I grew up drinking tea in New York. When my grandparents first immigrated to New York from Kyiv, Ukraine in the late 1980s, they brought all their tea sets with them. Dozens of tiny cups, jugs and sugar bowls are on display next to family portraits from their Brooklyn apartment. Every time I visit, a particularly pink set—stubborn tea stains—appears alongside my grandmother’s freshly baked napoleons, strudel, or apple pie. When my sister and I were little, my grandmother used to pour tea into these pink saucers to keep it from getting too hot, and we drank it like kittens.
Later, my relationship with tea deepened. First, when I was doing my PhD in naturopathic medicine, I focused on herbs and started using the same tea set to brew things like pine needles, whole roses, and licorice root. Then, a few years ago, I started a tea company called Masha Tea in New York with the goal of finding organically grown tea. I wanted to create the feeling that drinking tea was not only comfortable, but also fun and a little sexy – something that you would like to invite someone over after a party. Since its launch, Masha has served some of my favorite museums, hotels, and cafes around the country, and through this endeavor, I have met wonderful farmers, shopkeepers, and tea lovers.
Over the past few weeks I have visited some of my favorite places with my favorite tea loving friends to explore tea in the city. Along the way, it became clearer than ever to me that the modest habit of drinking a cup of tea can create those quiet moments in this city that seem too rare. Tea is an intimate luxury, a moment for yourself and an easy way to feel good.
To kick off my introduction to New York tea culture, I invited my friend Sidney Gore, Digital Design Editor of Architectural Digest, to celebrate the creation of arguably the oldest tea shop in New York: this year marks the 115th anniversary of the iconic Plaza Hotel Palm Court. Like me, Sydney spent her teenage years in suburban New Jersey listening to emo music, collecting tea sets, and loving to dress up for the right occasion—the kind of people you want to invite to Palm Court tea. The Plaza is the closest thing to an English afternoon tea in New York but still has a distinctly American afternoon tea vibe. (I recently started rewatching The Sopranos, and the pilot even mentions tea at the Plaza.) Afternoon tea at the Plaza includes golden cookies, black caviar, small sandwiches, a jug of Earl Gray, and champagne at the desire; In a few minutes you will feel at home.
Elliott Foos is a major figure in the New York tea and coffee scene who has helped discover countless New York gems. (My personal favorites are the now-closed Day Moves, the James Murphy club’s cafe-outpost Night Moves, and the branch next door to the Michelin-starred Four Horsemen.) Worth a try? His Instagram is dedicated to thoughtful cafe design.
It was Elliott who first introduced me to Colbo, a cool clothing store and art space on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. I stopped for a matcha latte, bought some tea-dyed shirts they sell, and headed to Wu’s Wonton for a cup of tea and some of the best Chinese food in town.
“There is no quiet place in New York City but the library,” says Elena Liao, who for years imported tea from her native Taiwan to form the Te Company, her own West Village retreat and a particular favorite of oolong tea drinkers. it’s best itself: “The city hides tea.” The store has a loyal following and is located in a quiet area where Linzer tea and pineapple biscuits are a hit. I drank a cup of Iron Goddess Prototype Oolong and brought home a box for my (very nerdy) overnight settler in the Catan game.
Also worth mentioning? On the way to Tae, I passed a shop with teapots and mugs in the window. As a result, I actually stumbled upon the John Derian store, where I fell in love with a white French porcelain mug, a collaboration with Astier de Villatte.
Another place to stop for some top-notch oolong tea is Hudson Wilder in Dumbo. Run by siblings Conway and Joyce Liao, Hudson Wilder is a home improvement store that focuses on understated items. The collection includes jade teacups, Danish egg trays and mugs made in collaboration with NASA. Teahouses in a different concept are a Brooklyn phenomenon that I really like.
If you’re looking for another Brooklyn teahouse hybrid, head to Dear Friend Books, a seven-chakra-run Bed Stuy bookstore with an extensive menu of teas and kombucha. (The Dear Friends books are also next door to the nearby staple, Sincerely Yours, Tommy, which offers an extensive appetizer menu created by the Daughters team.)
In Dear Friend, the tea books can be found by the root chakra, “which is the seventh chakra or the first chakra, depending on how you look at it.” “Basics, body, writing, recipes, design, architecture, and tea books [all fall into this category].” We were drinking Unified Ferments kombucha during my visit and a friend of mine brought in a lovely first edition of John Williams Williams’ Stoner Gone.
Archestratus, a Greenpoint cookbook and cafe—you often see me reading The New Yorker after dinner—has a whole tea section. In addition to classics such as Kakuzo Okakura’s The Book of Tea, I also collect Children’s Tea and Poison (tea-themed detective story), as well as tea-themed poems. Owner Paige Lipari is an avid foodie, she has a really cool cast iron kettle, makes super fun dinners and always has the perfect playlist.
