Darnley Coffee House (Stirling)

It was an exceptionally gorgeous weekend here up North, so when a friend came up for a weekend visit we thought a day trip to Stirling would be in order. We hiked up Dumyat and had a brief wander in Stirling city, before resting our feet for a quick cream tea. The best tea place in town (that is open on a Sunday) is the Darnley Coffee House, close to the castle.

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This is a cute, small little cavern of a coffee house. It looks a bit like an adorable, romantic cellar restaurant, and the atmosphere is quite cosy (or gezellig as we would say). The one downside of the place itself is that you have to go through the kitchen to go to the bathroom – which surely, if you work there, is pretty annoying.

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Tea is not a specialty of this place, coffee is, and they do a relatively large range of food. My partner had a creamy tomato soup, which I am assured was delicious. Although I feel more like a refreshing beer after a long hike, I decided to go for the cream tea, which was fairly cheap for a touristic town! For tea I selected the Darjeeling, and it came with 2 scones, covered in sugar and still warm, and plentiful amounts of cream and jam.

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It was really good you guys. The scones were absolutely perfect, and that is not a word I tend to use an awful lot. The extra sugar was perhaps not necessary, but the texture and flavour were brilliant. The tea was alright, not really anything special. It was a generic bagged Darjeeling, so it lacked a bit of the refined touch a loose leaf tea would have.
That said, if you’re going to visit Stirling one day, I would highly recommend visiting this little place. After you’ve visited the castle and graveyard, it’s an easy stroll downhill. Because there is not much that beats a tea break when you’re on a city trip.

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The Lives of Christopher Chant – Chrestomanci 4

‘I can’t do magic, sir’, Christopher said.
‘So can’t a lot of people. Some are born that way,’ Dr. Pawson bawled. ‘Do better than that, Chant. Show me. Don’t do some magic and let me see.’

Yes yes yes! Here, at the end of February, we have made it to my absolute favourite Diana Wynne Jones book, and one of my favourites of all time. I first picked up this book in my local library when I was around 10, and it was always close to my heart. It reminded me of Harry Potter in a way, but felt more fun and quirky. After I finished it I pushed it on my mum, who absolutely adores it.

The Lives of Christopher Chant is about … well, Christopher Chant. Christopher’s parents suck; his dad is distant and eventually gets kicked out by his mum, who is vapid and quite frankly does not understand parenting at all. She gets in a governess to educate and essentially raise her son, and her brother Ralph becomes Christopher’s only friend. Once Chritopher’s parents are split up, he gets sent to boarding school, where he sucks at magic lessons. Although life is kind of depressing for Christopher, he gets his escape through his dreams, where he visits different worlds and goes on epic adventures. Ralph finds out about Christopher’s dreams, and decides to set up some …”experiments” to see what he can do.

There is one specific scene I will never forget: Christopher desides he wants to be a famous cricket player and practices a lot with his friends at school. One day, it goes horribly wrong, and Christopher gets hit over the head with a cricket bat and kills him. But then, Christopher wakes up in the morgue. What?? At least everyone reacts realistically..
This is just one of many powerful scenes, but it’s the one that has never left me.

Anyways, it’s spoilers time! Trust me, if you haven’t read the book yet skip the spoilers! This book is a gem, it’s beautiful and perfect. Don’t dampen the fun, meet me back at the picture instead!


So Christopher’s dreams? Yeah, they’re not dreams. They are spirit trips, when Christopher’s spirit splits from his body when he’s sleeping and solidifies on the split of the parallel universes. Ralph very quickly finds this out, and uses Christopher’s abilities to smuggle highly illegal magical goods to their world – like dragon blood and mermaid meat. (The scene where Christopher finds out that he had been smuggling mermaid meat, the mermaids he had known and seen, is so heart breaking.) Ralph doesn’t care about Christopher, and in the end Christopher has to face that he had been used by the one family member he thought loved him. Ouch.
Also, Ralph had given Christopher a lucky silver coin – which just so happens to be the reason he can’t practise magic. Christopher is allergic to silver, in a sense, and once he throws the coin away he is revealed to be insanely talented and powerful. Once it’s revealed that he has more than 1 life (i.e. after the cricket incident), he gets spirited away to Chrestomanci castle to be trained to be the next Chrestomanci. He’s unhappy there, sulks a lot, and has no friends at all.

