Let’s all get real here; Tiptree jams are a staple in any British cupboard, with their iconic little round labels and array of sticky, fruity flavours. Where better then to go when looking for a decent afternoon tea than the home of jam itself; the Tiptree Vistor Centre and Tearoom, out in the wilds of Essex towards Colchester. Driving there with my husband Dan, we were both looking forward to tucking into a delicious afternoon tea, using a voucher I’d been presented with at my last birthday, for a very civilised date.
First appearances didn’t disappoint, as the tearoom was full of quaint touches and rural old school charm that transported you instantly to days gone by and the old fashioned, homely charm of jam making. The quirky-shaped building was painted a pretty pale yellow, a large white emblem of the brand’s logo laying claim next to the tearoom’s glass door entrance. Once inside, it was a complete hive of activity, and extremely busy; always a good sign when trying somewhere for the first time and you see the locals flock there like bees to honey. An old-fashioned push bike complete with wicker basket hung jauntily from the ceiling as we queued for a table, and once seated, I enjoyed looking round at all the countryside-themed decor around me. This included plenty of country cottage inspired exposed wooden beams, accents of sage green paint, and farm-themed wall displays that harked to Tiptree’s jam making heritage, for example a display of horse shoes and the corresponding equipment. Sat on a rather snug wooden table for two, the bustling and bust atmosphere gave the tearoom a unique busybody and neighbourly style vibe that you simply don’t get when enjoying high tea up in London.
For our afternoon tea, we would be presented with the usual rounds of sandwiches, scones and sweet treats, on the typical tiered stand. We both ordered breakfast tea, which came in a chunky plain white pot to share, the cups and saucers also a plain white. Our china plates were also white, however the edges were framed with a delicate navy floral pattern. For the bottom sandwich level, instead of just being presented with a random selection, we both got to choose a sandwich each from the tearoom’s main menu, as well as select what type of bread we wanted. We would then have a full sandwich each so to speak. I opted for one of my favourites, grated cheddar cheese with chutney, served in wholemeal bread. Dan on the other hand went for a prawn cocktail themed sarnie, paired with white bread. Our sandwiches were cut into neat triangles to be lined up neatly on the bottom plate of our stand, separated by token greenery. For some reasons, tearooms always seem to deliver delicious sandwiches, and these were no different. They were generously filled, the bread was nice and soft, and at the end of the day, you simply can’t go wrong with cheese and chutney!
Our next tier up was the scones. We were given one medium-sized fruit scone each, sultanas studding the exterior and icing sugar dusted gently on top. Naturally, we had a miniature pot of Tiptree strawberry jam each, as well as an individual plastic tub each of Cornish clotted cream. It’s always nice to have individual portions of everything as at times, sharing can be a complete nightmare unless you are completely coordinated. This way, we could both dress and tuck in to our scones in peace. I cut my scone in a rather wonky half, smothered each half with equal parts of the jam, and then layered each half with cream. This my friends, is the best way to eat scones in my opinion. The scones themselves were very nice. They had the classic crumbly buttery-ness that I always look for, and I much prefer a fruit scone to a plain one so that made me happy too. They were still soft in the centre, and they fell apart in a wonderful cascade of scone, fruit-filled jam and silky smooth cream when you bit into them. The jam was a rich colour, sticky, and had a deep strawberry flavour that I liked. The clotted cream was thick and luscious; I always feel that clotted cream has an air of the forbidden, as it feels like such an unctuous and rare treat! All in all, this three-way combo is always a delight, and each component married itself well to the next to create a very satisfying middle layer.
The last, top layer always pushes me to my dessert stomach boundaries when I enjoy afternoon tea with Dan. Although he can eat chewy sweets until the cows come home, he doesn’t have what I would typically call ‘a sweet tooth’, therefore it always falls to me to devour 99.9% of the final pastries round. A challenge I usually relish with greed in my eyes and a fork in my hand. I must say however, I loved the wide ranging treats Tiptree tearoom presented us with; it certainly wasn’t the typical array that you expect. Firstly, there was a mini trifle served in a dainty plastic shot glass, layered neatly with red strawberry scented jelly, a colourful yellow custard that still flowed eagerly onto your spoon when you mined for it underneath the decorative swirl of whipped cream on top, milk and white chocolate curls scattering the top. As a huge trifle fan, I was pleasantly surprised by this addition, and it was a child-like treat to enjoy the trifle in its classic flavour combination. All layers were lovely.
One of my particular favourites was a decadent chocolate stack, topped with a single rolo chocolate. This turned out to be a chocolate mousse cheesecake concoction, with a crumbly and buttery digestive biscuit base, a thick and creamy milk chocolate mousse stacked atop it, with a final smooth circle of dark chocolate ganache adding a decorative sheen to the top, accentuated by a zig-zag of heavy caramel sauce and the rolo. However, hidden in the centre of this wonderful chocolate haven, was a gooey caramel bomb, much like the rolo chocolate itself. This sticky, super sweet surprise filling helped to cut the potential stodgy-ness of the chocolate mousse, especially when eaten with the biscuit base too. This was just divine and so original too; needless to say, I loved it!
Also for my delight, there was a very generous square of carrot cake, decorated with a decent layer of cream cheese frosting that had been scattered with chopped walnuts. The sponge was soft, moist and light to eat, with a dreamy gently spiced flavour that I loved. There was also a meringue type treat, with two small meringue molehills sandwiched together with a sticky orange marmalade and presented in a paper cupcake shell. The meringue was the hard type that crumbles and flakes as soon as you bite into it, but the sweetness and blandness of the meringue was the ideal conduit for the flavourful orange that had been partnered with it, as it really allowed the Tiptree favourite to sing its flavours loud and proud. Last, but by no means least, was a miniature shortcrust pastry tart, filled with apple and topped with a custard type cream that had been speared by a round of chocolate. Dainty and delicious.
We steadily made our way through each layer, refusing to leave a crumb behind, as our waitress kept us topped up in tea. Granted, I could barely move afterwards, but I thoroughly enjoyed each stage of our afternoon tea. It just goes to prove that Tiptree really do know what they’re going on about! The good thing about enjoying our afternoon tea at the visitor centre however, is that there is also the Tiptree museum to peruse, as well as its gift shop. The museum houses lots of useful tidbits about the history of the Tiptree family, and how the business overall progressed and grew throughout the generations. You can also see original pieces of machinery from its old factories, as well as old advertising. The gift shop felt like a haven for a spendaholic like me, and I came away with numerous miniatures snatched in my grubby mitts as well as some of Tiptree’s fruity raspberry gin liqueur.
This was a really lovely afternoon tea. I liked the fact that we could tailor our sandwiches to our preferences, and the unusual mix of sweet treats at the end was a real delight, especially when first trying to work out what everything is. It is also reasonably priced which is always good news, and the fact that you can make a bit more of a trip out your visit thanks to the museum and gift shop is also a win in my book. A lovely afternoon out!