I discovered Kanuka at just the right time!
I was looking for a tearoom - somewhere I hadn't been before - for a birthday get-together with a few friends. A couple of hours later I saw a tweet from John Hesler, the founder of Kanuka, during Twitter's weekly #TeaHour and - boom! - I was sold.
Kanuka sell over 40 varieties of loose-leaf tea online, and also stock each variety at their tea house in St Albans, available by the cup, pouch or caddy.
To help you with the difficult choice of what to drink first, Kanuka have built a wall of tea, displaying each of their blends in a corked bottle for you to inspect and inhale, along with full information on ingredients, taste, and brewing. I like this. It enhances and prolongs the tea experience, provokes discussion, and encourages you to try and buy.
The tea house itself walks a line between modern and traditional, in terms of design and atmosphere. A range of bright colours and comfortable seating, set against dark wood, tiles, and clean lines. Minimalist with a dash of comfort. I was expecting teapots and timers, but there are no fussy tablecloths or delicate china to be found here. Most of the tea is brewed by staff for the requisite amount of time and served in lightweight faux-glass mugs. When a teapot does make an appearance it's small and clear glass. Teas requiring extra preparation are served in appropriate cups or bowls.
I can see the logic behind this. Your tea is brewed for the amount of time specified on the label, and served up ready to drink. Simple, no fuss. And yet... Kanuka say that their tea house "pays homage to the world of loose leaf tea and celebrates the whole ritual surrounding it". But for me, waiting for my tea to brew, watching the leaves unfurl and expand, breathing in the steamy aroma as I pour - these are a big part of the tea ritual, and are lost when it is simply served up in a mug. So I was a little disappointed at first, without a teapot, but really the presentation here is so crisp and clean that it's hard to stay unhappy for long.
Brewing time is indeed crucial in achieving the perfect cup of tea, and recommendations vary from blend to blend. But even within the recommendation for a specific tea there is a 'between'. Brew for between 3 and 5 minutes. Infuse for between 5 and 10 minutes. Five minute tea will taste very different to ten minute tea, but when someone else brews it for you, you don't know quite what you're getting. It's all down to personal preference really. If you know how you like your tea, perhaps you could order it specifically lightly or strongly brewed, as one might order a steak rare or well-done.
The Vanilla Bean that I ordered as my first choice was, for me, too lightly brewed. It was watery, as if from re-brewed leaves, and not quite what I was hoping for.
My second choice was Chilli Rooibos. Sniffing the leaves in the jar, this blend seemed to have an intriguing sweet smell, like marzipan, but this didn't come through at all when brewed, and now I'm wondering if perhaps someone simply put the jar back in the wrong place. Are the jars labelled? I didn't check. Anyway, the tea itself was very pleasant, seeming not at all spicy at first, but then with a chilli aftertaste manifesting on the tongue and encouraging you to take another sip. Something to wake you up without caffeine.
My third choice was Green Peach Blossom. A lovely combination, it smelt mouth-watering in the jar, but again was too lightly brewed for my taste, with the peach notes just not coming through at all.
The tea menu divides the blends into Classic, Wellbeing, and Naughty. Classic are your blacks, greens, whites, and rooibos. Wellbeing is mostly floral and herbal, but also includes mate. Naughty is - well, it's just delicious sounding fruit-based blends. All a bit arbitrary really. A lovely Earl Grey can enhance your wellbeing if you need a shot of caffeine. And there's really nothing 'naughty' about blends of fruit and nut. It's a bit of fun, I suppose.
This might sound like a lot of criticism, but actually - I really liked Kanuka. My friends and I had a very enjoyable time there, and we now have a lovely place to meet up that's fairly central to all of us.
The staff were lovely: present and helpful, without being intrusive. My friend S ordered and paid for four teas in one go, all for herself, to be brought out in succession. The staff were really good at keeping track of this order, and noticing when S was ready for her next tea. Service was prompt and polite, and cups and plates were cleared away in a timely fashion.
Kanuka offer loyalty cards, so make sure you get one. Between the five of us we filled a card and a half within a few hours!
I would recommend Kanuka to everyone, tea enthusiasts and casual tea drinkers alike, whether you want to drop in for a quick cuppa, or while away a rainy afternoon with friends. But what will you drink first?
Accessible: Yes, but not much room to manoeuvre.
Seating: Indoor & outdoor.
Tea Selection: Excellent. 40+ varieties loose leaf.
Food: Yes, light bites. Sandwiches, cakes etc.
Pricing: Approx £3-4 for a sandwich or ciabatta.
Vegetarian Food: Yes, a couple of items.
Vegetarian items marked on menu: No.
Vegan Food: Unknown.
Vegan items marked on menu: No.
Gluten-Free: Yes, egg & cress sandwich, cake.
Gluten-Free items marked on menu: Yes.
Off-menu orders: Unknown.
Child menu: No.
Highchairs: Yes, just one.
Breastfeeding Friendly: Unknown.
Dogs Welcome: Possibly - there was a dog inside whilst I was there.
Loyalty Card: Yes.
Accessible Toilet: Yes, but no grab bars, emergency cord, etc.
Baby Change: Yes.
Would Recommend: Yes!