Nestled behind the Tea Caddy Shop in the UK Pavilion at Epcot, guests visiting the park during Flower & Garden will get the chance to stroll through the English Tea Garden. It is one of the many gardens dotted around the park for the event, but definitely the most elaborate and beautiful. It is open for guests to enjoy throughout the day at no additional cost. However, if you want a more in-depth look at the garden, and your are an avid tea drinker, one of the tours is a great way to add to your experience at the festival. There is a free tour that takes place up to three times a day, but you'll have to sign up early on the day you're attending to snag a spot. To avoid the hassle of walking excessively to and from the UK pavilion, I opted to participate in the Royal Tea Garden Tour. This is a paid-for version of the tour which is longer than the free tour and comes with a sampling of tea and scones after. But as someone who lived in the UK for nearly a decade and married to a British man, I was skeptical about how good this experience would be.
The Royal Tea Garden Tour is only offered at 9:30am daily. This means you get to enjoy the experience before the pavilion officially opens for the public at 11am. So on a bright and beautiful morning, I made my way through the entrance of Epcot and all the way to the UK Pavilion by 9:15am. To my surprise, the tour was fully booked to capacity. Since the garden itself is small, only about 25 guests can participate in this tour at once. Check in begins at the outdoor podium for the Rose & Crown Pub. If you're super early, you'll get to sit in the shaded patio area before the tour actually begins.
Promptly at 9:30am, two representatives of The Tea Caddy Shop and Twinings Tea greeted us in the patio area. Our tour guide was a fantastic woman named Liza from The Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield; a town located on the northern outskirts of Birmingham and 125 miles northwest of London. Liza was assisted by another fantastic Cast Member named Beth from Liverpool. After a very brief introduction, Liza and Beth escorted our group over to the very center of the English Tea Garden. If you're experiencing this on your own and looking where to start your own personal tour, just look for the archway to the left of the English cottage and behind the row of stores on the left side of the pavilion. This area is quaint and full of charm. I lived for a brief time outside of London in a neighborhood known as Twickenham and these terraced houses at Disney do indeed look like typical suburban homes outside the city.
Liza began our tour with a brief overview of the company that sponsors the tour, Twinings Tea. I will admit to you that in all the years I lived in London, hardly anyone I knew actually drank this brand. Therefore, I questioned how popular Twinings really was but I was reminded by our guide that Twinings is the official tea provided to the Queen and the Royal Family. So I guess Twinings really is the brand to drink if you are obsessed with everything royal. Twinings Tea was founded by Thomas Twining in 1706. The company's first official tea shop still operates today on the Strand, in the very heart of London. The company has been looked after by other descendants of the family ever since. Some of which you can see inside the Tea Caddy Shop, just look for the 18th century portraits on the walls.
After this brief overview of the company, our guide Liza then began our journey looking at the tea plants themselves. The garden is broken up into three main sections and each one features several tea cups used as plant pots. Within each cup, you'll see a blend of plants that make up specific flavors of tea. At the beginning of tour we looked at a variety of black tea flavors, followed by green teas and finally chai teas. What continues to amaze me even now as I reflect back on the experience, is how knowledgable Liza was on all the flavors of tea. I learned much more than I did in the years I lived in England enjoying tea on a regular basis. I've always been one to enjoy a classic English Breakfast Tea but learned that perhaps I should give Irish Breakfast Tea a try since it is stronger. Liza also explained how many people now actually use tea bags in cooking. Bakers are known to take bags of some of the more floral tea flavors and use them in cakes. I also noted that one specific blend of tea known as lapsang souchong has a distinctive smokey flavor to it which apparently works well if grilling steaks. Who knew?!
Of course as we traveled through the garden an approached some of the more popular flavors, such as Earl Grey, our guide once again explained to us the stories behind the making of specific flavors. This particular flavor is allegedly named after Charles Grey, the British Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834. Liza explained that back in these days when tea was still an expensive product enjoyed mainly by aristocrats, tea blends were simply labeled by their customers. You could pay a visit to the shop and simply purchase a specified amount of your personal mixture. There are stories that people would here about one person's specific blend and by their mixtures on top of their own. The origins of Earl Grey is unclear with many conflicting stories, but it is possible that it became popular through word of mouth and other tea shops began replicated the mixture and customers simply wanted to copy what was fashionable and consumed by popular 'celebrities' of the day.
