An exclusive visit to Fortnum & Mason with the Japan Society

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Go into Fortnum & Mason’s tea department and listen. What do you hear all around you? Japanese voices, that’s what. Japanese people love English tea and they especially love Fortnum’s English tea. Oh, and whisky too.

So it’s not surprising that the Japan Society tour included a visit to the tea department and a whisky tasting as well as what was the highlight for me, a chance to go up on the roof and see where the Fortnum’s bees live.

Fortnum’s have been in business in Piccadilly ever since William Fortnum, a royal footman, got together with shopkeeper Hugh Mason in 1707. Along the way they invented the scotch egg, became the first shop to sell Heinz Baked Beans and introduced their famous hampers. They have held royal warrants from a succession of Kings and Queens for the past 150 years. This giant one is in the crypt underneath the shop.

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The Welsh Black bees fly over a radius of three miles, which includes St James’s Park, Hyde Park and the gardens of Buckingham Palace. They seemed a bit reluctant to emerge when we went up to see them but then they’ve had a tough time with the wet spring this year and are likely to produce only half as much honey as last year. It will go on sale at the end of September so if you want some make sure you are first in the queue. It costs around £18 for an eight ounce jar.

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Fortnum’s sell a huge range of honeys as this illuminated honey palace shows.

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Teas are displayed in glass teapots so you can take the lid off and smell the leaves. Our party was very taken with the Fortmason tea, a blend of India and China tea perfumed with orange blossom.

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This is an eighteenth-century carving above the mantlepiece in the Boardroom on the fifth floor. The Boardroom actually dates from the 1920’s but was equipped with carvings brought in from older houses that were being demolished.

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The whisky tasting offered us the chance to try four different whiskies. It’s okay to add water but never ice – apparently it kills the taste.

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As it’s Jubilee year the central staircase is decorated with the Queen’s beasts.

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Our tour ended in the confectionery department with a free chocolate. What did I choose? Violet cream of course – it’s the most popular chocolate they make.

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A big thank you to the Japan Society for organising the tour and the charming and helpful Fortnum’s staff who showed us around.

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