Charlotte’s Tea House
Afternoon tea... what would life be like without it? Author Caroline Taggart salutes this institution in her new book A Slice of Britain: Around the Country by Cake. One of her earliest (and favourite) stops on her journey was Charlotte’s Tea House on the upper level of the old Coinage Hall in Truro, pictured. It was here she discovered the clotted cream debate – cream dolloped on top. Caroline declared the scone soft and crumbly, the strawberry jam smooth and “just right” – not too sweet and the cream a pale buttery colour. She also spotted the tallest Victoria sponge she had ever seen.
The visit to this Devon tea shop was a trip down memory lane for Caroline – she used to visit 30 years ago as a student. The Southern Cross is an 18th century Devon cob cottage with low-beamed ceilings and olde worlde charm. It also has a beautiful garden when the weather is kind. Caroline reports that the scone was enormous and still warm from the oven. It was “sumptuous with a nice bit of crustiness about it.” The only problem? Although she’d opted for the “half” cream tea, the portions were enormous and she only managed to eat about a third. Clotted cream (which goes on first, of course) is from a farm in Chagford whose Guernsey herd give rich colouring to the cream.
Now, if you really, really want to push the boat out then head for the beautiful Combe House at Gittisham near Honiton for the full afternoon Devon cream tea. It’s not cheap (£22.50 per person, £34 with a glass of champagne) but it is incredibly special with smoked salmon and cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches, scones, Devon clotted cream and jam made from Combe’s home-grown Mara des Bois strawberries, buttery shortbread and really chocolatey choc-chip cookies alongside fancies such as éclairs, fruit tartlets and chocolate brownies. Afternoon tea is taken in the dining room with crisp white linen, fresh flowers and a log fire. Guaranteed to impress.
This tea room certainly looks the part with linen table cloths, English fine bone china and stylish Lloyd Loom chairs creating a period atmosphere. And if you like the experience, Vintage Teas sell everything you need to do it yourself at home. Not as much fun as being waited on though. They use teas from the Tregothnan estate in Cornwall and offer delicate sandwiches, delicious homemade cakes, freshly baked scones with lashings of Devon clotted cream and homemade preserve or tea time classics such as hot buttered crumpets and toasted tea cakes. And if you fancy enjoying the delights of afternoon tea in the fresh air, Vintage Tea do a takeaway version.
This lovely tea room with its traditional Victorian facade was, in a previous life... oh, you’ve guessed already. The Pharmacy’s dark wood exterior suggests old-fashioned service which is certainly true. Inside the Queen Street tea room you can admire the original fixtures and fittings while you read all about the history of the building – which opened in 1877 – and enjoy afternoon tea and freshly baked cakes. Light lunches are good too. Just what the doctor ordered!