Friday, December 14, 2012

New York Tea Roundup

In my 3 day trip to the Big Apple, tea drinking took a backseat to opera and art but even I was taken aback by the pricey subpar tea I kept masochistically ordering at every meal. I'll just keep it short to a trio of the worst disappointments.  Aida and the Museums were indisputably spectacular and I could gush on but this is a tea blog after all.

First and worst tea offender is Lady M Cake Boutique renowned for their exquisite crepe layer cakes. They served the weakest palest Earl Grey I've had the misfortune of imbibing.  Their pastries were delicate and fresh deserving of better tea.  I looked in the teapot to investigate why it was so weak. The server had prematurely removed the tea bag. Since it must be a deliberate practice, why would they hide the tea bag? Is it just a Twining's?  Can you really serve a small pot of bagged tea for $8 with inadequate infusion times? In the Upper East Side, yes you can!

The second offending tea came from a tea house with an extensive tea menu. Alice's Tea Cup maximizes a whimsical Lewis Carrol theme and their 100+ tea menu included various India, Ceylon, and rooibus blends and even one lonely puerh touting health benefits and tryglycerides.  The tea house was a mere four blocks from the Met letting us escape the dreaded museum cafes which are never all that good.

 I ordered Alice's Blend -a black, green and rose infusion because  I thought my mother would like it.  Again, tea was a tad weak and I wondered if I should say anything to the waitress. But after four solid hours of ogling at antiquities, one is too tired to take issues to a perky smiling waitress. I didn't want to be explained to that this tea has a "fine delicate flavor".   New Yorkers yelped extensively about the deliciousness of these scones but I found them to be just a notch above average.  I've had much flakier worthwhile examples baked by my friend Celeste who is also known as the "scone lady".   

Despite my original intentions to avoid museum food, my sad limp foot forced us to lunch at the MoMA.  I briefly contemplated dining at "the Modern" which is MoMA's upscale formal dining establishment but I've read mixed reviews so we opted for the casual Cafe 2.  I'll never know if the Modern's tea (from Vancouver's T) would have ended up a dud or reversed the tide of sad tea which sank even lower at Cafe 2.

The waiter brought out Mighty Tea Leaf tea bags with hot water in a bonglike glass bottle.  What a bad bad idea- only a non tea drinker could think of something so impractical.  The water brought to the table was so tepid that I'm forced to admit I had better tea at conferences.  Also how do museum kitchens make a perfectly good porkchop taste boring? Perhaps their cooks can turn to the ancient method of brining.

I can imagine no shortage of huffy British customers that might have promptly sent back any of these teas. When traveling in British Isles, I ordered tea multiple times a day which was served reliably piping hot and fortifyingly strong!!!  Was it just pure bad luck to be served teas improperly prepared in five separate establishments?    For $3.50-$8 a cup, I'm just expecting the tea to be brewed properly to say nothing of the underlying leaf quality.  New York- why you disappoint me so.

To reverse the tide of weak ass tepid tea, I opted for hot chocolate and a cardamom bun at Fika - a Scandinavian coffee shop en route to our second night of opera - a five hour production of Berlioz's Le Troyens. Sigh. Neither Fika or Les Troyens were for me.  I'm sure Parisians were yawning and planning their escape even in Berlioz's time. 

One of the conceits of New York City is that if it's the best in New York City, it's pretty much the best in the world.  Living on the West Coast, one always has a twinge that one is missing out.  New York definitely has superior art and opera over the West coast.  But for every day edibles, I think the Bay Area trumps in quality, deliciousness, and availability.   The two delicious New York things I wished I could bring back to my friends were Luke's plump lobster rolls and Two Little Hen's Boston cream pie done up cupcake style. Why did I not fill my suitcase up with them...


  1. Usually in the States I get a befuddled look when asking for tea: "why on earth did you ask for that"? The worst are the "upscale" hotels that expect you to brew tea in a coffee machine.

  2. Yes Hektor, Americans are not a serious tea drinking nation. I squarely blame the British for greedy taxation that resulted in this sad state of affairs. However - better tea is available in the States than ever before and one should be lucky even to have a coffee machine in one's room!


  3. NYC is definitely not a tea town--agree with you on the superiority and availability of the gourmet scene here--tends to be cheaper, too. In the past in NYC ,I've enjoyed Radiance tea house. It's a nice respite from the chaos of Manhattan.