With tea quickly going the same way as coffee as the next “It” drink (read: over-commercialized), you may wonder where you can relax with something that still feels authentic, sparing yourself from the now ubiquitous chai latte from Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. Don’t despair: in New York City, there’s a teahouse for every palette: modern and chic, cozy and quaint, or simply a traditional cup of good tea.
Let’s start our tour of tea in the Lower East Side on Rivington Street: TeaNY is exactly what you’d expect from a cafe and teahouse founded by the vegan musician Moby: hip playlists, smart interior design and a vegetarian menu (including a delicious vegan cheesecake). Despite being a basement level café, it’s hardly gloomy or dark: white walls and large windows help to open up the space and add light, creating a modern feel.
What to drink? For starters, TeaNY has 98 different kinds of loose leaf tea. If that seems like a daunting list, it becomes more manageable when you realize it’s broken down by taste or type: herbals, oolongs, white teas, fruit teas, etc. With blends ranging from Lemongrass Sencha to Earl Grey Cream, there’s something for everyone. One of TeaNY’s signature drinks, the Teanychino, is definitely worth trying- just a little nutty, and not too sweet, this blend of roasted mate rivals any chai latte.
If TeaNY is a bit too modern for your tastes, Sympathy for the Kettle on St. Mark’s Place has an even wider selection of teas (150 varieties) and a quieter atmosphere. Half cafe, half tea store, Sympathy for the Kettle is a big hit with the East Village locals: if you’re able to find a seat, grab it quickly- it’s well worth an afternoon or evening’s visit. The walls may be bright pink, but Sympathy isn’t prissy or uptight at all- it’s a quiet oasis of good music, friendly people, and a wonderful tea. The helpful staff can help you select a tea based on your mood and taste, bringing dried tea to your table for you to smell and choose from.
If you’re not looking for it, Podunk is easy to miss on East Fifth Street. A quaint and charmingly cluttered space, comfortable mismatched chairs, bookcases of children’s classics and old knick-knacks surround you as you enter. You’ll immediately feel at home in the folksy quiet atmosphere, with owner Elspeth Treadwell brewing all of the tea herself. Besides having a detailed menu of tea and drinks, Podunk also offers Tea, the meal/experience. Prices and types range the gamut from simple to elaborate, so whether you’re in the mood for some scones and cream or much fancier fare (tarts, tea sandwiches, savory pies), you won’t be disappointed. Podunk is exceedingly child-friendly, except for its lack of restrooms.
For one of New York’s signature tea experiences, you’d have to visit Alice’s Tea Cup, named for Lewis Carroll’s beloved character. With a number of locations in Manhattan, these cafes have full menus and impressive tea lists. If almost every little girl’s dream is to be princess for a day with fairy wings, tea, and sweets, Alice’s is happy to indulge: it’s a familiar sight to see a table of be-winged pre-schoolers sipping tea and enjoying some magical treats. Adults too can get in on the fun: a number of Alice’s locations serve tea-infused cocktails, combining the elegant and subtle flavors of various teas with the sophistication and cosmopolitan glam of liqueurs. While amaretto and chai seem to be a match made in heaven, so to is the tea drinker’s take on the mimosa: champagne infused with peach teas.
Besides the places mentioned above, New York has many other offerings, some specializing in Asian teas, bubble teas, or extremely formal High Teas. With cold weather approaching, now’s an ideal time to explore and find the perfect spot for the perfect spot of tea.
What & Where:
Podunk (231 East 5th St; 212-677-7722
Sympathy for the Kettle (109 St. Marks Pl; 212-979-1650)
TeaNY (90 Rivington St; 212-475-9190
Alice’s Tea Cup
Chapter I (102 West 73rd St; 212-799-3006)
Chapter II (156 East 64th St; 212-486-9200)
Chapter III (220 East 81st St;212-734-4TEA)