Nothing will replace my desire for a strong cup of coffee in the morning, but there are times when I am in the mood for something a bit more refreshing, clarifying... soothing. I got into herbal teas a few years ago while at university. Having never understood the hype over regular black tea, I was surprised that I actually loved all other kinds. There's something so relaxing about drinking tea, and finding a cafe that offers a whole range of flavours was lovely. There are only so many coffee shops a girl can take.
I visited Waterloo Tea Gardens in Cardiff with my brother and his girlfriend one Saturday before a day of shopping, eating and work's Christmas party. We walked into an inviting, open space with the friendliest staff, and were seated at one of the 'sharing tables'.
I'm not sure about this style of dining, particularly when drinking tea or coffee connotes relaxation – and to me, that doesn't involve sitting with strangers. But it wasn't a huge issue – there was more than enough space and it didn't feel like the people sitting with us were actually with us.
The menu offered seemingly hundreds of options, but my eyes went straight to the Japanese greens. Having heard numerous rave reviews about matcha - the health benefits being the main appeal - I told the waiter that was what I wanted, very willing indeed to pay £5 for a single pot. But he quickly warned me that matcha tastes like crushed paracetomal. I found his honesty charming, especially when he recommended I try the slightly cheaper sencha.
While we waited, my brother, Craig, got his sketchbook out and I couldn't help but take a few photos of his bizarre drawings. He's a strange creature, but very creative, and he has a YouTube channel which you should check out if you have a few minutes. If he wasn't my brother I might find him mildly more amusing than I already do.
It wasn't long before our drinks arrived, with different coloured hourglasses for different brewing times. Of course I had to order something to eat, and toast was just what I fancied. Two thick doorstop slices of soft white bread arrived, toasted to golden perfection and served with a generous helping of unsalted butter (it's generally better, but I do prefer Lurpak slightly salted). I asked if I could have some jam to go with it, to which the waiter happily obliged (seriously, very nice staff).
Although I love my hot drinks hot, the fact that my sencha was verging on warm didn't bother me so much. The taste – and colour – more than made up for its cooler temperature. It was honestly the nicest cup of green tea I have ever tried and I'm sure I could have drank another pot immediately after I had drained the first.
Have you ever seen such vibrant green tea? It was so delicious – sweet, and not at all bitter like many green teas are – and served in a fantastic grey teapot and cup with a cute saucer (although I'm not sure what that was for).
Visiting Waterloo Tea Gardens reignited my love for tea and gave me that warm feeling of wanting to buy lots of new infusions, tea pots, strainers and cups and hide away in a little cottage with a stack of books, with just a crackling fire and an animal – dog, cat or rabbit – to keep me company, as winter wind whips its way through the day and night outside. Isn't that what everyone dreams of once in a while?