What's brewing at the Mystery Tea House in Preston?
Something is brewing in a Preston street where many of the world's most exotic teas are now available. Hot news from Michael Barrett
I’d never seen a full flower unravelling inside a glass teapot before, but then I’d never been in a place quite like The Mystery Tea House on Cannon Street in Preston.
Chatting to its owner, Natalia Lotocka, about her favourite teas has opened up a new world to me. Like many, I’m used to herbal teas of the supermarket variety, but this was something else, something better.
I opted for a green tea called Spring-Breeze. Natalia took the jar off the shelf behind the counter and allowed me to take in the aroma before deciding. It was the first one I tried - delicate scents of apple, lemon grass, coconut, ginger, and cardamom. Once the lid was lifted there was no way I was leaving without tasting it.
The Mystery Tea House opened in September of 2009 and Natalia runs itwith her husband Tomek, her sister Paulina and team of part-time staff.
‘My parents always had a strong love of tea,’ she says. ‘This was transferred to me as I grew up. When I first moved to Preston from Poland my mother used to send me different teas as I missed them so much.
‘I was then inspired to open my own business as I couldn’t get the teasanywhere else. It was my dream. And at least now I don’t have to trouble my mother anymore!’
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With nearly 100 blends on offer, the Tea House can certainly boast that it has something to tempt every palate. Shelved in tall glass jars behind the counter, the display reminds me of an old time sweet shop. The welcome you get is old fashioned, too. A willingness to recommend and patiently share knowledge is evident.
The teas are sourced from all over the world. Speciality teas like the elegant blooming flowers, spicy teas laced with ginger and red pepper, intense green teas, chocolate teas, cherry and rum, rooibos, oolong, white, black and pink teas. Yes, pink!
Some of the names are just as inviting. How would you like a Fantasia? A Masai King? Perhaps a Fujian White Long, or a Bora Bora? Maybe a Prince of Persia? But if you just fancy good old builder’s tea or black coffee, that’s fine.
One beverage that catches my attention is the Yerba Maté. This traditional South American drink, a concoction of dried leaves, fruits and herbs, is served in a gourd, a wide mug without a handle, and narrows inwards towards the top. Water is poured on and the resulting infusion is drunk through a special straw, known as a bombilla.
The maté is said to be a social drink and I am keen to try it out on my next visit. The gourds and bombillas can be ornate, and some styles are on sale in the Tea House. Their wide assortment of teapots, tea sets and other decorative tea paraphernalia make for original gifts.
Decorated in vibrant greens and yellows the ambience is relaxing, with a touch of the tropical and on the walls, jostling for attention amidst African carved masks and elegant warrior statues, are exhibitions of vibrant paintings.
The tea house has also been used as a venue for a variety of events such as poetry readings and soon they are handling their first wedding. If that wasn’t enough, it’s a double wedding!
The Mystery Tea House, which serves some interesting looking food to accompany the teas, is fast becoming a major attraction on a street which is bucking the economic current trend - and Natalia is a vociferous force behind the campaign to pedestrianise it.
When I look at what Natalia and her family are quietly achieving here I find it difficult not to make comparisons with the famous Brucciani’s of Fishergate. That too is a café opened by immigrants, way back in the 1930s, and has become a regular fixture in the lives of its community. Will The Mystery Tea House continue to thrive like Brucci’s? I’d certainly like to think so.
It’s no mystery
So why is it called The Mystery Tea House. Natalia says: ‘The name can mean whatever youwant it to. Tea brewing and drinking has a mysterious past.
It is an ancient ceremony that plays a big role in many cultures. Each customer that visits will discover something different for themselves, they will uncover their own mystery. And also, we are quite hidden here at the bottom of the street, not everyone sees us!’