The ritual of the scone and the tea

It was the perfect thing. We didn’t have to wait very long in a line to get into the Orangery in Kensington Park. For six pounds, we could get a large scone with clotted cream and jam and a pot of cinnamon tea. It may not seem like much but it meant a lot to us.

We had gone to more a grand tea at Harrods department store where they not only serve you an unlimited supply of scones but sandwiches and sweets while you listen to the piano music and look around the ornately decorated pink and green room.

But we liked the Orangery better even though it was much simpler. There was no music, just the hushed chatter of customers and there were no decorations. In fact, the inside was completely white except for some green plants and mini orange trees placed on each table as centerpieces. The ceilings were exceptionally high and large windows looked out to the gardens.

We went there many times during our six months in London and always ordered the same thing – the single large scone and a pot of cinnamon tea. Each of our scones were pretty large, almost taking up the entire circular, pristine white plate. It had a perfect off white color, never too brown on the top or the bottom and with perfect nooks and crannies on top. We always sliced our scones into two perfect even halves with hardly any crumbs breaking free when we sliced with our knives.

Off white clotted cream and deep red strawberry jam each came in little silver metal cups. We each got our own cups and would slather our clotted cream onto each halve of the scone first and then follow with the jam. I never put that much jam and would always have extra which made Liz happy because she loved to pile as much jam as she possibly could onto hers.

Our first bites were always pure heaven. It was a bite of perfectly combined buttery-ness, sweetness, and chewy dough, but not too chewy. It still had some crispness to it and was just right.

Our porcelain white pots matched our plates and had been left unattended, while we engaged in our scone ritual, but on purpose so that the cinnamon sticks could steep in the hot water and so that the water itself would cool down enough for us to sip. While we waited, we would pull the top covers of the pots off, lower our noses into the pot just to waft the warm spice. It made us smile every time and made us feel relaxed and cozy.

In between bites,we placed our tea strainers on top of our cups and saucers and poured the tea from the pot into our cups watching the wisps of steam rise into the air in front of our faces. We didn’t rush but enjoyed every sip and every last bite of our scone as we sat in the conservatory like room.

We talked about everything and nothing – about our 20 house mates, our work week, stories of our past, but mostly of our future – our plans for all the things we wanted to do in London and beyond on our trip throughout Europe.

The eating of the scones and the sipping of the tea became our shared ritual and gave us the time we didn’t know we needed to sit down in a calm place, relax, and talk. So much of our trip involved moving constantly from one place or one thing to the next but the moments of stillness, doing the simplest thing or routine, turned out to be just as powerful, meaningful, and memorable.

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The landscape of Cafe Sperl

It was golden inside or rather a musty glow. A round gold cashier table greeted us at the door. Antique dark wooden tables and chairs, the latter cushioned in velvet, stood up against the large square windows all around the cafe. More tables with booths attached lined the walls with enormous mirrors framed in gold hanging overhead and crystal chandeliers dangling from the ceiling. Rich tapestries of reds and golds covered the walls and a deep red plush carpet with golden swirls was the floor.

We came here in the late morning after an overnight train ride where we didn’t get much sleep. The colors and the glow and the dim and the sparkleĀ  of the cafe all blurred together because we were tired and a little bit hungry so we came here to relax and to have some Viennese coffe and a light bite to eat.

I focused on the richness and antiquity of the cafe because it was unlike any coffee shop I had been to before and it was also a memorable place where the girls and I talked about our relationships with our siblings, something we had never discussed before even though we had been living and traveling together everyday for the last six months or so. No matter how much time we spent with each other, we always found something new to talk about and therefore something new to learn about each other.

I felt the same way about Cafe Sperl. It was such a beautiful place with so many nooks and crannies, trinkets, colors, and personality – so much complexity – that I think if I were to have coffee there everyday I would discover something new on each visit that would make me appreciate and love the place even more.

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