by Jessica Ellen Monk
Tea drinkers don’t mind Shelter in Place so much. Why? Because tea takes time. Like all the best things in life, appreciating tea demands a day that can float by in the presence of a hot steaming cup or pot. It’s a little known fact that drinking tea requires not only the tea, but the window to look out from, the notepad on which to write, a silent space in which to reflect. This is how tea works: part stimulus, equal parts aroma and atmosphere. Tea is a cure all, it is something to share with a lover or family member. It is one of those constants we can rely on during all weathers, but in itself it carries the mystery of the ordinary.
With all that in mind, and as a lifelong tea-drinker (and tea-lover), I took the time to sample 5 fine teas from Babington’s Tea Rooms in Rome.
If you’re getting bored of the lockdown experience, reading about Babington’s will make you want to get on the first flight to Rome (covid permitting) to drink tea in the tea rooms’ oasis deep in the heart of the city. Babington’s was an early female owned business started in 1893 by two enterprising young English ladies: Isabel Cargill and Anna Maria Babington, from adventurous, aristocratic families. The ladies correctly assumed that a tearoom and reading room for English expats in Rome would draw a dedicated crowd of the homesick and those looking for solace and sanctuary.
Babington’s moved early to an iconic Roman location inside the eighteenth century building adjacent to the Spanish Steps and near the present day Keats and Shelley Memorial House.
Over the years the tea rooms have seen many changes, almost going under during the Wall Street Crash, surviving the first pandemic, WWI and fascism under Mussolini. During WWII, anti-fascist intelligence agents used to meet in one of the rooms by entering and leaving through the kitchen. Luckily, during the Coronavirus pandemic, Babington’s ships worldwide.
Babington’s Afternoon Blend
If you love a smoky blend (and I do), this afternoon blend of fine Darjeeling tea and peaty Lapsang Souchong is a boost of warmth and life during the afternoon slump.
I retired to bed with a cup of this soothing, herb scented tea. Although the “sleepy” tea is obviously designed for night-time drinking, it reminded me of falling asleep outside in the sun. The reason for this can be found in the English garden ingredients: chamomile, rose petals, fennel, lemon balm, linden blossom, lavender.
I cheated by drinking this warming and comforting rooibos blend during the day – albeit a rainy cool day when I needed a boost. There is nothing like a rooibos tea to help you feel uplifted and calm at the same time. This particularly delicate blend is also strewn with a delightful dash of blueberry petals.
Babington’s Special Blend
Babington’s Special Blend was created in the 50s and is a classic English breakfast tea. Its main ingredient is the basis for most English breakfast teas: that is Ceylon tea (from present day Sri Lanka). The tea also contains the highly prized Darjeeling tea from India and the bright and delicate Keemun tea used in Earl Grey. Breakfast tea is traditionally high on caffeine, and the Special Blend is definitely a classy way to start your day.
If you like a Green Tea, but also want something a little bit different, Babington’s Blue Lady will add a touch of mystery to your late afternoon tea break. This is a tea you should enjoy with a scone or tea cake, since its rhubarb, pineapple, strawberry and fig ingredients will have you day-dreaming of sweet morsels.
Even browsing Babington’s website is a leisurely experience. They have all kinds of everything, whether you are classic or curious in your tea drinking habits. Now that you have the time to appreciate a cup of tea the right way, rather than leaning on a mass produced English or Irish Breakfast staple, consider supporting a truly unique local business and modern oasis for weary travelers.
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Jessica Ellen Monk is a contributing editor at Literary Traveler. She started with Literary Traveler as an intern in 2012. Born and brought up in Cork, Ireland, she is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, where she received her BA in English Studies in 2007 and her MA in Medieval Studies in 2010. Since being in the US, she has worked as a copywriter and a music writer for Tiny Mix Tapes. She currently divides her time between working with Literary Traveler, visual art, and editing. Follow her on Twitter @jessicamonk3