“ Address: 1st Floor / 2 Leazes Park Road / Newcastle upon Tyne / NE1 4PF „
I've long been one to bang the drum for the independent coffee house. The apparently shocking news that Starbucks ensures it pays the minimum possible tax to the UK treasury by cleverly exploiting the loopholes in the system doesn't surprise me in the slightest and is just another reason to avoid this international chain that doesn't play by the rules and contributes to the loss of identity of our high streets. The independent coffee house is where I head to catch up with friends over a coffee or fill in half an hour with a latte and a good book. Not any more, however; you see, tea is the new coffee and in Newcastle that means only one place - Tea Sutra.
As the name suggests Tea Sutra is a tea specialist, offering hundreds of varieties of tea as well as vegetarian and vegan sandwiches, cakes and biscuits and light meals. The business comprises the tea house and an alternative therapies centre on the floor above. It's located on Newcastle Leazes Park Road, a minute's walk from Old Eldon Square and Newcastle's main shopping area. The tea house is on the first floor and there are two short but narrow sets of stairs to access it; I have seen people get up there with a pushchair but it may be easier to leave the pushchair stashed on the ground floor and just carry the baby up the stairs. There is no access for wheelchair users.
Tea Sutra has a very calm and relaxed atmosphere which is apparent as soon as you go in; even on a busy Saturday lunchtime the vibe is laid back and Tea Sutra is a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle outside. A long wooden counter runs along one side of the café and behind it, on wooden shelves like the sort you'd have found in an old fashioned chemist's shop, are the canisters of the many kinds of tea stocked at Tea Sutra. The place has a wonderful smell, a mixture of all the different varieties of tea which has amalgamated to become a warm, slightly sweet aroma with spicy undertones.
The seating is a mixed bag with several rattan chairs and sofas which are covered in differently sized cushions and bolsters made from richly coloured fabrics, one conventional table with wooden dining style chairs and, at the far end of the café, a low platform covered in colourful rugs and cushions; customers are asked to remove their outdoor footwear if they wish to sit on the platform. I must confess that some of the rattan chairs are less than comfortable and one in particular, usually situated just in front of the counter near the entrance to the kitchen, is a bit saggy and it's difficult to get out of it once you've sat down.
There are lots of plants and ethnic-y bits and pieces which, along with the low volume music (usually traditional Indian music, sometimes Hare Krishna chanting) creates an eastern ambience that in turn creates a relaxed environment where you don't feel at all hurried (in fact, you'll be offered a flask of hot water so you can top up your tea and get the most out of your leaves).
I've only recently got into 'tea tea'by which I mean tea other than your fruit or herbal teas from the mainstream brands. I've never drunk tea like PG Tips or Typhoo with milk (what I would call British tea) and the closest I would get to black tea would be the occasional cup of Earl Grey with a slice of lemon. Recently I've been trying to drink less coffee so I have been drinking increasingly more tea, and trying different types. I can't profess to be an expert so the descriptions provided by Tea Sutra are very useful.
The different types of tea are divided into sections such as black teas, oolong teas (white teas), flowering chrysanthemum teas (these are the ones where the dried blossoms puff up when hot water is poured over them - always great to watch) or green teas. There are a few fruit teas but you won't find a lengthy list of them because Tea Sutra is really about fine teas. Most recently I tried an orange pekoe which is a medium strength black tea with a fragrant citrusy note; while I had that Himself treated Himself to a very sugary but deliciously aromatic chai made with soya milk (chai being the name used to describe the heavily sweetened Indian tea flavoured with spices such as cloves and cinnamon).
The chai was served in a fabulous white porcelain pot shaped like an elephant. The different types of teas are served in different ways. The oolong teas are served in a clear pot similar to a cafetiere in which the leaves are steeped in the hot water before a plunger is depressed so the liquid can be poured out. Black teas are usually served in squat matt black ceramic tea pots along with a strainer to separate the leaves when pouring. I like that the customer is involved in the whole tea experience in this way, much more fun than having someone just stick a coffee in front of you.
The menu is chalked up on a board at one end of the cafe; there are always a few wraps to choose from, one soup (which changes daily) and a couple of hot mains. Most recently we had a rice and bean burrito and a falafel wrap with spinach and a delicious chutney. Due to a nut allergy I steer away from the sweet things at Tea Sutra but there's a choice of some tasty looking vegan and vegetarian cakes, as well as small bars of fairly traded chocolate. My only criticism would be that the food is quite expensive with the wraps coming in between £4.00 - £6.00; however, it's worth remembering that the food is freshly made and organic wherever possible.
Tea Sutra have a loyalty card which you need to remember to get stamped each time you visit. You get a stamp for each tea you buy and once you've collected ten stamps, you can choose one tea to the value of £3.00, which pretty much covers most of the choices available at Tea Sutra. You can now buy many of the teas to take home which again ist great as I can't think of anywhere in the city that has this kind of choice of loose leaf teas.
I can't praise Tea Sutra highly enough. Who'd have thought that above the shabby fancy dress and joke shop on the ground floor, there'd be such a lovely, tranquil haven of peace? If you think you don't like tea, or you're a staunch 'PG Tips with milk' drinker I would urge you to be open-minded and try Tea Sutra. There is surely something on that vast list of teas to suit everyone with the teas beautifully described to make sure you find one that suits your taste. The staff are extremely knowledgable and will help if you're still unsure.
Stopping for a coffee has become a thing of the past for me; going to Tea Sutra is more fun and i'm loving working my way through the teas. Most teas are priced somewhere between £2-3 (usually at the higher end) but when you keep topping up it becomes even better value.
Don't ask for a coffee - they don't serve it!