Category Archives: Coffee / Tea Shop Rating

Let’s do Coffee #4

Back to reality and so back to my occassional guide on tea and coffee shops. This time it is Rumbletums, one of the few places in Durham I hadn’t tried. My friend suggested we try it because she liked this place which I had heard varying reports of.

As we wandered down the stairs I thought ok….a bit worn looking, but it has some charm. Then we walked through the door and I have to say my first reaction was to turn and immeadiately head out. I do shiney but comfortable coffee shops designed to cater for the Friends generation or pristine tea shops with good quality oak designed for Joanna Trollope readers. This place was neither, it was clean but in a worn kind of way which I know is more popular with people like my dad.

There was a strange collection of objects around the till area which had the air of a Blue Peter bring and buy about it. Then there were a collection of prints for sale, c.1975 around the seating area. The table cloths were white and orange disposable style things rather attractive wood, metal or plastic table tops, or white linen cloths. On these tables lay laminated tourist maps of County Durham which were curled and worn at the edges, like wilting cucumber sandwiches.

This was not the place, I could tell, to be looking to buy a fairtrade caramel latte. So as it was I went for the safe option, an orange juice. Not good or bad value for money it was simply as it was.

So all in all I have to say that this is somewhere I will do my best to avoid in the future… simply doesn’t have what I am looking for. Yet, if my father comes to visit I will send him there immeadiately because he will love it. Rumbletums is a relic of a fast fading world which some of us are glad largely disappeared when we were children but others choose to mourn. It truly is an anti-corporate experience, but not in that modern trendy “indy” type of way.

I am aware throughout this blog post my very middle class prejudices have been exposed. Of that I am not proud, but I cannot apologise. It happens I am one of the Friends generation who escapes into either Douglas Coupland or Joanna Trollope, and my tastes in tea and coffee providers reflects that.

A Day Trip to Leeds

Leeds, it appears, is an interesting place to visit. To be honest Third Party and I weren’t too hopeful yesterday when we set out. The trip had been dogged by hiccups, (largely of my own making), from the beginning. To start with I purchased non-refundable train tickets to Sheffield for some reason. I knew I was going to Leeds, but somehow my brain had clicked onto an earlier part of a relevant discussion and got Sheffield lodged in there. Then when I did get the right tickets the whole getting the cheapest ones meant we had to get a train which was, in Third Party’s mind, at stupid o’clock and got us to Leeds hours earlier than we needed. When we got to the station, to find the train delayed, I had a grumpy teenager complaining about her wierd mum whose idea of a good day out involved meeting “freaks off the internet” and that she had only said she’d come “to get out of the dump I’d made her move to”.

Thankfully after a bit of refreshment and an hour or so on the train to undergo transformation Third Party began to become a little more human and the day started to look a bit more hopeful. The first sign we had that things might not be so awful in Leeds was when we walked out of the station and almost immeadiately spotted the Tourist Information store. This contained a free guide which indicated to my daughter that Leeds contains a number of rather good shops and to me that there were some rather good cultural possibilities I might try and get her to agree to.

So it was that we headed off towards the retail centre. Initially we went window shopping in the Victoria Quarter, an area of designer shops that are lovely to look at but impossible, on our budget, to buy from. Then it was off for me to do a bit of “culture”. Now, this was easier said than done. Third Party had made it more than clear when I spotted the art gallery that I might have dragged her around one too many. However, we did manage to find a compromise. The Parkinson Centre, part of the university, currently has a free exhibition Marks in Time which is celebrating the 125th anniversary of Marks and Spencer. Thus I was able to get Third Party to agree to do some history because it was still technically retail. Have to say whilst the exhibition is quite small it is absolutely facinating and a real nostalgia trip. There is a good mix of information and exhibits and you can spend a good hour in there learning and remembering. I absolutely loved it.

Then it was off to Tropical World to meet a bunch of very normal people who had met via the internet, as the human Third Party later admitted. Infact Third Party commented that this was the most normal Ship of Fools meet she had ever been on. I suspect that this is for the very reasons that Auntie Doris identifies in her post, which also has some excellent photographs.

