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Welcome to Camellia’s Teahouse…

Milk and two sugars takes on a much cooler, health-conscious twist, as we discovered at Camellia's Teahouse in Soho.

Written by Katie Byrne

Lubna Madan by Alexandra Rolfe
Lubna Madan by Alexandra Rolfe

It was three minutes past ten, meaning I was three minutes late (as ever…) for my meeting at Camellia’s Teahouse in Soho. As the bus crawled another inch up the Strand, I began to wonder if I would ever get there in respectable time (and also if the lady sitting in front of me was wearing a toupee – yes, people, a toupee – but that’s entirely beside the point).

I hopped off the 23 on Regent Street, sauntered down the ever-charming Carnaby Street and after a few minutes of genuine confusion and cursing myself for not planning ahead better – my general view before visiting somewhere new is ‘hey, I don’t need to look at a map: I know the area, how hard can it be?’ – I finally found Camellia’s, nestled on the top floor of an outdoors shopping precinct.

Photography by Ajit Madan

Before Lubna Madan bought the premises with her brother Ajit in 2007, the shop was a vintage clothing store, and the likes of Amy Winehouse used to pop in to browse. Indeed, Amy came into Camellia’s on the shop’s first day of opening (‘She didn’t buy anything,’ Lubna tells me quickly.) Other famous visitors include actor Jonathan Rhys Meyer and Shizuyo Yamasaki and Chinatsu Wakatsin, two of Japan’s biggest stars who loved it so much that Camellia’s is now featured in Japanese guidebooks of London. Situated near a stone’s throw from the raucous crowds of Regent and Oxford Street, Camellia’s is to the thirsty shopper, I imagine, rather like a waterhole to a lost explorer in the desert. Except cleaner, and with friendly staff and chairs.

If, like me, you are a bit of a tea addict, chances are you will be stunned into silence when you first step into Camellia’s. The bookcases containing around 120 different jars of tea were so impressive that they put me in mind of the library in Beauty and the Beast, and each caddy was neatly labelled, listing the benefits of the tea enclosed.

Tea by Ashley Fauguel
Illustration by Ashley Fauguel.

Alas, I didn’t have the chance to be stunned into silence – although I’m pretty sure there were at least three seconds when I stood motionless with my mouth hanging open – as I was instantly meeted and greeted (well, it sounds better than ‘met and gret’) by Lubna, Ajit and their P.R. chap Ian. Ian left shortly afterwards, and I began to quiz the Madans about their business, starting with the most difficult question first.

‘What’s your favourite tea?’ I asked, with a challenging raise of the eyebrow. Paxman, eat your heart out.

Surprisingly enough, they were both able to answer; Ajit plumped for White Apricot (which I tasted a cup of – trust me, it’s delicious) and Lubna opted for Beautiful Skin tea, a tasty blend of rosebuds, elderflower and a host of other yummy goodies. Lubna and Ajit talked me through some of their most popular teas, some of which are believed to help medical ailments such as stress (Bobby Marley blend), acne (the afore-mentioned Beautiful Skin tea) and a huge range of other problems.

Photography by Katie Byrne

All of the teas are blended by Lubna herself, who, with a background in homeopathy, has an extremely vast knowledge of the health benefits of everything she puts into her teas. ‘All the recipes are my own,’ she tells me. ‘Tea excites me – it’s my passion. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night shaking, as I’ll have just dreamt up a new recipe.’

There are also slabs of cake, slices of pie and quiche, sandwiches and other teatimes favourites available – some of which are made with tea (e.g. green tea muffins). Alas, my steely Lent resolution meant that I restrained myself, but if you visit then please do have some cake on my behalf.

Tea House by Madi
Tea House by Madi

Ajit and Lubna then asked me if I’d like to try making my own blend. I began nodding so enthusiastically that I must have looked like one of those toy dogs that sit in the back of cars.

Armed with a spatula and a dozen or so different teas, I began to concoct my ‘Kay-tea’. A bit of lavender…a scoop of ‘Very Berry’…some lemon peel…a pinch of star anise…a bit of liquorice…a touch of rosehip… Basically I got a little carried away and used a bit of everything. Once I had finished – i.e. there was nothing left for me to use – Ajit took the blend away to brew it. Three minutes later, he returned.

Photography by Ajit Madan

I was a little nervous. What if it tasted awful? Then I could mark tea-making as yet another career that I would never be able to pursue (I am still a little tender after my GCSE Chemistry teacher told me that my ‘dream’ of being a dentist was impossible owing to my scientific ineptitude. And I’ll never forget the time I got rejected following a job interview at Woolworths). Ajit poured us each a cupful and I tentatively took a sip.

I was very pleasantly surprised – it was lovely; or, to use my original verdict of it, ‘Ribena-y’. It was indeed fruity, but I could pick up the other flavours too meaning that it was a real taste-sensation. The cherry on top was that Ajit and Lubna liked it too!

I have to be perfectly honest. I loved the shop, and if I lived closer I would probably become an irritatingly frequent customer. I am 100% behind any company that is brave enough to stick to its own guns and refuse to conform to what the masses dictate (such as The People’s Supermarket), and I think Camellia’s really does make a refreshing change: expertise, personality and affordability, all under one roof.

Whereas I am normally more than happy to swing by Starbucks for a green tea (although Starbucks green tea never really tastes that green…) I really relish the idea of tea being an event rather than just something that comes with a paper cup and a little wooden stick. Camellia’s, with its vintage china, acres of choice and emphasis on health and well-being, is a million miles away from the current chain-coffeehouses. You should definitely visit – I think it would be just your cup of tea.

Camellia’s Teahouse can be found on the Top Floor, 2.12 Kingly Court, Carnaby Street, London 


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