In 1865, an English reverend known by the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll published the first edition of his Victorian fairy-tale par excellence: The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. Fewer than thirty years later, in Italy, and still under the reign of Queen Victoria, two English ladies opened what is still today considered as the temple of tea: Babingtons.
Passing through the doors of number 23 Piazza di Spagna in Rome is like entering a fairy-tale where time has stood still and, if Alice had to throw herself into a hole to get to the Mad hatter’s tea party on time, well, we can indulge ourselves in an infusion of beauty and taste by simply going through the door at the foot of the Trinità dei Monti.
Chiara Bedini is a descendent of one of the two founders and starts our conversation by pointing out that “Our tea is our history and it is also my own. I grew up to the rhythm of the tea crates being delivered, aromas that filled our house and my life. I grew up here and I am passionate about tea. Nowadays, Babingtons embraces a wide variety of teas, aromatic blends, highly select pure teas and even infusions, but our tradition and soul lies with Afternoon Tea Time, created precisely during the Victorian era”.
So, no tea lover should miss out on a visit to this tea cult location at least once to soak up the rhythm and gentility of a perfect afternoon tea. This tearoom has hosted, and continues to host, artists, poets, writers, politicians and businessmen but it is not an elitist environment.
Tea is democratic – explains Chiara Bedini – because everyone can enjoy it and it is ideal no matter what the situation. You never feel lonely with a cup of tea. Unfortunately, in Italy it still has an elitist image while in the rest of the world it is a social drink par excellence. Both hot and cold. We are still working hard on the latter because it should be said that drinking tea in Italy in the summer is not a popular choice. This is why we have created a selection of teas to serve with ice and we teach cold infusions that are simple and practical. Our teas and blends undergo a rigorous selection and we use flowers, fruit, berries and spices in our blends. We are the only ones with a home-made range of 100% natural blend teas which keep their aroma for up to 6-8 months, proof of the naturalness of the raw material”.
You just mentioned the summer season, what would recommend drinking at Babingtons?
“Cold infusions more than anything else. They haven’t taken off yet in Italy but because they are easy to prepare and with the right blend, I believe it won’t be long until they become part of everyday life. I would add both alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails to this. Tea based cocktails have become very popular This is why Babingtons joined up with a mixology specialist to create some really tasty cocktails”.
The summer season is not the ideal time for drinking hot tea in our country and yet, in desert countries where heat is predominant, hot tea is widely used and you have even dedicated an event to this topic
“We have been organising specific events and tea ceremonies for more than 15 years together with the journalist and tea sommelier, Carla Massi and the Tuareg ceremony is part of our research work less well known to the general public. The Tuareg ceremony brings good luck to visitors and travellers. The unusual feature of this ceremony is the pouring and re-pouring of the tea until you achieve a thick foam which will stop sand getting into the drink. And yes, it is hot tea. The Tuareg ceremony is part of our tea ceremonies from around the world series, though our meetings also focus on tea as a key figure in other situations like literature, history and cinema. We also hold at least three events a year dedicated to Victorian Tea, an Afternoon Tea brimming with savoury and sweet dishes served with fine china and napkins from that period by waitresses in 19th century attire. This year celebrates the bicentenary of the birth of Queen Victoria and the Victorian tea event will be in costume!”
What do you think of the infiltration of tea into cooking in recent times?
Tea is highly versatile and is ideal for use in the preparation of sweet and savoury foods as well as an accompaniment. Just taste our Lapsang Souchong chips to get an idea of what I’m talking about. And many of our customers regularly dine with tea”.
Any recommendations on how best to savour a cup of tea?
“The first thing to do is pick a good tea!” And take the time to enjoy it. Even today, when I come in here, I give myself what I offer our customers: time, hospitality and attention – with a good cup of tea you are always in good company. Even when you are on your own”.
The Tea Festival and the desire to spread the word about quality tea in Italy was created right here amidst numerous cups of tea and great chat on the subject.
piazza di Spagna, 23 – 25
Tel. 06 6786027