NEW YORK CITY, NY
Drinking tea in New York has gone from hot to haute with the emergence of trendy tea shops and reimagined afternoon teas. No longer is this beverage strictly the purview of older, white-gloved women taking tea in hotel restaurants, British expats who still deem Tetley as the tea god, or folks sipping green brews to maintain an aura of health.
Now, it’s not uncommon to get a gourmet tea service like the one at The Crosby Street Hotel, where they serve loose leaf tea by Harney & Sons with red velvet cupcakes, truffle-laced celery root sandwiches, and flutes of sparkling wine. The Lamb’s Club also forgoes cucumber sandwiches, featuring gourmet bites of Berkshire pork terrine and tuna tar tare paired with grand cru teas from Le Palais de Thes like the Darjeeling Mission Hill and Noir Jukro blends.
Both Harney & Sons and Paris-based Le Palais de Thes have set up shop in SoHo, and Le Palais followed this entry into the United States market with another store on the Upper West Side two months later. Le Palais de Thes is an elegant shop with bright, clean lines, and high-class brews adding a touch of chic to New York’s tea mix.
“Tea is a growing market and has been growing over the last year. It was very logical for us to start in the city since New York is all about launching brands,” said Aurelie Bessiere, Le Palais de Thes’ U.S. spokesperson and niece of the founder.
At Harney and Sons’ shop, Emeric Harney runs a Tea 101 course, exploring the ins and outs of green and black tea. In the end, he said, it’s not unlike wine tasting, and perhaps that’s one reason tea recognition has been growing in the city.
“New York is taking the tea world and exploring its different options,” said Harney. “Tea is becoming a bit more of a chic lifestyle rather than just a commodity.”
Also new to the market is the Canadian purveyor DAVIDsTEA with its funky and fun approach. The company opened its first shop in the West Village and quickly grew to four across Brooklyn and Manhattan. The interiors could have been designed by Apple – sleek white counters and walls, a smooth buoyant feel to the space, and innovative tea blends like Coffee Pu-erh and Ice Cream Cake kept in color-coded aluminum pods along the wall.
“We like to show them that tea is healthy and delicious and can fun, whether it’s a traditional green tea or one like the Read My Lips, which is made with dark chocolate and peppermint,” said Stephanie Campbell, the manager of DAVIDsTEA’s West Village location. “We also give samples of teas so we can see where their palate goes so we can introduce them to new ones.”
Of course, New York has had teashops for decades, and one that pioneered a distinct tea scene can be found in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Jonathan Spiel opened Tea Lounge there a dozen years ago, and since then, it’s been a hub for moms and strollers, students, and urban ladies who lunch. With more than 60 loose-leaf teas, plush, mismatched couches, and a “stay all day vibe,” the business generated such popularity that Spiel decided to franchise. A shop has opened in Kuwait and others are on the horizon.
“Obviously, that wasn’t my intent when I opened 12 years ago, but soon after, I realized it was very popular,” said Spiel. “The crowd changes throughout the day; during the morning hours it’s a lot of moms with kids, and people have meetings; then we get freelancers on their laptops, and later in the evening it gets to the more social crowd.”
Another aspect to the city’s tea scene is found through New York’s Mad Men culture of craft cocktails and classic tipples. Many bartenders are creating beverages with tea and it’s not unusual to have a marTEAni at haute cocktail bars like Pegu Club or Maison Premiere and to find tea being used in antique punch recipes like at the newly opened pub, Dead Rabbit.
From cozy, family-oriented, eco-conscious tea cafes to sleek, haute, and sexy tea scenes, New York has it all.
Linnea is a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn.
note that this article was previously published on Feb 26th, 2013