Did you know that it actually rains more in Rome than it does in London?
While summer days are typically sunny in Rome, the other seasons bring plenty of precipitation—and as this week’s forecast suggests, November is usually Rome’s soggiest month.
I first visited Babington’s Tea Room on a rainy November day I remember as much colder than the double digits Rome is experiencing this week—or maybe it just felt cold after I’d spent weeks in Italy soaking up October’s glorious golden sunlight. In any event, as the skies turned grey and a chill set into my bones, I woke up one morning yearning for a pot of Ceylon tea and hot buttered toast.
My usual Italian breakfast of an espresso and a cornetto con marmellata consumed standing at a bar wasn’t going to do the trick. A cappuccino or caffè latte taken seated at a cozy corner table may have warmed me up, but there was something about that day—perhaps a touch of homesickness?—that called for tea.
Why not order tea in a bar, you ask? As Eloise puts it in Eloise in Paris, “you cawn’t, cawn’t get a good cup of tea/ they simply do not boil the water.” Eloise is talking about the French, but the same can be said for Italians, who in general only drink tea when they’re sick. (In fact, until the mid-20th century, tea in Italy was sold only in pharmacies.)
This means that when Italians must drink tea, they do so at home: guided by the principles of la bella figura, they do not want the barista looking at them askance, wondering if their illness is contagious. So it’s safe to say that Isabel Cargill and Anna Maria Babington were taking quite a risk when they invested all of their savings into opening a Roman tearoom in 1893.
It’s also safe to say that after more that 125 years in business, Babington’s is not only a Roman institution, but also one of the world’s most iconic tearooms.
From my first visit on that moody November morning to my most recent visit on a sweltering July afternoon, Babington’s has never disappointed. Though always busy, a respectful hush settles over the spacious, beautifully decorated interior, making it a perfect spot to restore your equilibrium after a long flight or a few hours in a crowded museum. And yes, they do “boil the water”! Even better: thanks to the tearoom’s location, the water they boil is nothing less than Acqua Vergine, reputed to be the purest and best-tasting water in Rome.
Along with excellent tea in a relaxing environment, you’ll find full breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, and dessert menus at Babington’s. Though modernized with a website, a children’s menu, and a branded line of teas and tea-ware (featuring Mascherino the cat!), much of the past remains here—including the unhurried pace and genteel service one might imagine existed when the tearoom first opened 126 years ago.
As Lumina puts it, “the people who work here are nice and they make you feel special. They give you things to colour with while you wait, and I think they really like cats. This is a good place to go if you are a bit sick and tired of crowds and noise in Rome.”
Rain or shine, what Roman holidayer doesn’t sometimes need an escape from the noise and crowds of the Caput Mundi? In fact, more than homesickness on that long-ago November day when standing elbow to elbow at a bar drinking espresso simply didn’t appeal, I think I probably just needed a brief respite from the eternal hum of the city. There are other places to find tranquillity in Rome, but Babington’s is one of our favourites.
If it’s damp and chilly, I’ll order a pot of “Babington’s Scottish Blend,” a mixture of Assam and Ceylon teas with a comforting malty aftertaste. Lumina likes the “Arrivederci Roma,” described as a “fresh and citrussy blend of white teas to celebrate Roman water, the Fontana di Trevi and the desire to return to Rome one day.”
If it’s hot and sunny, I’ll always get the Limonata di Babington’s alla menta (Mint Lemonade), which is served with sugar water on the side so that you can control the level of sweetness. Echoing my choice but in sweeter, frostier form, Lumina asks for the Limone e menta (lemon and mint) homemade gelato. We share, of course, and needless to say the flavours work really well together ;).
It wouldn’t be fair of me not to warn you that Babington’s is expensive (you can find menus here). If you’re travelling on a tight budget, you’ll probably want to stick with tea/lemonade/gelato like we usually do. If you’re travelling on a really tight budget, you may want to give Babington’s a pass for now. Here’s hoping this venerable tea room will be around for at least another 126 years, and that you can enjoy it next time you visit (so don’t forget to toss a coin in the Trevi!).
Where: Piazza di Spagna, at the foot of the Spanish Steps.
When: 10am – 9:15pm, Monday to Friday.
Why: To restore your senses in an oasis of calm in the middle of Rome.