It’s not all sad though, as Christopher comes across The Living Asheth in one of the parallel worlds. She is a young girl who is worshipped as a living goddess – oh and she’s also a super powerful enchantress. They become friends, and she names herself Millie after the school stories Christopher smuggled for her. They find out that The Living Asheth has to be a young girl, and that she is to be killed when she gets too old. She escapes to Chrestomanci castle, where Christopher is, and they find out that Millie’s priestess/governess would have smuggled her out safely anyways – but at least they now end up together. This is quite a cute little relationship, and is especially touching because we already know from the first book of the series that they end up married.


 

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Killing. Machines.

This book is amazing. It’s mind-blowing, touching, funny, and creative. It’s also very sad – and seriously, what are Jones’ issues with family?
Also, for readers who are not from England, this book paints probably the most English picture ever. It’s got boarding schools, cricket, distant parents (oooh burn), governesses and everything stereotypical. It just feels so English. Reading this book will transport you to a beautiful boarding school, amidst green, green rolling hills. You’ll be able to feel the sun (which in real life is pretty much never there) warm your skin, taste the Pimm’s you’d be drinking whilst watching a cricket match (which is the most boring thing ever).

Christopher Chant is an amazing character. He’s a child, and because of that has a naivity and innoscence to him – but he can also be selfish and rude. All he wants in life is to have a loving family – and to become a famous cricket player. Which I’m pretty sure is a dichotomy. Also, Christopher will become the Chrestomanci we came across in earlier novels that I already discussed here. And I love him. So much. The dreaminess of the character is central to the plot here, in a way, and his sense of humour and longing for family are shown in the other novels. It’s so heartwarming when you think about it, that we’ve seen his loving family – especially his wife – in the first novel of the series, and see how they meet and become friends in this one. Although I love Christopher Chant (as the Chrestomanci, I’m not a perv!), I would never come between Christopher and Millie.

Like in a lot of Jones’ novels, the main character is a disenfranchised child who learns that he has immense powers. These powers are not what he wants, usually all her protagonists just want to be loved, but they do facilitate that desire.

The Lives of Christopher Chant is the epitomy of Jonesism. Read it, it will make you happy. That I promise!


The tea I decided to match with this read is actually not a tea at all. Boom! What a twist! Just like how Jones plays with form, I play with …tea? Anyways, this is a delightful infusion of Rooibos, lime blossom and honeybush from one of my local favourites, Anteaques. This infusion is very light, slightly sweet, and caffeine free. It’s very relaxing, and a great pre-sleep drink – hence the name Night Melody. The honeybush give it the honey flavour, but without that heavy texture and stickiness you get when you put actual honey in your tea. Another perk of using honeybush as a honey replacement is that it’s vegan! With the lime blossom you get that slight hint of freshness, but because it’s the blossom rather than the fruit the tanginess that you get with lime is absent, leaving a soothing and easy drink.

So drink your relaxing cup of Night Melody, pop your copy of The Lives of Christopher Chant under your pillow, and dream yourself into Jones’ Chrestomanci world – because you know it by heart already anyways.

Anteaques Night Melody

 

Mimi’s Picnic Parlour (Edinburgh)

It’s unbelievable but true. Dear reader, I kid you not. The weather here has been really nice lately! The sun was out all day and it was not too wet for once, which combined with my new job makes me giddy for spring time! To prematurely celebrate spring (which will probably actually take another half year to show up), I threw on my baby blue bumble bee dress and marched my dearest friend over to Mimi’s Picnic Parlour .

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The Picnic Parlour is a cute little bakery, and part of the same branch as last week’s Bakehouse review. It’s got the same quirky style and amazing product quality! It is quite small though, but I wouldn’t recommend calling for a booking (it is, quite frankly, too small for that). There’s only 3 tables, and it’s got a maximum capacity of around 8 people. This gives it a vibe that reminds me a lot of The Little Lord Fauntleroy meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for some reason – but then with sexy pinup girls holding cakes on the walls.

