Tea in New York City

IMG_9637
Harney & Sons, Soho.

After traveling and drinking tea in Asia for the better part of a year, New York City proved to be a disappointment.

It’s true that the North American specialty tea market is growing fast, and over the past few years several new tea shops have opened in New York. However, most of these shops are branches of large chains that clearly focus on volume over quality, and their market strategy is to differentiate and add value by blending and flavoring teas.

IMG_9654
T2, a recent Australian import. You want flayva? They got flayva!

A few weeks ago I walked by one of these chain stores (which happens to be owned by a “star” in the coffee industry whose beverages will set you back a few “bucks” or more), and the strong, sweet aroma of berries wafted out of the shop. I’ve walked into stores owned by a few other chains, and similarly, they were offering fresh brewed samples of various teas flavored with berries, chocolate, ginger, etc. In one store when I asked if they had “just plain tea,” the sales clerk had to think a moment before sending me in the right direction.

IMG_9759
The flavor of tea is highly dependent on its aroma. So although this place had a nice atmosphere, I did not have tea here. The strong aroma of coffee would overwhelm the more gentle taste of my cup of tea!

I’ve nothing against flavored teas (I’ve enjoyed jasmine, lotus and Earl Grey tea in the past), but I’ve come to learn that if the tea is of high quality then it can stand on its own, without even milk and sugar. Flavoring a good tea would be like flavoring Champagne.

IMG_9646
Tea tasting at Harney & Sons.
Samovar at McNulty's, a fixture in the West Village for decades.
Samovar at McNulty’s, a fixture in the West Village for decades.

In North America there certainly is a market for flavored teas and that coffee company referenced above is no dummy when it comes to marketing. But I was glad to find a few stores in New York that focused on traditional Chinese teas and other single origin teas from India, Sri Lanka and Japan.

Bellocq Tea Atelier, Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Located a bit off the beaten path, Bellocq offers a wide selection of teas with a designer presentation. I appreciated the chance to learn a few things from Ravi, Bellocq'ls expert tea buyer.
Bellocq Tea Atelier, located a bit off the beaten path in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I appreciated the chance to learn a few things from Ravi, Bellocq’s expert tea buyer.
My oolong tea leaves at Fang Gourmet Teas, a traditional Chinese tea shop in Flushing, Queens.
My oolong tea leaves at Fang Gourmet Teas, a traditional Chinese tea shop in Flushing, Queens.
Tea leaves, Wu Liang Shan Sheng Puerh, at Tea Drunk. Owner Shunan Teng sources small batches of famous Chinese teas and her staff serves them Gong Fu style.
Tea leaves, Wu Liang Shan Sheng Puerh, at Tea Drunk. Owner Shunan Teng sources small batches of famous Chinese teas and her staff serves them Gong Fu style.
Gourd tea strainer, Tea Drunk.
Gourd tea strainer, Tea Drunk.
Having an Assam tea at Cafe Serai, Rubin Museum of Art.
Having an Assam tea at Cafe Serai, Rubin Museum of Art.
Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Tea in New York City

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s