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Hotel Hassler, Room Eva

text Teresa Favi

December 16, 2021

A Tea under the Dome

Afternoon Tea in Rome. The best addresses, from classic salons to unusual venues and hotel tea rooms

In the Western world, the custom of tea drinking goes back to the seventeenth century. It was initially imported from China, and the cost of transport made tea leaves a rare and valuable commodity. Later, when the British realised that tea also grew in India (ruled by the British Empire and its companies since the 17th century), everything changed. They stopped importing it and tea became a local product. Originally considered a medicinal drink, over time tea became a popular beverage among the British aristocracy, and an afternoon social ritual. The custom of the five o’clock tea was officially born in the summer of 1841, thanks to Anne Mary Stanhope, Duchess of Bedford and lady in waiting to Queen Victoria, who felt peckish one afternoon, rang the servants’ bell and asked to be brought a cup of tea with some soft bread and cake. This was the dawn of one of the most enduring British traditions, shared immediately with Her Majesty and quickly becoming a custom. It was dubbed afternoon tea and it brought ladies together - appropriately dressed - to enjoy hot tea, cakes and sandwiches. Forty-five years after that fateful summer afternoon, two well-born Englishwomen from London arrived in Italy. Isabel Cargill had been jilted at the altar and, to console herself, set off with her friend Anna Maria Babington on the classic Grand Tour of the Old Continent. They fell in love with Rome. And they discovered that in the Eternal City, tea could only be bought in chemist’s shops. In 1893 they decided to open Italy’s first tea room, investing all their money (£100) in Babingtons Tea Room, which was also a reading room and a meeting place for the English-speaking community. Babingtons Tea Room is still in business, and just as attractive as it was 130 years ago: overlooking Piazza di Spagna and surrounded by a dozen other exclusive venues offering tea with all the trimmings, an afternoon ritual and a comforting social activity in winter. Here are the ones you shouldn’t miss. 

Babingtons Tea Room
Sumptuous chandeliers, exquisite drapery, a typical British atmosphere. From breakfast time onwards you can take a seat and choose from over 30 types of tea and blends from all over the world to enjoy with scones, muffins, cakes and other treats, all beautifully presented. What makes Babingtons truly special - apart from the Earl Grey sorbet - happens in February, with a Victorian tea party, complete with harp music and an open fire. Many illustrious visitors have stopped by, from Richard Burton and Liz Taylor to Federico Fellini - who apparently loved cheese muffins - and Audrey Hepburn, a fan of chocolate cake.

Piazza di Spagna, 23.

Babingtons tea room

Salone Eva Hotel Hassler
One of Rome’s finest and most elegant tea rooms, at Hotel Hassler. A special selection of rare teas, served daily from 15:30 to 13:30, is accompanied by home-made finger sandwiches and plain or raisin scones warm from the oven.

Piazza Trinità dei Monti 6.

Hotel Hassler, Eva Room

Hotel de la Ville
In the extraordinary Victorian-style Julep Print Room, five o’clock tea has a genuine British flavour. The Julep Afternoon Tea menu includes a glass of selected bubbly, leaf tea, biscuits and sweet and savoury finger sandwiches.

Via Sistina, 69

Hotel de la Ville

The St. Regis Rome 
Another obligatory stop for afternoon tea is definitely Hotel St. Regis. Every afternoon, from three o’clock onwards, the friendly staff at this historic Roman hotel offer advice on the wide range of teas available. They’re served with traditional scones, jams, pastries, finger sandwiches and nougats.

Via Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, 3.

St. Regis Rome

The British Corner
Among Royal Albert porcelain and Sheffield teapots in the lively Pigneto neighbourhood, don’t miss the Speak’n’drink  evening, where you can drink tea and chat (strictly in English). Candles, soft lighting, gentle background music and an enviable menu of tea and infusions accompanied by British-style cakes.

Via del Pigneto 112.

The British Corner

Caffè Braschi by Vivi Bistrot
In eighteenth-century Palazzo Braschi, home to the Museo di Roma, drop in to the museum café for “I Love Tea Time”, a ritual of tea served in a teapot and porcelain, and cake stands brimming with sweet and savoury delicacies. There are two versions: the simpler Vivi Cream Tea is a selection of organic leaf teas served with fragrant warm home-baked scones, strawberry jam and cream. For the Vivi High Tea these are joined by biscuits, salmon and cucumber finger sandwiches and a chilled glass of Franciacorta wine.

Piazza Navona, 2. 

Caffè Braschi

Le Carré Français
Here the pastry chefs arrive at 4 am to bake eclairs, tarte aux framboises and Paris-Brest... if you prefer French delights to the traditional five o’clock British tea, Le Carré Français is the place for you.

Via Vittoria Colonna, 30. 

Le Carré francais

Romeow Cat Bistrot
In the Ostiense quarter, this place is special for two reasons: the menu, which is based on vegan and raw foods, as well as numerous excellent teas, and a happy gang of cats (all adopted from a shelter) who roam among the tables and snooze in baskets. Try the raw cakes or fruit tarts, and relax while stroking a cat… but only if the cat agrees.

Via Francesco Negri, 15. 

Romeow Cat Bistrot

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