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The seats are comfortable and give an excellent opportunity for people watching on the Royal Mile – a brilliant tourist attraction!
It’s also a good place to go to if you want to have a quick relaxing break in your day. Because it’s so small, you won’t stay for hours on end – which is probably for the best because you cannot escape the view of the cake counter!

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For tea I had a TeaPig Peppermint Tea, which is absolutely perfect to me. It’s a very heavy infusion, and if you’re not familiar with peppermint teas it may be too minty for you, as there are basically no other flavours to tickle your palate. I would recommend getting a fresh tea when you go here (If you’re having cake as well, which you will, because…why wouldn’t you?), because the portion sizes for the cakes are very generous and the sweetness can get a bit heavy if you go for a black tea.

If you can’t finish your cake (like me), the lovely ladies in the shop will offer you a bag to take it home with you – which I always think is really thoughtful. So thanks, Picnic Parlour for your excellent service!

Just like last week at the flagship Bakehouse, we had a lovely time and ate too much delicious cake. They told me another shop is opening in Leith and I am so excited for this branch to expand – their service is good and the food is excellent! If you’re in Edinburgh and looking for a kitschy rockabilly tea experience, go to Mimi’s.

Witch Week – Chrestomanci #3

 

 

The note said: SOMEONE IN THIS CLASS IS A WITCH.

Wooh! It’s week 3 of our Chrestomanci series, and we are back in school, baby!

A lot of the Chrestomanci stories are school stories, and I would say the best of them are. This one is the schooliest of the novels though, as it takes place in a universe similar to ours – where parliament was actually blown up on the 5th of November. The world (i.e. the UK) is terrified of witches, as is made clear by the institutionalised witch hunt headed by the inquisition. The protagonist(s?) are school children, who start noticing strange things going on. They suspect one of them is a witch, and whoever it is would be in grave danger were it to become public. Lucky for the witches of the world, Chrestomanci, my knight in fabulous dandy armour, comes to save the day.

I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it is very clever and funny, and some of the twists I genuinely didn’t see coming. The setup of the teachers, showing once again that adults definitely do not know best, worked well and I enjoyed the pay off. The way Jones played with the formula was witty and surprising, and I really liked that. That said, the children are all terrible. They’re mean, selfish and cruel – some more than others. When you expect the outcasts to band together and to be shown to be nice on the inside – they’re not.
Is this what boarding school is like? Because that is just awful!

But let’s talk about some of those twists, shall we? If you want to be surprised, scroll down to the safe point. The picture marks the spot!


There are a couple of kids who get picked on a lot in this novel; mainly Charles and Nan. Charles gets picked on because he’s a jerk, and Nan because…she’s ugly? Something like that. When the note at the top gets found, suspicion falls immediately on these two, and they end up coming to terms with being witches – merely because the group tells them they are. After some magical incidents, an Inquisitor gets invited to the school, and Charles, Nan, and 2 other children flee the school. They summon Chrestomanci for help, and he goes back to the school with them, pretending to be an Inquisitor. There, he reveals that almost all of the students are witches (and those who aren’t, are disappointed), as well as some teachers. He also reveals that their universe split from ours because of a time issue (the gunpowder plot). Luckily (?), Charles cursed (?) another child, Simon, so that everything he says becomes true (Simon Says, haha), and then back to it becoming untrue. To merge their world with ours, bringing balance to both and safety for witches, they need to use Simon’s curse – and loose all of their powers. Reluctantly, they do so, and the day is saved.

Charles has gone a bit mental with his powers, and is very rude to Chrestomanci and every body else. He is the type of kid no one can get along with – and he is our main protagonist.. None of the children like each other or even get along, but Charles really takes the cake. It’s hard to follow him around, and when he almost ruins the happy ending I just wanted to reach into the page and smack him! Luckily, he does turn around, and it is pretty satisfying to see Chrestomanci not taking any of his shit.

