Bettys Café and Tea Rooms
When in England, whether or not you wish to do as the English do, taking afternoon tea is a must. It’s believed that the custom of drinking tea in the afternoon arrived in England in 1662 when the Portuguese Duchess Catherine of Braganza married Charles II. The Duchess of Bedford, however — a lifelong friend of Queen Victoria — is credited with the invention of afternoon tea with the inclusion of snacks and refreshments to fill the gap between lunch and an increasingly late dinner hour.
To explore the afternoon tea tradition, you need look no further than Bettys Café Tea Rooms, in the northern English county of Yorkshire. Bettys was born when Frederick Belmont, a young Swiss confectioner, arrived in England early in the 20th century. With big dreams and a modest pocketbook, Belmont opened the first Bettys location in 1919 in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
Today, the café in Harrogate is bustling, and the interior and exterior of the building have retained their early elegance. Visitors from every continent come to experience afternoon tea, and waiting in the queue is looked upon as simply part of the process.
Bettys may have Swiss and Yorkshire roots, but the English influence has arguably won out, as evidenced in menu offerings from scones, clotted cream and jam to buttered Pikelets (a flattened, crunchy toasted variation on the crumpet), Welsh Rarebit, and Coronation Chicken sandwiches (for the uninitiated, Coronation Chicken is served cold, mixed with mayonnaise or cream, and flavoured with curry paste which provides a distinctly yellow hue).
The business is still in family hands, with a total of six café tearooms operating in Yorkshire today. If you’re lucky enough to visit Bettys in the city of York, a trip to see the 500 signatures of predominantly Canadian aircrew scratched into the mirror outside the loo is a must. When WWII raged, thousands of Canadian and American “Bomber Boys” were stationed near York, where the basement “Bettys Bar” became an enormously popular hangout. As a flying officer in the Canadian 425 Alouette Squadron, my grandfather was one of the young troops who danced the floor at Bettys Bar, along with his future bride, my grandmother, a Yorkshire lass who was proud to serve as a member of the Royal Army Pay Corps.
Bettys is known for tea, but the proprietors also source the world for fine coffee, and offer up many varieties, from Jamaica Blue Mountain Peaberry and Brazil Recanto to Nepal Snow River.
Bettys recently celebrated its 90th birthday, and shows no sign of slowing down. Its Cookery School was opened in 2001, to help impart Swiss and Yorkshire recipes and methods to home cooks, and aid in spreading the word on good food to school children. The family business is also on a mission to save an area of rainforest the size of Yorkshire. So far they’ve planted 3 million trees around the world. Oh, one more thing: rumours, stories and conjecture abound as to the origin of the name, but no one has ever revealed the true identity of Betty.