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Take a trip through the looking glass at the Cardamon Tea Lounge

PUBLISHED: 09:31 13 February 2018 | UPDATED: 09:31 13 February 2018

Step inside a magoical world - the Cardoman Tea Lounge in St John's Street, Colchester. Picture: Contributed

Step inside a magoical world - the Cardoman Tea Lounge in St John's Street, Colchester. Picture: Contributed

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The owner of the award-winning Colchester cafe, which stocks 40 different kinds of tea, talks about her mission to find the perfect cuppa for you.

Table settings inspired by Alice In Wonderland. Picture: Contributed Table settings inspired by Alice In Wonderland. Picture: Contributed

Izabela Serwin, the owner of the Cardamon Tea Lounge, is a self confessed “tea addict” yet such is the popularity of the striking café she opened in March 2016, the only time she has to relax with a cuppa – Japanese karigane green is her favourite – is when the last customer has gone.

That the shop is proving popular is little surprise. It has an Alice In Wonderland theme running through its décor and stepping inside from the busy, bus clogged St John’s Street is like passing through the looking glass to a magical world.

Things get curiouser and curiouser as you explore the two-tiered shop with upside down tea cups as overhead light shades, giant playing cards on the walls and the family-friendly tea lounge has a kids area tucked under the staircase with games and books to explore.

Izabela says: “I like to use my imagination. When I first brought my young son to the shop he described the area under the stairs as ‘a rabbit hole’ and it made me think of Alice In Wonderland and I started getting all these ideas for how the shop could look. I wanted to make something for the people of Colchester.”

Cardoman Tea Lounge owner Izabela Serwin loves to share her passion for tea with customers. Picture: Contributed Cardoman Tea Lounge owner Izabela Serwin loves to share her passion for tea with customers. Picture: Contributed

In return, the town has taken to the shop – not just for its stunning look, but also Izabela’s knowledge and passion for tea.

The shop stocks around 40 kinds of tea, with organic sencha among the 10 greens and organic peony popular among the whites , and Isabela has spent many years learning the art of making the perfect cup – a skill she is keen to share with her customers.

Izabela, who comes from Krakow, in Poland, says: “I have always had a passion for tea. I lived in Barcelona for three years and while there I went on lots of courses on tea making and the different kinds of tea.

“One of my favourite things to do was to design a mini afternoon tea for friends and family at home.

The extensive choice of teas - more than 40 blends - at Cardoman Tea Lounge. Picture: Contributed The extensive choice of teas - more than 40 blends - at Cardoman Tea Lounge. Picture: Contributed

“When I came to England I went on more courses, including one by [London tea master] Jane Pettigrew. My friends started saying I should open a tea shop.

“I thought if I don’t try it I will never know.”

The risk has paid off – not always financially, as Izabela says some months can be a struggle, but she is continuing her passion.

She says: “I didn’t open this shop to be a millionaire. It was not a plan to make my money, just to follow my dream. I want people to share my passion for tea.”

Curiouser and curiouser - the upside down tea cups light shades and the stunning decor of Cardoman Tea Lounge were all designed by owner Izabela Serwin. Pictures: Contributed Curiouser and curiouser - the upside down tea cups light shades and the stunning decor of Cardoman Tea Lounge were all designed by owner Izabela Serwin. Pictures: Contributed

The shop puts on regular workshops of its own such as what teas to choose to pair with chocolate, exploring the tea journey from bush to cup and close-up looks at tea varieties such as green and oolong.

Izabela has been surprised at how little most people know about the intricacies of tea drinking.

She says: “A lot of people just drink the English Breakfast tea and have never had loose leaf tea before and didn’t know how to use a strainer. Green tea should also only be steeped for one minute; no more.

“People also were shocked when I told them that all teas, whether it is green, black, white or oolong, come from the same leaf. Only the way the tea is processed is different.

Izabela is keen to open customers’ minds and tastebuds to blends of tea they may have never tried before.

She says: “I try to encourage people to try something new. I will give out free samples of teas I think people might like to taste. You need to find the tea you really like. Start off with the basics and then try the blends to find what does it for you.”

Izabela’s daily efforts to help the people of Colchester find their perfect cup of tea has been recognised with the Cardamon Tea Lounge, after having been open only 18 months, being named The Best Coffee, Tea House 2017 at the Essex Life Food and Drink Awards.

Izabela says: “We knew we were going to be judged and there would by mystery shoppers coming in to judge. We were always wondering who the judge could be. Then I saw someone trying all of our scones and I said ‘that’s a lot of scones for one person to have.’ It must have been them.”

Little wonder they were impressed. Even classic tea shop treats such as cream teas are here infused with Izabela’s imagination. There are five types of scones available – all homemade – including cardamon, chocolate and matcha green tea, with the latter frequently requiring Izabela to clarify to customers the matcha powder is within the scone and you can have any type of tea to accompany it.

There is heart and soul in every part of the shop. It is teeming with Lewis Carroll-inspired trinkets and the food is just as artfully prepared and possessed of a similarly playful imagination. The tiers of treats for the kids’ special platters is a feast for the eyes as are the giant milkshakes with ingredients, such as cookies and doughnuts bursting out of the huge glass jugs they are presented in. They are guaranteed to make your children’s eyes pop from their sockets when brought to your table.

Such reactions delight Izabela as she wants the lounge to be a place parents can bring their young children. Her son is now six, but she remembers times when she struggled to find places to go with him.

She says: “There were not too many places I could go with him when he was small. I wanted a place where I could relax. Here you get that. My mother brought me up to be friendly and I like children.

“Parents can sit down and have a cup of tea while the kids have got the area under the stairs to play and the parents can even join them. The children love the food here too. I remember one parent who came to me amazed as it was the first time they had seen their child eat everything on their plates. Lots of families come in for our special platters.

“I’m very proud customers like the way we are.”

This magical space of tea and treats Izabela has created is a world away from the rush of streets outside. Just as time has lost its meaning down the rabbit hole in Carroll’s world, so the rush of life eases once you step inside the shop.

Izabela says: “Customers come in here stressed and rushed and then they order tea and start to relax. I had one lady come up to me recently who said ‘I found peace here – you have made my day.”

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