Taste the essence of life in historic surrounds.

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teacoffeemerchantLast year, the coffee and tea addicts of St Albans heard that the lower floor of the Town Hall would be converted into a café with outdoor seating. I was really pleased about this as it seemed the perfect location to sit and people-watch in one of the great historic cities of England.

When it opened I raced in and ordered my latte. Instead of waiting at the counter (where every minute can feel like one hour), I was given a number and told that the coffee would be served to the table. I found this unusual but with this system, I didn’t have to stand around queuing for long.

I had a choice between outdoor seating, indoor and high tables by the large, colonial windows. It was cold so I chose the window seats. I noticed the unusual colonial fans, waving gently, creating a lovely atmosphere of bygone days. The warm terracotta and blue painted walls and the ceiling was a masterpiece in itself. I stared at it for a while, admiring the colonial designs. Gentle jazz music played in the background, adding to the hum of people’s voices. My latte arrived.

coffeecupBeing a loyal fan of good coffee beans, I can only describe this latte as being a meal in itself. It looked good, tasted zesty and rich. Just as important was the froth, which was done to perfection. For the discerning tea drinker, there is an amazing range of loose leaf and herbal teas.

I paid £2.30 for the Latte and £2.90 for a slice of Victorian Fruit Cake. It’s a bit pricey but good quality. A Panini costs £3.60 and a homemade Cornish or Lamb Pasties costs £3.95, which is about average for St Albans.

The café is owned and run by Anil and his wife, Hervisha. I asked Anil about this new business, which has been opened less than a year.

‘We feel more established as we now have a set core clientele. Despite the economic downturn, our reputation was solely built on word-of-mouth and the high standards we maintain. Hervisha and I like to bring our home standards to our business. This is important to us.’

‘We give our personal touch to every cup of coffee even if it means regrinding the coffee beans!’

Anil has established good relationships with the local market and suppliers. The Homemade Pasties and Fruit Crumble are obtained from a local producer and his 100% apple juice comes from Cambridgeshire.

I looked at their new Wine Menu. There was an interesting selection of drinks, ranging from single serve white, red, rose and sparking wine. A bottle of red wine is priced at £10.95. A 187ml glass of Blanc Vin de Pay d’Oc costs £3.75. Spirits like Tia Maria, Irish Coffee (a must-have!), Becks Alcohol Free Lager and Baileys were on offer. Oh to sip cool Rose al fresco……listening to their new range of classical music….

The Merchant Tea and Coffee Company will be taking part in the great St Albans Food Festival so watch out for their offers. See www.stalbansfoodanddrinkfestival.com

Opening hours; Mon to Sat 8am – 5.30pm / Sun 9am – 5pm

Disables toilet; Located in café

Parking; Nearby Maltings Car Park or the Grove Car Park

Address; Market Place, St Albans, AL3 5DJ Tel; 01727 861503

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Maria Larmer lives in St Albans and is married with four children. She works as a Freelance Writer, English Language Teacher and Teaching Assistant. She has lived in Auckland, New Zealand for 9 years and prior to that in France, Germany, Austria, Edinburgh, London and Ireland. Her diary-writing has featured on 'The Wild Geese' Channel 4 and Radio Verulam. She has written for Hertfordshire Life magazine, Go Camping magazine, Camping magazine, The Catholic Times, St Albans & Harpenden Review, New Zealand Times, The New Beacon, My Weekly and various websites. She can be contacted on maria.larmer@ntlworld.com