An early bath for the coffee shop in Ely, but the place is awash with tea rooms

The ducks – and probably the eels – were having a ball as I sloshed into Ely this week in search of coffee and tea.

Ely was once an island, surrounded mainly by swamps that baffled even William the Conqueror’s army. With the amount of rain we had in 2012, its island status might become a reality once again in the not too distant future…

Lots of water in Ely

And the puddles were growing every minute I spent searching for coffee here.

The trouble was that the place I’d been to before – Coffee Speed on the High Street – had closed down, and is now a yarn shop, run by a friendly lady (who might do well to look at our review of Sow’s Ear in Verona, Wisconsin, since they manage very well to sell great coffee and yarn!).

The other suggestion from my Google search had now become an insurance office. So what’s been going on in Ely on the coffee scene?

And yet, there are so many places that call themselves tea rooms…

So, I tried my ploy that had worked in Chelmsford and looked for a decent coffee in one of the tea rooms. Hmmm, not such a good idea in Ely.

In one place, I got into a rather bizarre conversation with the lady in charge about what coffee she used: “You can have latte, cappuccino or instant…”. “No, I meant, which roaster does your coffee beans?”. “Ooh, now let’s see…this is it”, and she brandished a pack of Lavazza. I know, I know. I’m becoming a boring coffee snob, but Lavazza doesn’t do it for me, I’m sorry.

So I went to one of the more up-market looking tea rooms and just ordered a coffee. But this was a scorching hot, slightly bitter brew that vaguely satisfied my need for caffeine, but was not what Fancy a Cuppa? needs to include in the reviews.

So I gave up on coffee in Ely, but I’m sure there’s a market for a good coffee place there – it just needs the right person with the right approach. Hey, if Ivan and Susan can do it in Wells, there’s no reason why Ely should not have a quality independent coffee shop, too. Mind you, I didn’t spot many empty outlets in Ely’s High Street, so you may have to wait a while…

Ely Cathedral was a little bit disappointing, too.

For a start they charge you £7 to get in, and have a full-on cinema style ticket desk stopping you from doing anything more than peak at the rest of the church beyond.

Ely Cathedral

And the guided tour, although free (once you’ve paid your £7), didn’t really give me many of the human stories I’m after in these places. I’m sure architecturally Ely Cathedral is an important place, and its size is certainly impressive, but it’s more the social stories I’m after when I go to cathedrals.

So, thanks go to the woman at the ticket desk who provided me with the story that intrigued me in a schoolboyish way. There’s a body buried there of an Earl who lost his head in a battle in AD991. But rather than bury a headless corpse, they got someone to make a head-sized ball of solid wax to fix to the rest of the skeleton. Poor man. I wonder what happened to his real head?

Tea in Ely makes up for everything else.

I have to confess I went to Peacocks Tea Room twice because I loved it so much.

Peacocks Tea Room in Ely

It’s a beautiful family home down by the waterside, for a start.

But their menu is a tea lovers’ delight, with over 70 loose-leaf teas from every continent in the world. And the cakes are really wonderful, not to mention the scones and crumpets!

Afternoon tea at Peacocks Tea Rooms in Ely

It’s small wonder that they won the Tea Guild’s Best Tea Room award in 2007; in fact I was just speculating where they found that was better in 2008, 2009, 2010 etc when I learnt that such Tea Guild awards can’t be given to the same venue more than once. So this probably IS the best tea room in the country…

In the kitchen at Peacocks Tea Room in Ely

The owners are really friendly, too, and came out for a chat to everyone in the room I was sitting in. And the rest of the staff, too.

Even all those Fancy a Cuppa? questions were never too much for the newest staff member, who’d just go off and make sure she got an answer to all of them. Thanks, Sun, and good luck with the B&B idea the Peacocks are developing next.

Once again, I know where I’ll be staying next time I’m in Ely. Thing is, they might never get rid of me, if it becomes bed, breakfast, lunch, tea.

But Peacocks is that sort of place.

Video: Feeling at home over tea in Ely

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2 Responses to An early bath for the coffee shop in Ely, but the place is awash with tea rooms

  1. Denise Hayes says:

    Peacock’s may have atmosphere, but in the past the owner has served raw brownies, and insulted me when I pointed this out and asked for something else. Their food is overpriced for what it is – cheese on toast for £7 – welsh rarebit it was not! Having the owner tell me I didn’t know what a brownie was definitely made sure we never went back and also call environmental health. I am a chef of many years, and know what standard food is supposed to be baked/cooked to for serive to the public and what that ‘welsh rarebit’ cost to make. Other tables heard him as well and he didn’t leave a good impression with them either. I prefer Kempton’s, AKA the Lunchbox for lunches, cakes and tea/coffee. Their food is properly cooked.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for your comment. I had such a diametrically opposite experience to yours it’s hard to believe it’s the same place we’re referring to: I found the owners charming and chatty, the waiting staff friendly and helpful; I enjoyed both my visits not just for the excellent tea but also for the food I ate. I guess this just goes to show how subjective reviews of restaurants and tea rooms are. Not every venue I choose will be loved by everyone else. You clearly had a disagreeable experience, but all I can say is my own experiences on both my visits bore no resemblance to yours. In fact this is one of my top five tea rooms in the country, a view clearly shared by the Tea Guild before me. That’s not to say you are wrong, but different perceptions, different experience…

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