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Inspired by a love of baking – and a shared ambition to run their own
business -Christine and Maurice Prove have turned Shepreth’s former post
office into a small but perfectly formed tearoom. Miss Sue Flay, Journal
tea and cake correspondent, pays a visit
Pictures by Liquid Photo – www.liquidphoto.co.uk
Walking through the door at Teacake in the sleepy village of Shepreth,
the first thing to greet you is the warmest welcome imaginable from the
owners of the pretty tearoom.
Husband and wife team Maurice and Christine Prove, from Orwell, have
transformed this Grade I listed building into the area’s best-kept
secret. With Christine’s passion for baking and the idea of running a
tearoom consuming them both, they decided to take the plunge – and
served their first customers a year ago this month.
It’s a stunning building to explore both inside and out. The interior
feels like an old 1940s’ tea parlour, being very homely and warm with
flowers handpicked from the garden in cute vases and milk jugs on top of
the small wooden tables.
The Proves first flipped their open sign in November 2011, with a soft
launch allowing their new project to evolve naturally and for any
creases to be ironed out before they got too busy. What they hadn’t
anticipated was that the first day was going to be just as busy as the
rest of the year has been, no matter what the weather.
“We had to learn the ropes fast, with one of the biggest challenges
being to ensure the dishwasher was ready for crockery, while still
keeping up with customers walking through the door. We accidentally
roped in some close friends to wash up for us on the first afternoon:
they were a saviour,” says Maurice, who admits that with no catering
background before this new venture, he had no idea even how much bread
(sourced from the Cambridge-based Cobs Bakery) or milk to buy in for the
small shop housed within the tearoom.
“The building used to be a village post office and offered basic
supplies for the locals, so we wanted to keep that stock available here
for the convenience of our customers,” he explains. The produce on sale
is locally sourced wherever possible, with Cam Valley Orchards in nearby
Melbourn supplying the apple juice stocked on the shelves and offered on
the tearoom menu.
Every treat, both sweet and savoury, served at Teacake’s wooden tables
is homemade and baked by the couple in their small galley kitchen at the
rear of the cottage, which overlooks a stunning and quintessentially
English walled rose garden. There are seats outside for customers who
fancy eating al fresco on lazy summer days or a having a quick tea break
with the dog at their heel, should they be walking past.
Teacake’s menu is reasonably priced and ever changing, depending on
Christine’s mood and what’s in season. “We have regular customers who
come in on specific days of the week, so we like to ensure their
favourites will be there waiting for them freshly made,” she smiles.
“Flapjacks will always be there on a Wednesday, with Thursdays being a
surprise day, mostly giving me a chance to try out a new tray bake –
depending what I’ve found while digging into recipe books throughout the
week. Fridays are host to our gooey chocolate brownies and Saturdays are
traditionally a day for our signature fruit scones, which are always
She advises that a classic cream tea can be ordered with two fist-sized
scones and a pot of loose-leaf every day, as it’s a firm favourite with
everyone. On the day I visit the fruit scones have been just been baked
and as I chat away to Christine, I finding myself tucking into one (with
a generous helping of butter and strawberry jam, served in a gorgeous
miniature milk jug which makes it so much fun to dip into).
Christine continues to reel off the list of mouth-watering treats she
makes for her large cake display, including a buttery lavender
shortbread which sits on the counter with fresh lavender decorating the
plate. She assures me there is always a traditional deep-filled Victoria
sponge, a very addictive tiffin for chocolate lovers, and also a
gluten-free option most of the time.
The Proves not only serve the sweet stuff, but porridge is available for
a bite at breakfast and savoury snacks are just as much of a focus on
the menu, handwritten on the large chalkboard behind the main counter.
Today there’s mushroom soup made with flat Suffolk mushrooms and whole
smoked salmon (in fact smoked especially for Teacake, using fine oak
shavings), which is served with salad and seeded bread from Cobs.
Sandwiches vary from the traditional cheese and pickle, egg mayonnaise
and cress, brie and grape and pastrami and gherkin to chicken and mango
for the more adventurous sarnie lover.
