Tiptree Tea Room and Visitor Centre, Tiptree
Tea rooms and posh hotels across the country offer different versions of the long-standing British tradition of afternoon tea. However, none have such an empire as Wilkin & Sons, who have made the sprawling village of Tiptree in Essex synonymous with jam and preserves. Not only that, but you can be eating breakfast pretty much around the world and find their cute miniature pots on the breakfast table, as a recent trip to Barbados revealed.
With 10 venues around the county, you don’t have to go far in Essex to find a Wilkin & Sons tea room, but I wanted to go to the original Tea Room in Tiptree in the grounds of the jam factory. Coach loads regularly come to sip tea and eat jam sandwiches and scones making my group of my mum, daughter Maya and I quite small by comparison. We didn’t need a guide for our tour. First we went to the shop, lined with pretty much every product they have ever made including new ventures like tiny candle versions of their miniature jams and prettily coloured bottles of their fruit gin liqueurs made from damson, strawberry and raspberry. Moving with the times, they now produce ketchup and mayonnaise.
Then it was over to the tea room itself. Weather permitting you can sit outside on a terrace (although it overlooks the carpark), but on our visit it didn’t. Inside dark beams, sage coloured wooden panelling and vintage delivery bikes blend with black and white photos of strawberry pickers to create a 'ye olde' feel. We had no choice but to order the afternoon tea for two. As there were three of us we threw in a teacake for good measure, but when it arrived it was easily enough for three.
Three tiers of white china laden with sandwiches and cakes arrive. From the bottom up, we start with rich smoked salmon, prawn and cream cheese sandwiches, while brie came with their hot gooseberry chutney (tangy, but not hot). So far, so good. Next up were two large scones, buttery and made even more lovely by clotted cream and their signature Little Scarlett Strawberry jam. By this stage I’m feeling full; my mum and Maya plough on, mum finishing the teacake (large, warm and laced with cinnamon spread with their blackcurrant conserve) and Maya up on the third tier making easy work of the carrot cake. Something of a connoisseur, she was more than happy with the Tiptree version. Joining it was a large, cream-filled, chocolate-covered profiterole (I got back in the game for this managing half), a piece of chocolate-topped shortbread and a chocolatey cheesecake.
Christmas Day fullness descended on the table, but once it had subsided we headed to the museum to the rear of the tea room. A modest space holds a large amount of memorabilia and historical information on the company and the area. The first item you encounter is the Kellie jam filler, the first automatic machine to fill jam jars, pushing up the rate from 20 jars per minute per person to 60. That was in 1950, now the current machinery has notched up 180 jars per minute.
Children (and the childish) will enjoy pressing a large wooden strawberry to hear the founder’s grandson talk about his decision to start making jam in 1885. The exhibition moves through time including the opening of a rail link between Kelvedon and Tollesbury via Tiptree, which helped the business develop, and both World Wars (imagine the effect rationing had on jam making). It’s still very much a local business today with many of the staff living in company-owned accommodation on the estate surrounding the factory and recent news is that Wilkin & Sons has submitted plans to build 27 new homes in the nearby village of Tollshunt Knights.
The visitors book reveals just how far people will travel for a taste of Tiptree with enthusiastic comments from as far away as Japan and Hollywood. Now that the company delivers they can get their fix from afar, but you can’t get a three-tiered afternoon tea in a box. Not yet, anyway.
*Open seven days a week, 01621 815407, tiptree.com. Fully accessible to wheelchair users.
For the chance to win an afternoon tea for two at the Tiptree Tea Room, worth £30, share this page on Facebook and enter below. Competition closes at midnight on 12 May 2017. The winner will be chosen at random and informed by 17 May 2017.