Along busy High Street in Oxford, England, is a bright blue storefront with carefully painted gold lettering on the windows advertising High Tea. This inviting art deco cafe has all the bustle of a college town hangout complete with students discussing their finals and tourists stopping in to revive themselves from the chaos that is Oxford.
The Grand Cafe claims to be the oldest coffee shop in England, first founded in 1650 (though the Queens Lane across the street makes the same claim). While the building has been through several iterations: grocery/cafe/co-op, a post office and then store, the coffee shop has been a constant in each of these.
Inside, the cafe doesn’t disappoint. The brown tones of mosaic tile detail are warm and the tall wall mirrors and high ceilings lend themselves to a lively but pleasant atmosphere to enjoy an afternoon. I can imagine the scores of Oxford students who have gathered here to discuss, study or celebrate over the years.
We order High Tea which came with “Free Range Egg Mayonnaise”, smoked salmon and cream cheese finger sandwiches on wheat, egg salad sandwiches on white, two scones; one plain and the other with raisins and cranberry. On the top tier, strawberry jam, clotted cream and two petit fours dusted with powdered sugar, which were pure heaven with raspberry filling, surrounded by cake and toasted coconut.
The finger sandwiches included egg salad, and salmon with dill, a slice of cucumber and delightful light bread. The clotted cream and jam were delicious accompaniments to the scones which were expertly baked with a crisp outside and warm, soft center.
The Darjeeling tea held a deep floral, musky flavor and the coffee was strong. The cream is unlike anything we can find in the US-thick, rich and divine.
We chose this cafe by accident, just wandering past after visiting the Botanical Garden, an oasis in this busy village, at that tiring hour between lunch and dinner where stopping for tea and a conversation gives us the refreshment we need to push through evening.
In a time when wandering is a luxury…even on vacation, where every day is scheduled with sites to see, this was one of those peaceful moments where we stopped with no plan for an hour or two. To stumble upon this, one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) cafe in England was a happy spontaneous moment. As we finished our tea and coffee, we watched people hurrying by outside and at that moment it didn’t feel like 2017, but some other place…distant and timeless. This is what people have done for centuries and will continue to do long after we are gone.