Christine gets asked to make many birthday and celebration cakes for her
customers. “People always tell me my sponge cakes are light and fluffy
and they couldn’t recreate them if they tried. They know that if they go
to a supermarket, they won’t get the sort of quality and satisfaction
they get from something baked with the finest local ingredients we offer
here. I always find that when people go to pay me, they are always
prepared to pay a lot more than we charge them.”
Teacake is the perfect place to sit with a book, either your own or one
of the many hardbacks adorning the dresser in the main tearoom. It’s a
countryside retreat that feels like home. You can sit and while away an
hour or two very easily and your stay is welcomed; you aren’t rushed or
pushed out of your seat.
“The retro and vintage theme is back in every way of late. One type of
customer that seems to be growing in number is the young man taking his
young lady out for a civilised date over tea and cake. Gone are the days
where the clubs and pubs are the only place to be seen,” continues
Christine, with a smile. “These lads know how to impress the ladies and
the mismatching china and a quiet place to sit and get to know each
other impresses the girls no end.”
Maurice shows me the beautiful china tea sets stacked neatly under the
modern Monmouth Coffee machine, with each set having its own story to
tell. Some customers even request a favourite teacup each time they
visit. “We try to remember our customers’ favourite sets and impress
them when we get it right. We also love to match china to our customers:
the men will get the more masculine china, while the ladies will be
served with the daintier cups and saucers.”
You couldn’t host a successful tearoom without sourcing the perfect
loose-leaf blends. Stocking Butterworth’s Tea from Suffolk, Teacake
offers everything from the usual English Breakfast and Earl Grey through
to a quirkier selection of Christine’s favourites: Blue Lady, Green
Gunpowder and even a wintry chai, which has a surprising hint of
marzipan, perfect for these autumnal days which seem to have crept up on
us very quickly.
“We try to convert and educate people on loose-leaf tea when they ask us
for ‘a good strong cup of builder’s’. We have nothing against a cup of
PG, but you just can’t beat the beautiful teas in our jars. People are
welcome to have a sniff and even buy a pack as a gift or treat if they
find a blend they fall in love with.”
Maurice is equally passionate about the Monmouth Coffee. You can order
anything from an espresso to a flat white and the strength and quality
of this London-based coffee shines through each cup that is poured.
“Monmouth Coffee has just two retail outlets, both in London, and the
queues trail out of both doors. We joined the queue one day before we
opened Teacake, all in the name of research. We’d heard great things
about their coffee and it didn’t disappoint.”
On having a nosey around the counters and shelves (the main front
counter is in fact the old post office hatch, stripped down and painted
beautifully to match the country cottage style), you will discover a
fast-expanding range of local produce.
Your finds might include honey from an apiarist just down the road in
Barrington, free range eggs from 10 Acre Farm in Kneesworth and Wobbly
Bottom cheeses from Hitchin, including a hard goat’s cheese made with
nettles and a range of soft cheeses, one with piri piri and one smoked
So, after 17 years of working for a local veterinary clinic, Christine
fancied a change of scenery and managed to persuade Maurice to give
running a tearoom a go and tick a very challenging project off their
shared bucket list.
But I was curious as to how they came up with the tearoom’s very catchy
name, now scrolled across the wooden sign (designed and hand-written by
their eldest daughter, Emma) outside the front door.
“Well, it was quite a discussion at the time, but it came to me one day
while I was baking and it just suited the style of the building. Maurice
had originally thought of a clever and modern name – ‘Ate’, a pun on the
cottage number being eight – but ‘Teacake’ just rolled off the tongue.
We felt it was memorable.” I can only agree.
Miss Sue Flay is mistress of her own pop-up tearoom, The Secluded Tea
Party. You can read her column on our Food News pages every month. To
find out more about Miss Sue and her business, go to
Teacake is at 8 Meldreth Road, Shepreth, SG8 6PS.
NB – If you would like an independent review from Miss Sue Flay, please do email
email@example.com for a chat.