tea bag on a string filled with the tearoom’s signature brew, Black Swan Blend. Actually, to call it a tea bag doesn’t do it justice; it’s delicate, gossamer light and beautiful.

The idea for Teas with Soul started with the Black Swan Blend, explainsAlison, which has the maltiness of Assam and is completely nourishing and satisfying, drunk with milk or lemon.

After its success with tearoom guests, Alison came up with ideas for otherblends using flavours and ingredients to create a range of speciality teas that has real personality.

‘We thought why serve them all in a teapot?’ she explains. ‘For instance, our whisky and ginger tea is served in a decanter and glasses. Plus, theingredients are all so pure. Everything is of the most fantastic quality so they are also doing you good.’

We do, too. First up is the apple, mint and chilli green tea which, saysAlison, is revitalising and invigorating.

The chilli isn’t overpowering, but it does give this cup a delightfully warming kick. The honey, cherry and ginseng combination is divine, with the honey flavours driving through first and an undercurrent of cherry on the aftertaste, refreshing but calming.

The gin and tonic tea, or the G&Tea as it’s known at the Black Swan, is inspired. A green tea served hot or, even better to my taste, cold in a tall glass with a long slice of cucumber. I could imagine drinking  that one quite happily at Wimbledon.

As a bonus, it also settles the stomach.

The whisky and ginger was another favourite. Partly that’s down to the way it’s served in the decanter and then poured into chunky glasses. ‘You can imagine drinking this one by a fire in winter,’ says Alison. She’s right.

It conjures up images of grouse shooting and hipflasks, too. The rooibos and liquorice is robust and creamy but my favourite has to be the pomegranate and passion fruit, served cold, on ice in a long glass. Somany fruit teas can be disappointingly thin. This one is dazzlingly zesty and the perfect summer tonic.

After that, it’s back to a bit of tradition with the Earl Gray Blue Flower Uva Ceylon tea with bergamot and cornflowers, served with milk, a smoky treat.

Cleverly, Alison and the Black Swan have created something that tea lovers will adore but even non-tea drinkers will enjoy.

Black Swan Tearoom and PatisserieHelmsley, Yorkshire, YO62 5BJ01439

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