It was funny to see all the girls and women fall in love with Chrestomanci, pretty much on the spot, and he was delightfully charming and sarcastic in this one. The parallel universe thing will become clearer when we discuss The Lives of Christopher Chant, but it doesn’t feel awkward here. The explanation is fine, and I really liked the consequences to solving the world’s issues. Everyone has to give up their powers, and that is not am easy sacrifice to make. There is no loophole or anything like that, and it makes the stakes very …stakey.


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Overall, this is a very enjoyable read. The kids, although they are definitely not the best students, are really interesting characters. Although it is a bit sad, it is very interesting to see this group dynamic and herd behaviour in a school situations. You may want to avoid this read if you’re sensitive to stories about bullying though. It’s not that anything really bad happens, it’s just sad that it happens at all and that everyone seems so malicious and complacent about it..
Chrestomanci is wonderful, as always, and unlike last week’s etry, plays an actual part in the story. Yes, the story is a bit sad at points, and yes, the children are horrible to each other. But the book is good!


So let’s talk tea!

Because this is such a British story, set in an English boarding school and everything, it needs a very English tea. As it’s a school story, I was thinking of a sweet, biscuity flavoured tea. Lo and behold, the Whittard Milk Oolong!

This tea is an Oolong which has been fermented with milk. Now there are not many things to do with tea that I can imagine that sound that terrifying, but there you go. The milk aspect actually gives it a creamy, biscuity flavour that is a bit reminiscent of those cheap Marie or Rich Tea biscuits. Yum! The scent is very strong and sweet, and to get a similar cookie level you’ll have to let it infuse for at least 5 minutes – and when it does… Takes me right back to childhood! The slight hint of bitterness you get when letting it infuse for a while also fits the mood of the story at points..

One of the benefits of Oolong teas is that you can use 1 “bag” (filter bag? infuser portion? You know what I mean, right?) a couple of times, and the flavour stays strong. So yay, good for your wallet!

So get your copy of Witch Week out and let Diana Wynne Jones’ writing, and your steaming cuppa Milk Oolong fly you right back to your childhood – but then with brooms!

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Mimi’s Bakehouse (Leith)

Ehm, shall we say it’s still Monday? Yeah…

So anyways, yesterday was a rarely seen lovely day here up the North, and my partner and I decided to go for a trip to Leith (if you’re not from Edinburgh, this may just be the best introduction to Leith). We had a wonderful little day trip – just going to a different part of your city can feel like going to a different place all together! – and had tea at the popular Mimi’s Bakehouse.

This place is so cute you guys! It’s the kind of place to bring your mum to and girlfriends to – not that the clientèle is limited to that though. A group of lads was seated next to us, just enjoying some cake and a cuppa, a delightful sight! The interior is entirely in the pin-up, vintage 50s rockabilly style, complete with pin-up girls holding cakes on some of the wallpaper. Although sometimes the cutesy, vintagy style can be a bit much, here it is nice and subtle.

Mimi's Bakehouse Baked Goods

As the name may suggest, Mimi’s Bakehouse is specialised in baked goods. One of the ways you can see the difference between a place that focuses on food, and a place that does both, is if they have loose leaf teas or “just” tea bags. Generally, loose leaf teas have a higher quality than bagged tea – for a full explanation of the difference between bagged tea and loose tea, go here. As you may have guessed, Mimi’s has bagged tea – and not in those pyramid shaped bags that allow the tea room to unfold. That said, the tea is not terrible; it just lacks some nuance.
Mimi's Raspberry Chocolate Cake

For tea I had the Spiced Winter tea, and my partner had a fruity, berry infusion. The tea is from the famous brand TeaPigsThe advantage of this brand is that they don’t use tea dustings to fill their bags, but fill them with whole leaves and leave space for the leaves to infuse. That said, my Spiced Winter tasted like a little bit of a generic cinnamon-orange tea with a Rooibos base. Warming and comfortable (I do love myself a good Rooibos), but nothing special. I didn’t dare try my partner’s tea, as it smelt extraordinarily sweet – but he liked it nonetheless.