As we turned the corner and got an overview of the fruitier green teas we finished up our tour with a look at the chai teas, a fascinating collection that I did not know much about until this tour. With it's origins deeply rooted in Asia, chai tea is certainly sweeter and full of rich herbs and spices that reflect the regions of India and Thailand. Liza explained that when chai tea became popular in India, they were known to over brew tea and mixed in many spices to add more flavor. Since this technique also makes the drink itself thicker, chai tea was also served with much more milk as well. Even if you're only mildly interested in tea, there is no doubt that you will leave this tour with a wealth of knowledge of how tea is made and it's diverse history. Best of all, they are beautifully presented in these cute tea cups and helpful signs providing more information.
At 10:15am, the tour itself came to an end. Liza then escorted us back to the patio area of Rose & Crown Pub where we had the chance to sample some flavors of tea. There was a box with a variety of flavors but both guides and other Cast Members came around and gave us packs of tea to take home with us. If any of the flavors grab your attention when you take the tour, this the time to give it a try without fulling committing to buying a box of it. You are also given a box of two scones with a little bit of cream and jam. I will admit to you, these scones were just ok. I will remind you that I have had my fair share of afternoon tea throughout the United Kingdom. Nothing beats the real thing in the countryside with real clotted cream and a variety of jams. This was perhaps the only downside to the entire experience. This was the point that I thought to myself, how great would it be if this pavilion had a real conservatory where you could enjoy afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, desserts and of course tea. But I came to learn about tea and try a few new flavors more than anything else and in that sense the tour exceeded my expectations.
In the end, this tour was a fantastic addition to my day enjoying Flower & Garden. In fact, I think it is a shame that some of the other gardens don't offer a similar tour. Seeing that many of the gardens also reflect on agriculture and cooking ingredients, I don't see why gardens in Morocco and Italy can't offer something like this. Our tour guide Liza really was an excellent guide. Her knowledge was impressive. She blended the history of the company with the scientific side of what plants are used in each blend seamlessly. All with a sprinkle of humor and her own personal connections to the English tradition. A tour can feature great scenery and intriguing points of interest, but a good tour guide will make or break your experience and Liza was truly outstanding. The price of tour is also appealing. This paid-for version of the tour is only $20 per person. At first I thought, this is a no-brainer because you are served tea and scones at the end which I would expect to priced at least at $10. Therefore, in terms of value this experience is excellent and I much prefer to pay a little extra to pre-book my tour and have my day nicely planned out. Additionally, the tour is at an excellent time in that World Showcase is not open so the surrounding area is very quiet and intimate. Some Epcot festivals can get exceptionally crowded, and I would hate to have noisy guests drinking a little too much to intrude on my tour.
I have no doubt that to truly enjoy this tour, one has to be at least mildly interested in tea. You've heard me say dozens of times in my festival review and other videos that I do not have a green thumb at all and have little interest in gardening. I am a foodie however and appreciate the agriculture side of gardening and learning how plants are grown to create food, or in this case beverages. I am definitely a tea drinker; in fact I can consume 2 or 3 cups of tea in a day even though I live in the hot Florida climate. However, I had very little knowledge on the history of tea in England, its roots in the eastern half of the globe and how many different flavors actually exist before taking this tour. I was astounded at how much I learned.
If for some reason you can't make it to Flower & Garden and still interested in learning more about tea, I highly recommend a stop at The Tea Caddy Store. Liza and Beth work inside the shop itself and if the other Cast Members working there are as knowledgable as they are, you'll certainly gain a much deeper appreciate for tea. If you've visited Flower & Garden before and looking for something new without breaking the bank, I can confidently say this is an excellent tour worth your money and perhaps best for an older crowd. I get the feeling that unless your kids are exceptionally into gardening and tea, they may prefer to spend their morning experiencing some attractions.
To book the Royal Tea Garden Tour, click here.