Tropical World was excellent value for money at only £2 for children and £3.25 for adults to get in. It is a really pleasant environment to wander around, although somewhat sauna like if you go on a hot day. One word of warning, though, if you have children who get extremely freaked by flying things this is probably not the place to take them. There are lots of really cute cuddly things to look at aswell though. The only bit I was personally not keen on was the nocturnal area which contained some animal which looked like it had escaped from the set of the Exorcist.

Just outside Tropical World is a gorgeous cafe which I must also recommend because it was such wonderful value for money, and had glorious food. There are not many places these days where you can get two drinks and the most delicious cake and still have some change from £5. Yet here you could.

So in the end I have to say that despite the omens we had the most wonderful day out in Leeds. It is a city which you really can enjoy on the cheap, (they even have a free bus to take you around the city centre – which we used to get up to the university). Also, as A.D. pointed out in her post it is more proof that being part of internet communities adds something to peoples lives rather than being their whole lives. Whilst as a parent I would be wary of my teenage daughter going off and meeting complete strangers of the internet doing it in the safe way she does with me helps develop her social skills and widen her vision of life. To quoteA.D., who put is so well in her post, “It’s a fun way to meet friends, both old and new, and I recommend it.” I’d also add it is an excellent way to go and explore places you might otherwise not decide to visit.

Afternoon Tea and the Rabbi

Today I effectively begin with another tea shop review….but for reasons which become clear one with a difference. Then I will move on to another bit of spiritual tourism. Yesterday was one of those days where I went on surreal adventures….although I did get lots of work done first.

Yesterday some friends from my church back down south were visiting and had kindly invited me to meet them in the Royal County Hotel to take afternoon tea with them and the friend they were staying with in Durham. This is served in the hotel lounge, an area with character, which has been destroyed by a huge tv screen running Sky Sports. One cannot imagine Dickens being in one of these places writing the Pickwick Papers if he had been distracted by a screen next to him giving mindnumbingly dull information on the latest newspaper down the road tiddlywinks league fixtures.

Anyway, I digress, afternoon tea was ordered, eventually, after the woman taking the order had establised the group before her were ordering the full afternoon tea experience for four people, not a pot of tea and a sandwich each. After a relaxing wait the table was laid with the appropriate pots of tea, (was slightly disappointed that “normal” was referred to as “normal” not English Breakfast), sandwiches, scones & appropriate accompanyments and cake. A picture was then taken, (apparently the guests came with instructions to get a decent one to show in church back down South on Sunday when they’re praying for me and Third Party). Anyway, sorry, I’ve got diverted again…back to the food. The sandwiches involved a choice..a choice I thought was going to be difficult until I found out what I thought was slightly strange looking tomato was actually smoked salmon. – Please remember at this point I am actually quite common and unacustomed to such refined surroundings. – Anyway the smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches were glorious. Then on to my favourite part, fruit scones with thick cream and fresh strawberries. Now to be fair the scones were average, no where near as good as those encountered in Vennels a couple of weeks ago, but the cream and succulent strawberries were delicious. The mini blackforest things I had to finish with were rich and induldgent, but so good I ended up having two, (thus missing out on the banana bread which the others finished up with).

So what did I make of it. Well, it was an experience… a terribly decadent and indulgent experience which I was v. greatful my friends allowed me to enjoy with them.

After a small interlude in a library to try and get some more work done I headed for a bit of spiritual tourism with a friend. Sung Evensong in a beautiful college chapel where Rabbi Lionel Blue was speaking, (Wiki link has given me a host of info I wish I’d known yesterday). Whilst some what hesitant and obviously getting quite frail we were given a host of thought provoking humour with depth to it from another one of those people you wish were your grandad. Being the evening when Pentecost began for the Jews we were told about this and the significance of the giving of the law. The main significance, according to the Rabbi, is for us not to do to others what we would hate to happen to us. This is similar to the “love your neighbour” thing in Christianity. He pointed out in a world of fear and anger that becomes particularly important and that one of the best ways to counter the negative emotions is through humour.

I came away from the service with mixed feelings. I was a bit sad this bloke was clearly so frail, but encouraged that even in his frailty he was continuing to share his wisdom and build Jewish / Chrisitian understanding. Yet again I was left wondering why, in this country, we don’t give our OAPs generally the respect they deserve and rarely give them the opportunity to share their insights, wisdom and stories with the younger generations? Ok, over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to hear three extremely gifted and amazing men, all aged 78 or over…but I think back to my grandfather and others I have enountered over the years and the amazing stories they would tell aswell.