That said, this is a bakehouse, so it all stands or falls with the quality of the food. Boy oh boy, do they know how to bake! I had the raspberry chocolate cake (I wonder why I’m not a swimsuit model…), and my partner the Oreo crunch. Both were perfect. It’s not very often that you find a chocolate cake that has the right levels of moist, dry, airiness, chocolate and fruitiness. Mimi’s Bakehouse nailed it. The Oreo crunch was a delicious little bar with a crispy rice base. Yummy!

Leith

Let me leave you with a beautiful picture (if I may say so myself) of the Mimi’s bit of Leith. And let me tell you – go to Leith. Go for a walk by the river and the port, and most importantly, go to Mimi’s Bakehouse.

The Magicians of Caprona – Chrestomanci #2

Wooh, welcome to the second installment of Chrestomanci month*!
So if you follow us on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram (we are so modern and down with it), you may have noticed that this post came with its own personal drama. Don’t worry though, the creative juices are flowing, and the book is still fresh in my mind!
Also if you’re not following us, please do!

Anyways, on to the review.
This is The Magicians of Caprona, a story completely unrelated to the first book (as they all are), and set in the Italian city-state of Caprona. In this alternate universe Italy never united as a state, and the city-states are often in a state of war. Caprona is protected by the spells created by two families: the Montanas and the Petrocchis. These families have a feud that has been ongoing for generations, and their mutual hatred is putting the city in danger and is this sounding like Romeo and Juliet yet? The city is losing its virtue, and the only way to restore it is to find the true words to The Angel of Caprona, an ancient song gifted to the city to protect it. When 1 child of each family gets abducted, and the city comes under attack by three other cities, and the families are threatened not to create any spells anymore, things look very bad indeed..and it is up to the kids to save the day.

One of the fun things of Diana Wynne Jones’ worlds is that each is very different from the other, and the way magic works is also different. In this world spells are written down and have to be sung. The better your voice, lyrics, and melody, the stronger the spell. That’s pretty cool! Also this is yet another Jones story that focuses on sibling relations, but these are positive. The protagonists, Tonino and Paolo Montana, love each other very much and read like actual children. Their relationship is natural, and wonderful. That said, there’s not a whole lot of creativity in this story. It’s pretty predictable, although there are some surprises which I will talk about in the spoiler section. Also, confession time, I am not a fan of Romeo and Juliet at all. So when the two feuding families were set up I got a bit fearful for the rest of the plot – but it’s not about lovers and the two that are in the side plot are a lot smarter than Romeo and Juliet were, and actually get stuff done. And final also, before I move on to the spoiler section, this Chrestomanci book has a distinct lack of Chrestomanci! He only makes a glamorous cameo, that you could really leave out and not lose anything of the plot. His visit to this world is more like a teaser for the rest of the books, which are more about his character. So that made me a little bid sad. But hey, it’s a fine read.

And here were are again, we’re entering spoiler territory! If you don’t want to read any spoilers I will meet you again at the picture – which without its context may be quite confusing to you. See you there!


So the decline of Caprona, the war, the abduction of the children? All a part of the Duchess’ evil plans. She turns out to be a power hungry evil enchantress, who manipulated and bewitched everybody and is out to destroy the two families and the town to…get richer and more powerful?
Also, if you’ve read this blog before you may have picked up on the fact that I am actually not British. So I am not familiar with things like Punch and Judy. What is that? A puppet theatre thing? Cute! OH WAIT, it isn’t! This stuff is really messed up! The reason I bring this up? The Duchess totally transforms the two abducted children into Punch and Judy and makes them act out the plays in front of an audience – and makes one of them club the other to seeming death. This woman is evil!

Now of course the kids escape, learn the true words to The Angel of Caprona, find out that they are more powerful than they thought, stop the war, end the feud, and save the day in very way imaginable. As I said, this book is a bit predictable. The story is quite small, which is nice every now and then, and the Duchess is cool villain, even if she doesn’t get a whole lot of …”screen time”. The stakes are not very high, up until the point that the children are abducted and locked up. The stakes get very stakey, and the tension does run high.
Spoilers – done!


 

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Oh hi non spoiler people! Confused yet?
I’m sorry (no I’m not).

