During the Communist Era in Czechoslovakia the private import of tea was forbidden. This led a small group of tea enthusiasts to meet in secret and enjoy a variety of teas imported illegally. When the so-called ‘Gentle Revolution’ took place in 1989 it resulted in the disbandment of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, ending their 41 years in power. By 1993 Czechoslovakia had dissolved to make way for the independent states of Slovakia and the Czech Republic, also changing the law in regards to trade.
That same group of tea enthusiasts took advantage of the new cultural climate by opening a tea room in Prague. It became known as Dobrá Čajovna (Good Tearoom) and soon spread to a number of major towns in the Czech Republic. Known for their quality loose-leaf teas each strain was prepared as its country’s traditions dictated. They also specialised in healthy complimentary snacks. Now Dobrá Čajovna can be found in Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and the United States.
Robin and Martin Fell were in Prague around 17 years ago when they were inspired to open a tea room in the style of Dobrá Čajovna. Together with their friend Kenneth Shand they set about capturing the same aesthetic and bringing it to the people of Glasgow, where two of them were studying at the time. In 2000 they “cobbled together” Tchai-Ovna: House Of Tea, tucking it into Otago Lane in the West End. We’ve been there and it’s one of the most relaxing places to go in the whole city, if not the most relaxing. Their vast selection of teas simply boggles the mind. Don’t be surprised if you discover something completely new.
From their website: “One of the defining concepts of the Czech Cajovna is to bring the exotic and otherness of far off places to our doorsteps. Hence one can step from the dreich Glasgow weather into Tchai-Ovna and it feels like stepping into a Turkish Chaikhana, or a Bedouin cave, or even a Japanese tea house…”
They’re not wrong. Upon entering you’re greeted by tranquil colours, plants, wall-hangings, exotic furniture and of course the smell of freshly brewing tea. It really feels like you’ve entered another world. Their vegan/vegetarian food menu is delicious, and if it isn’t taken there’s a space cut out of the wall where you can throw your shoes off and sit or lie down on a bed of cushions. It’s called the Zen Room. When night falls the entertainment begins and a small corner plays host to musicians, poets and storytellers. You can even sit outside and enjoy your tea with a flavoured shisha.
We’d recommend going even if you aren’t a fan of tea. If you are though you’ll find selections from China, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Russia, Africa and more. Your imagination will be fired by names like Fairies Blood, The Golden Flower Of Healing and African Goddess. They make one tea in particular which is perfect for a “dreich” day. “This blend of cavernously matured Pu-Erh and chilli is sure to give you a taste of what it’s like to breathe fire, but also to expel all the evil demons of the body” – that is no understatement. The tea in question is called Dragon’s Breath. One of us tried it after seeking shelter from a vicious rainstorm and it was exactly what was needed! A perfect cosy kick.
Tchai-Ovna’s future was in jeopardy for some time. People from across Glasgow rallied against the council’s proposed plan to replace it and the whole of Otago Lane with a new block of flats. It says a lot, not just about the popularity of Tchai-Ovna but of that particular spot in general, that the public’s desire won out. Otago Lane is one of those places you just can’t imagine someone planning; something makeshift which is irresistibly quirky. Even though you know it’s already been discovered there’s something about it which usually ends up feeling very personal to people. They want to share it with you.
That’s why we’ve written this.