If there’s one thing that brings everyone together in a social situation, it’s tea. Whether you enter a home, office or even hairdressers these days you are invariably met with the question ‘would you like a cup of tea?’
Even if your answer is always no, it’s one of those delightful little ice-breakers that can put everyone at ease. If only there was a way to add a splash of tea to life’s more miserable events such as sitting on a bus on a wet afternoon.
Well that’s exactly what Karen Nixon thought when she spotted an afternoon tea tour bus in London and decided to take the idea to Dublin.
Karen has spent 15 years working in the service industry and has always maintained a dream of running her own food business. She also wanted a job where she was greeted with smiles more often than frowns throughout her working day.
Well, it appears she achieved both those goals with her new Vintage Tea Tour business which is sure to take Dublin by storm (in a teacup?) over the coming weeks and months.
So what does an afternoon tea tour on a bus entail?
Well, it pretty much does exactly what it says on the biscuit tin. The 21st century craze of afternoon tea but on a bus rather than in a fancy hotel lobby.
Upon arrival at the meeting point, just beside City Hall on Cork Hill, we were greeted by Karen and Bob, the driver, of whom Karen speaks very highly:
Honestly, everyone needs a Bob in their lives – he has endless patience and is an amazing mechanical engineer – he works with the railway preservation society and is a fascinating character.
We were brought upstairs on the double-decker vehicle which Karen has christened Pauline, after her grandmother.
On the tour’s official website, the original Pauline’s kitchen is described as one which was always full of fun, love and honesty where the problems of the day evaporated into laughter over tea and cake. An ambiance which Karen aims to reflect in her new business venture.
We took our pre-booked seats on the top deck (front row, obvs) and clocked eyes on the feast that was awaiting us.
Vanilla pana cotta with berry coulis, home made maxi twist marshmallow, a blueberry almond and lemon drizzle cake, Guinness chocolate brownie and a red velvet cake pop dipped in white chocolate all laid on a three-tier tray and all looking very, very inviting.
Before attacking the desserts we had a variety of sandwiches to get through including beef, ham, tuna and lots more.
All the food comes courtesy of Italian chef Donato Romano, who has previously worked in the Westin Hotel.
Prior to tucking in, we bided our time until we got our hands on a hot brew. That was the whole point, right?
Sophia, our hostess for the day took our orders (tea or coffee) and eventually Pauline’s engine started to purr and we were on our way.
Our company on the top deck for the afternoon consisted of nothing but a large hen party who were quite rightly excited by the environment surrounding them. No doubt this will become a hugely popular activity for such events in the capital before too long.
Word of advice from Karen: Saturdays are sometimes more raucous affairs while Sundays generally offer a quieter, more family-friendly experience. Having said that, the presence of 20-ish excitable women innocently enjoying a tea tour wasn’t exactly a negative experience.
In fact, breaking into a chorus of ‘The Green and Red Of Mayo’ halfway through, they gave us a good laugh and an indication of where their allegiances lie when it comes to GAA.
Our tea arrived in a flask which we were warned to keep in the provided holder when not being sipped. Dublin does have some bumpy roads after all.
But how you do prevent the sandwiches and cakes from falling all over the place, you ask? With the help of sticky mats attaching the tray to the table of course.
Pauline snaked her way through the streets of Dublin before finding herself on the quays, going past the Guinness storehouse and onward towards the Phoenix Park.
All the while Sophia, a politics student at UCD and lover of all things vintage, provided us with historical context to famous landmarks such as the aforementioned storehouse and the Presidential residence at Áras an Uachtaráin.
The rambunctious but well-meaning nature of the hen party meant that the personable Sophia rightly assumed that we were the only people present who were interested in learning about history and therefore sat next to us at the front and provided us with our own personal tour.
She told us that on quieter days she would stand at front of the bus and speak to everyone but we were more than happy for her to sit and have a chat with us while we asked whatever questions we may have had about our home city. Every day is a school day.
After turning around in the Phoenix Park, Pauline made her way back up the north quays, down through Gardiner Street, Great Denmark Street and O’Connell Street before heading on towards the Georgian buildings around Merrion Square.
Karen had now taken over from Sophia as our tour guide and told us all about this historic part of the city.
We were offered a second flask of tea as the tour came close to wrapping up. As Pauline made her way back towards her starting point, we made sure we took in the our surroundings as much as we could.
A bus tour through a city like Dublin is always going to be a fruitful experience but the atmosphere that Karen and the team have created makes the Vintage Tea Tour a unique way to explore the streets and learn about Irish history while guzzling down some tasty tea and feasting on appetising nibbles.
As the rain patted against the window it was hard not to feel completely at ease. While the tour is currently operating on a very low-key reputation, that is sure to change as the winter months approach and people seek out alternative ways to spend a morning or afternoon.
The tours take place from Wednesday to Sunday and depart at 11am, 1.15pm and 3.30pm and really are an ideal way to treat a loved one for a birthday, an anniversary or indeed Christmas.
Karen wanted to be surrounded by smiles throughout her working day and we’re pretty sure she’ll get just that on a regular basis.
We’ll drink to that!
For more information check out vintageteatours.ie.