It was the day after our arrival in London for the Boston University Study Abroad program. BU, in its infinite wisdom, decided to host a mandatory boat tour that day (after treating us to 4 hours of orientation lectures). We started in Westminster and drifted down the Thames while a professor/certified tour guide spouted out facts and history about the buildings we floated past.
In the end, they dropped us off in Greenwich and left us to fend for ourselves. We had grouped together randomly, like bubbles in a bath. Several of the people in my group were still suffering from jet lag, so once we were back on solid ground, caffeine was our first order of business. Based on the map that they gave us, there was a café near Greenwich Park. So, in a drowsy haze, we walked in that direction.
Everything was still so new to us: People driving on the opposite side of the street, the double decker buses, the winding roads. Despite our general lack of sleep, we were still curious and open to exploring. We found a random alleyway with shops and decided to wander down it.
At the end of the alleyway was a sign hanging from a second story wall. I can’t quite recall the exact name of the place, but I do remember us being caught by the words “Café: The Coffee.” We ambled up to the shop. Another sign outside was advertising “Cream Tea—scone, jam & clotted cream, and tea” for £3.50.
We peered inside. It was a little place. A chrome/laminate counter and register hid the coffee machines, ice cream freezer, and pastries, and took up most of the space in the entry way. A man squeezed past us, coming back in from serving the people in the tables out front. A woman stood behind the counter making the coffee and guarding the food. A whiteboard menu hung above them. We could tell it was local, old, real.
We turned to each other and said something like, “This place looks okay. The cream tea sounds good. Let’s go in.”
I don’t know how many of us were just desperate for caffeine and didn’t really care where we went, but I was genuinely interested in the cream tea. Real English tea and scones in a local café? How could I say no?
The man led us to an upstairs sitting room, which was complete with plain, wooden tables and creaky floorboards. After a quick look at the menus he provided us, we knew what we wanted: one cappuccino with an ice cream cone, one herbal tea, and five cream teas.
When the cream teas arrived, we all gasped (either inwardly or outwardly) in eagerness. After the waiter left, we immediately went about eating our scones. We hesitantly put on the clotted cream and jam, only vaguely aware of how we were supposed to eat it. Once everything appeared to be properly spread on my scone, I took a bite and fell in love.
In hindsight, the jam wasn’t the best, and the tea was probably Tetley (the most basic type of bagged tea here). But it was the first cream tea, the first tea and scone I had in England, and it will always remain delicious in my memory.