“ Brand: Atkinson´s Tea and Coffe Shop / Type: Tea and Coffee „
Atkinson's is an independent tea and coffee shop in Lancaster. The shop has been in business since the 19th century, established in 1837 and occupying the current site since 1901. It looks like it has hardly changed since the days of the British Empire, and it is on my short list of shops I actually like to visit. This is quite high praise, since I normally don't like going shopping at all.
Stepping into this shop is like slipping into a Victorian/Edwardian dreamworld. Rows of copper tea urns adorn the shelves, all carefully inscribed with their exotic contents. Hessian sacks of coffee beans prop up displays of luxury chocolate and tiffin. A few wrought iron chairs and tables allow the lucky few who got their early enough to claim them and order from the cafe menu. And the far corner looks like the home laboratory of an inventive alchemist; vividly coloured liquers in every shape of bottle imaginable are tucked away, their appearance magical and otherworldly. No doubt their contents could transport you to another dimension, if not drunk in sensible measures.
It looks as if it has not been altered in the slightest. And its antiquated insides do not look unhygienic at all - glass surfaces are clean and the floors look regularly swept.
Atkinson's range is impressive. Teas are imported from India, Japan, China, Kenya and beyond; I had no idea that you could get tea from Georgia. Fruit teas are available (and much mellower than some of the sickly supermarket ones), as well as other infusions such as vanilla, and other exotic types such as Green Gunpowder or Russian Caravan. The coffee list is completely exhaustive - if you can name it, they almost certainly have it. Tea is almost always loose leaf, and coffee beans whole, though I believe they will grind them for you if you ask (I'm not a coffee fan, so having never ordered it I'm not certain). You can order them in packets of 125, 250 or 500 grams. These are packaged in deep sea-green foil packs for tea and shiny brown for coffee and hot chocolate, with the names hand-written on in silver. These make excellent classy-looking stocking-fillers. Each tea or coffee is priced differently, price reflecting rarity. It is a good idea to invest in air-tight caddies if you want to try lots of them though - even the 125g packets last quite a while and could lose their flavour if just left in the bags.
While tea and coffee are the mainstay of their stock, you can also get hot chocolate and syrups to flavour them, bars of exotic chocolate, cake, tiffin and parkin. They also stock a dazzling selection of liquers, vintage ports and aged whiskeys, although the hefty price tags for these have prohibited my buying any of them. I don't doubt that they would be a real treat, though.
The whole tea and coffee drinking ritual is celebrated here, as you can also buy cafetieres, mugs and tea sets too. Since space for these is limited, it looks like they have opted for the high-end of the range, with good quality and prices to match.
~Staff and Service~
The staff are knowledgeable, friendly, chatty and efficient. Even on a busy Saturday during the Christmas shopping season I've not been kept waiting too long (or maybe I have, and I just like being in there so much even the queuing is pleasant). The current manager (can't recall his name, sorry) is a total caffeine geek, and enthusiastically shares his knowledge should you wish to know anything about his wares. If you're dazzled by the range on offer, then they'll be more than happy to recommend things based on your tastes.
Situated on the main one-way street that encircles Lancaster town centre, it is very easy to get to. Parking in Lancaster is usually rubbish, but there's a secure multi-storey car park just a few yards down the road.
If you can't get up to Lancashire, then you can order a lot of their items for delivery from their website. Getting those small green packets in the post is a great treat, and are good to send as surprises to friends. Orders usually come within 3 - 5 days, but they do say on their site to allow longer at Christmas as they have a lot of orders to fulfill. Not everything in their store can be ordered, and they only ship to locations in the British Isles. They also don't take paypal, which is a minus point.
Having lived in Lancaster for a few years, I must have parted with a fair bit of cash at this shop. If you're ever on your way to or past Lancaster, I recommend you take time out to visit this place. Sometimes it's good to give in to your senses. As Gandalf says in the Lord of the Rings movie, 'when in doubt, always follow your nose'. Advice well remembered in the City of the Red Rose when this place is open; just follow the big aromatic cloud up the hill.