I also came away wondering about “experience tourism” both secular and spiritual. Whilst in Durham I have been v. much an experience tourist, where ever possible engaging in wonderful opportunities simply because they are there. They are experiences which belong to a world I will never actually be part of but which are, for a while, open to me to enjoy. They are experiences I seek to learn from, aswell as enjoy. For example I didn’t realise whilst the significance was different that Jews celebrated a festival of Pentecost aswell. Experiences which hopefully will give me some better understanding of those for whom this is life. They are also experiences which allow me, on occassion, to escape. They are cheap ways for me to escape everyday life and have the benefits of a holiday without leaving home.

Coffee Shops #3

Ok this one is a pub not a coffee shop but the beverage I have there is more normally associated with coffee shops. The Varsity bar is well worth a visit…. particularly when you need a chocolate fix.

Hot Chocolate (with the works) … best value hot chocolate in Durham. £1.75 for a mug containing hot chocolate with cream and marshmellows with a flake and a mini twirl bar on the side.

Let’s Do Coffee #2

There are a couple of ways to discover the local coffee shops, (i) wander around spotting them, (ii) get friends to decide where they want to do coffee and (iii) use sites like this one which whilst not totally complete are pretty comprehensive.

Yesterday I used method number 2 to discover Vennels which is just gorgeous. It’s up by Scorpio (shoe heaven) along some rather depressing alley ways (which apparently give rise to its name).

Anyway enough of the setting onto the place. This is a proper tea room / cafe type place rather than a generic coffee house. There is not just seating outside, rather it has a patio area with seating and the pictures on the wall are framed prints with character rather than Athena inspired oversized tiles (if you get what I mean). This is a place with character and the most beautiful woodern surround to the fire place if you go upstairs. There is plenty of seating… it has a certain tardis character to it.

The selection of drinks is not as clear as it could be, I wasn’t entirely sure of the selection on offer. Also I wasn’t sure if the coffee was fair trade or whether fair trade was available if it didn’t come as standard. However, they were clear on the different ways you could take your coffee,  which included caramel latte, at a reasonable price. 

The main attraction of this place is, I gather,  the home-made cakes and scones. Third Party had “done coffee” with a friend earlier in the day there and come back singing the praises of the scones. I was informed by the friend I was “doing coffee” with that the scones were indeed wonderful, but you had to get there quite early as they always sold out. Have to say though the banoffee pie I tried was absolutely sensational.

So all in all is this somewhere I would try again? Most definately, it is the sort of place I will take visitors. It is also the sort of place I might find myself frequenting if  I need to take time out to go an chill over a coffee in a place with a good vibe to it.

Let’s do coffee #1

I am one of those people who likes “to do coffee” with friends and has a more than a passing aquaintence with National Heritage tea shops. So it is I have decided to begin sharing my recommendations, as appropriate. It also gives me an excuse to seek out a variety of venues in the name of “research”.

Today I begin with Esquires in Durham, who I have just discovered from the website is a Canadian company who have only begun expanding in the UK over the last couple of years.

I like Esquires for a range of reasons:

1) All their hot drinks are fair trade and so you don’t have to ask seperately

2) Whilst it has a central position on the high street it’s also by the river and the view is quite pleasant

3) They do a range of flavours of coffee, hot chocolate, milk shake, tea and smoothie and they also offer flavoured cream on top…. delicious

4) They sell lots of cute looking cookies (although I normally don’t indulge)

5) Whilst slightly pricey they do have a loyalty card scheme and so you can end up saving money if you make it a regular

6) The staff are friendly and provide a good service

7) It’s clean

8 ) Upstairs you get News 24 on the screen to glance up at whilst you’re chatting

9) They have a small amount of seating outside aswell as two levels indoors

10) They have a mix of comfy chairs and more functional ones all of them are quite comfortable

So is there anything not so good about it? Well it can get a bit busy and when this happens the space between the till and the bar where you get your drinks does bunch up a bit. It can also get a bit noisy sometimes, although not too much.

Only other thing that niggles a bit is when they have a promotion on you can’t avoid it….. it’s a bit of a case of overkill on the posters, etc. That said the current promotion did prompt me to buy a mint milkshake, something I’d never considered before but delicious.