Finding Gol-tea-locks, or, a New York City Tea Tasting
Hey there, this is Catherine, a Paru summer intern, and I’m here to review some New York tea rooms. While I’ve always been into tea, interning here has opened my eyes to all the distinctions that make me a slightly informed critic. So while vacationing in Manhattan with family, I decided to head out and see what NY has to offer. As I learned: whatever you want to buy or eat, Manhattan has a really, really good version of it. And this does not exclude tea by any means.
Stop 1: Tea and Sympathy
This was the only tea room my uncle really knew of, so this was the first place we went. It had a traditional British atmosphere, with decorative vinyl tablecloths and images of The Queen and various other UK architectural landmarks framed on the wall. The server started by giving us a list of negatives: we absolutely had to order food with each of our teas, and we were at risk of being moved if a larger party showed up. The menu also had a list of six “rules” that I totally should have taken a picture of.
I ordered chamomile lavender and apple crumble. We were all served teapots that looked like tiny British houses, and my apple crumble was surrounded by custard. The crumble was so delicious that I didn’t mind how goopy the custard made it. My uncle had a traditional flavorless scone and my sister had the only vegan option on the menu, summer pudding (which can be described as "fruit and bread globs"). I think they accidentally served me straight chamomile tea instead of chamomile lavender, which was disappointing, since I’m into lavender. But as far as chamomile went, it was good (is plain chamomile ever really that good? Or just functional?). I also tried my sister’s blueberry tea. While Paru teas are not fruit-oriented, and at this point in my life I am trending toward the Paru palate, it was not an offensive drink.
Also, they had the smallest restroom I had ever experienced. It was legitimately smaller than a bathroom on a plane (although not by that much). Overall, it was a very British experience. And that apple crumble was great!
Stop 2: Tea Drunk
I didn’t actually drink here because I didn’t have enough time to appreciate their careful tea ritual service. I also looked at the menu and pots cost anywhere from $15 to $400. And these pots were just small Chinese gai wans that would have only made two tiny cuplets of tea—each one a bit bigger than a shotglass. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, but it's definitely a marker of how fancy Tea Drunk is.
My Paru experience really helped me notice this shop’s attention to detail. I mean, they even served rare yellow tea. Their website states: “Every tea in our selection is harvested for only 10 to 15 days a year from renowned tea mountains that were hailed by emperors and artists alike.” They also don’t sell food nor allow outside food. Thanks to my recently acquired tea knowledge, I've deduced that they're purists that don’t want any taste contamination. Which I think is something to respect...although Paru does encourage pairings.
The tea room had clean aesthetics with white brick and wood. The woman at the front was really friendly even though I didn’t buy anything. I looked over and saw several extremely cool dudes with manbuns and khaki suits in the middle of a tea ritual, probably talking about cool New York things. My five-year plan is to be like those guys. Nothing more, nothing less.
Stop 3: Physical GraffiTea
This place was sort of the Goldilocks of my tea tasting. It wasn’t too fancy, and it wasn’t too British. It was just the modern tea room I was looking for. It had green walls, wooden tables, and walls lined with tins of loose leaf for sale. It felt sort of Californian, Encinitas, even. The name was also perfect, as it’s in the building that is literally on the cover of Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin. Like, wow. New York is seriously an icon hotspot (on a similar note, I also witnessed Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and my uncle kept begging me to go to the place where John Lennon was shot, but I declined).
The server was cool and he told me about the challenges of running a small tea room in Manhattan. It was refreshingly honest but also made me feel on edge for not spending $60 on loose leaf tea. I invited my friend Brian, who I went to college with for two years until he took off for New York to pursue the sax. He had a terrible cold and the server had a detailed knowledge of what tea ingredients would heal him. I drank a delicious herbal blend called On the Waterfront, which the website says contains “Mint, ginger, hibiscus, rosehips, calendula, rooibos, & almonds for a cleansing finish (contains nuts).” Overall, this was an experience I would “recommend to a friend,” as they say. But I’d also recommend the other ones. It all depends on your personal taste.