So final thoughts on this novel. As I mentioned above, this is not my favourite Chrestomanci novel. It suffered from a severe lack of my sweet, sweet Chrestomanci, and just was not as imaginative and crazy creative as the other novels are. Does that mean that this is a bad read? No, don’t worry. I am yet to discover a legitimately bad Diana Wynne Jones novel, and I expect it won’t happen! None of the Chrestomanci novels are directly linked to one another, which means that you can read it in any order you wish. I would suggest to have this be your first Chrestomanci read, as he only has a small cameo which may just be a nice teaser for what sexy mystery is yet to come (parents, please don’t worry – this is all very child friendly, I’m just a sucker for mysterious magical men). It’s also a gentle introduction into the magical madness of Diana Wynne Jones’ body of work, which is really imaginative and refreshing.

Dear reader, if you feel like I’m getting sad with Chrestomanci month (which will really take longer than a month, whoopsy!), worry ye not. It’s all uphill from here, and we’re still above sea level!


 

Okay, so at first I really didn’t know what tea I could combine with this book. It’s set in Italy, but I don’t know of any Mediteranian flavoured teas (pizza?), it’s not romantic, floral, or overly sweet… The Montana’s sure love cooking, but it’s not sweets or confectionaries. I also figured a smokey tea would be out of place, and I wanted something more than just your “basic” tea, something with a kick.

So that’s why I did something very dangerous for me: I went to our local Whittard. The lady there was very helpful (even though I guess she hadn’t had a book matching request before), and I left with my bag heavy, heart happy, and wallet full of silent tears. The tea we decided on is Coconut Truffle, a white tea infusion. Now don’t worry, it’s not a weird combination of coconut and those truffles we have expensive pigs dig up – this is a white chocolate truffle. The infusion is made up of a mixture of white tea leaves, blackberry leaves, cocoa and coconut – find more info here. The scent is kind of like a snowball (those coconut marshmallow things that I always disappoint), but the flavour is more like a white chocolate-coconut-green tea…mochi? Even though it does have coconut, it doesn’t have that piña colada tropical effect, probably because of the yummy hint of white chocolate. Tea&Tales Tip Time: don’t let this infuse for more than 5 minutes, or the coconut becomes too dominant and the tea a bit bitter.
Is it Italian? No, not at all. But people love chocolate everywhere, I guess in Italy they do too! It’s light and sweet, like the story, and the fruitiness of the coconut combined with the chocolate reminds me of childhood. And hey, this is a children’s book!

Coconut Truffle
Also they’ve got gorgeous new caddies!

So when you read this book, and you feel a bit lost on the medieval streets of Caprona, just take a sip of your beautiful, fresh and sweet tea, and get transported back home to your child self – and simply have a wonderful time.

Whittard Coconut Truffle

Natural Food Kafe (Edinburgh)

As my wallet is slimming down at a whopping, jealousy inducing speed, and I am running out of places to review in Edinburgh, once again I find myself at a place that is not a traditional tea room.
Natural Food Kafe on Clerk Street is a small shop specialising in health foods. They opened last week, so they’re still setting up shop (“teething problems”, grumbled the owner). You can already see the style they’re going for, though, and because it’s new they are very, very cheap at the moment.

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The style is clean and homely, rather like a stylish dinner room. I really love the red brick wall and long wooden tables, that seem to scream out for people to come and mingle. It also seems like the owner is a big Robbie Williams fan, as his greatest hits was on for its entirety – a funny touch that reminds me of my parents. Is it hip or cool? No, but you like it and know all the lyrics.
The chairs are very comfortable, and the cups etc. go well with the homely feel of the place. Many a family get together have I seen this kind of crockery at, and when you live so far away from home it’s nice to see it come back when you least expect it.

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They have several kinds of teas for sale; Eteaket teas, Tea Pig, Highland blends – you name it. The origins of the serving teas, however, I do not know.
As I mentioned before, it’s very cheap at the moment. I had a delicious and delicate pot of Silver Needle tea that came with the cutest little muffin – for £1. Although this is not a shop specialising in tea, it definitely has quality to offer. Also the Internet is free, so I expect this to become a hipster student staple.

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Final verdict: cute, young hipster shop that is definitely worth a look.