Sunday, 17 May 2009

Has Beans, Edinburgh

Don't be put off by the name - "Has Beans" might suggest a coffee house but, fortunately for us all, it's a mighty fine tea shop too.

Nestling towards the slightly less glamorous end of the Royal Mile, and a very short walk from the democratically significant (but architecturally bizarre) Scottish Parliament building, Has Beans serves good strong loose leaf tea. Okay, so it slightly betrays its coffee house roots by serving the tea in a cafetière but actually that works really well - I'm surprised more places don't do this. It precludes the need for a separate strainer and limits the extent of over-brewing for the second cuppa once you have plunged the leaves for the first. It might not be a traditional tea ritual but it works.

Of course if you want traditional, Has Beans caters for that too - the little bay window at the front of the shop if full of a slightly random, but nonetheless impressive, array of tea pots. And the friendly welcome and serivce from the old guy behind the counter (could this be the Graham mentioned on the menu?) is decidedly and pleasingly trad too.

In addition to the excellent tea, Has Beans also offers a selection of snacks and cakes. They even advertise a very reasonably priced cream tea, with what the chalkboard charmingly described as "a wee pot" of tea. You are in the heart of tourist Scotland, after all.

On a warm day though, the best accompaniment for your pot of tea is almost certainly a small tub of the award-winning Orkney Ice Cream that Has Beans sells - truly great. I can personally attest to the excellence of their Toffee Swirl flavour...

Contact them: 07810 477265

Saturday, 16 May 2009

The Gallery Café, Edinburgh

How fortunate is your reviewer? Not only did he get to enjoy the work on display at this interesting modern art gallery, he got to top off his visit with some great tea too!

The Gallery Café resides on the basement level of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, so you'd expect a relatively classy effort from them. They do not disappointment. Crucially, their tea is very good - just asking for a plain, ordinary tea for one results in a large (three cup) pot of loose leaf tea and, best of all, a lovely big strainer is served with it too. It's nice (and vaguely nostalgic) to be able to enjoy the ritual of swirling the pot, pouring the tea and then returning the strained leaves to the pot to augment the next cuppa.

There are other nice touches too. The smiley and helpful girl behind the counter pointed me towards the sliced lemon, in case I would like to take that with my tea. Not an option often available... and not one I took up either, being a milk-no-sugar man. It was nice to have the option though.

With regard to what else is on offer, well, I saw no sign of decaff but fruit teas were available - I saw both ginger and camomile teas on the chalkboard on the day of my visit. There's a comprehensive hot food menu too and, best of all, an array of cakes that looked to me like they may very well be home-made. I had the millionaire's shortbread and it was... well, I'm mentially salivating as I write this.

There's plenty of indoor seating in what is a bright, airy space - if the weather is fine, as it was on the occasionally sunny Spring day of my visit, there's also a patio you can sit out on, and get a bit of fresh air with your tea whilst also being within sight of some of the sculptures in the Museum's sculpture garden - what could be finer?

And one final thought, though it's not really tea-related - if you're on foot, you could do a lot worse after your visit than walk back into Edinburgh along the Water of Leith footpath, following the river - it's beautiful, peaceful and at times hard to believe you're in the city.

Really great tea, then, in a great location, with great support from the cake cabinet too... just don't forget to look around the Museum whilst you're there, okay?

Contact them: 0131 624 6219 | www.nationalgalleries.org