For a cup of tea and a design magazine, visit Head Hi near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The store features the British Journal du The, an artistic look at the world’s tea culture. I recommend picking up a magazine, drinking Head Hi tea blends, and sticking to the no-laptop policy, it creates a refreshing atmosphere for chatting over tea.
For plant lovers, further up in Brooklyn is the new Crown Heights Garden Club, which invites you to stop by to buy garden supplies and stay for a cup of tea. (Shovel is front and center at the cafe counter, a space apparently designed by a florist.) They also have a collection of books on botany, herbs, and flowers to peruse during your stay.
Stone Barns Blue Hill sommelier Brian Kim and skipper Donovan Ingram have recently begun blending, sourcing and preparing local grain teas, which I was first introduced to by my friend and neighbor Andrew Lasmore, himself manager of special projects at Westchester Restaurant. The first cup of tea I tried was chilled barley served in a Zalto glass. The barley that Kim and his Korean family have grown and drink tea from is both a cover crop and a grain grown in abundance in the northeast, making it a sustainable and smart choice for local tea. The corn tea that followed was just as delicious, served in bone china mugs made from scrap from Blue Mountain Kitchen. Takeaway here? If you’re dining at Stone Barns, ask for cereal tea after your meal, as tea isn’t on the menu yet.
What pleases me the most is that they buy locally produced buckwheat. Buckwheat, known in Russian as porridge, is a staple in my native Ukraine, while Tatar buckwheat, grown in Japan, is used to make tea and noodles and is known as soba in Japan. I have been looking for a farm like this for years, but unfortunately with the help of Kettl’s Zach Mangan’s bakery, Ingram and Kim were successful in commissioning a Tatar buckwheat grower in the northeast.
Then head to Kettl, New York’s favorite restaurant located in Greenpoint and the Bowery, for the city’s widest selection of Japanese teas (including soba noodles). The Japanese teahouse is beautiful, filled with ceramics, and offers takeaway service; Kettl will also open its first branch in Los Angeles next year. My acupuncturist, a longtime Kettl supporter, and I stopped at the Greenpoint space and shared a matcha cake and a cup of bug black tea. We then walked down the street towards Launcher Park and were stopped on our way by a giant praying mantis – coincidence? For lovers of Japanese tea, although the New York branch of Ippodo in Kyoto is currently closed, the Urasenke Tea Ceremony Association on the Upper East Side offers traditional tea ceremony lessons in a serene environment.
I go into town for aged Chinese tea at Fushan Tea House on the Upper West Side, which jeweler and tea lover Laura Lombardi first told me about. I love drinking pu-erh tea, the local aged tea, but I don’t usually have it at home, so a trip to Foshan is worth it. I shared a 2003 Golden Needle White Lotus can with owner Lina Medvedeva, who noted that in her native Siberia, most people drank plain black tea, although pu-erh was also available. (In fact, most of Floating Mountain’s pu-erh menu comes from three tea estates.) At this small, light-filled second-floor store, you can book a window seat and leave your shoes on the shelf. door.
Anyone who loves herbs should go to Flower Power, which has been in the East Village for nearly 30 years. Step inside and you’ll be greeted by floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with giant pots of leaves, roots, and flowers, as well as an unrivaled library of herbs. I stopped by my sister, Lauren Gaiman, a naturopathic doctor, who bought herself some comfrey leaves to soak in her bath.
“As an arts and crafts curator, more than half of your job is serving dishes,” Yu Yaofen explained. She wrote a book about the history of tea and coffee before becoming Curator of Arts and Crafts at the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt Design Museum; on a tour with you, I had the pleasure of seeing a dismantled 18th century silver teapot in the shape of an Atlas. up the earth. Parts of the collection change regularly as part of museum exhibitions, but for those who want to bring home a living piece of tea history, the gift shop sells several coveted Alessi jugs, including Aldo Rossi, Michael Graves and Richard Sapper.
When friends visit from out of town, I always recommend the Ace Hotel in Brooklyn, where pancakes and room service with black tea are the perfect start to the day. I must say that Ace has also mastered the cool and professional working atmosphere of the lobby – I admit I’ve been there for a couple of business meetings for tea. I also had a short break last week with my husband and kids and enjoyed three desserts and a cup of tea at the As You Are restaurant downstairs.
It’s already evening and I’ve just shared a cup of holy basil tea and a cup of hojichi with my friends at home. My cozy apartment is second only to Masha Tea Studios as my favorite tea spot in New York City. I use a Smeg kettle – red at the studio, black at home – to boil water and always filter the water through a Berkey filter, keeping in mind that the quality of the water has a huge impact on the taste of the tea. Lately, I’ve been drinking from an old-fashioned Japanese cup I bought in an open market in Paris a few months ago. Tea is the simplest luxury. How lucky we are to be able to taste one of the best teas in the world and share its solitude in one of the world’s greatest tea cities.
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Post time: Mar-28-2023