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A Walk for Tea: From SoHo to Chinatown

Tea drinking in New York, as with the rest of the country, is experiencing a surge, though not quite at the caffeinated levels of coffee's popularity. Local spots to drink tea have always been around, associated with cultures and customs as varied as Chinatown's tea parlors or favorite places for a traditional English afternoon tea. Yet, more tea spots and businesses have opened in the city over the past few years to meet this growing demand for all things Camellia sinensis. Even at home, while I am inclined to reach for the coffee pot first thing in the morning, more guests are now politely requesting a tea. A focus on the health benefits of tea is an important reason for the new popularity. Many consumers have graduated beyond the black tea bag and are eager to expand their knowledge of speciality teas, especially the green teas from China.

Harney & Sons
sign above In Pursuit of Tea, 33 Crosby Street, SoHo.

A good way to broaden one's tea horizon in New York is to take a walk. While it's possible to locate tea shops, parlors, and restaurants all over the city, a walk that begins with tea shops in SoHo and then ends to the south in Chinatown makes for an excellent cultural and culinary journey.

This self-guided walk should be highly educational, provided that eyes are open to surroundings, questions are asked, and the tea is shared. I was inspired to undertake this local journey after seeing a screening of Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht's documentary, All in This Tea (2007) in the retrospective of Blank's work at MoMA. The beautifully-shot film centers on American tea importer David Lee Hoffman as he travels to remote regions of China in search of organic teas for import. Viewers learn of the importance of tea in Chinese culture, the varieties of teas, and the many subtleties of tea preparation. The film will be screened again on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. at MoMA. (See MoMA's page on the film screenings in Les Black: Ultimate Insider.)

Stops in a Self-Guided Walk for Tea: SoHo and Chinatown


View A Walk for Tea: From SoHo to Chinatown in a larger map

Sanctuary T
337B West Broadway (corner of Grand St)
Web: sanctuarytea.com

This pleasant and calm spot in SoHo offers both tea and creative food, not to mention tea cocktails and a full bar. Check out the back of the menu for a mood chart to match the appropriate tea with your state of mind. I went all British here in the early afternoon, enjoying a scone with a cup of SoHo tea (by the mood chart, I chose one to help me focus), but I look forward to returning for a full dinner of a Sanctuary Salad and the Red Moon Salmon.

Harney & Sons
433 Broome Street (between Broadway and Crosby St.)
Web: harneysoho.blogspot.com

Tea Shop
Harney & Sons, 433 Broome St.

I learned of this spacious tea store from Chicago-based food blogger and frequent WOTBA commenter Terry B (Blue Kitchen), and I'm thrilled to find it. The store offers a wealth of tea selections, arranged high up the walls. The staff members working the Tasting Bar are more than happy to explain the varieties and expand your tea horizons. After expressing an interest in oolongs, I was directed toward a tin of Ti Quan Yin. They also explained brewing time and method and how many infusions I could get from the leaves. The store also features an in-house café.

In Pursuit of Tea
33 Crosby St
Web: http://www.inpursuitoftea.com/

While Harney & Sons is a large, modernist tea emporium, In Pursuit of Tea is an intimate homey affair with informal benches and tables. Much in the spirit of the tea adventure, the store showcases teas from organic farmers and a heavily curated selection of loose-leaf teas. Try one of their fragrant green teas with a hint of jasmine.

Ten Ren Tea & Genseng Co., Inc
‪138 Lafayette St ‬
Web: tenrenusa.com

Ten Ren Tea & Genseng Co.
Ten Ren Tea, 138 Lafayette

At the Ten Ren Tea store on Lafayette, one of several stores that feature teas from Taiwan, several giggly girls agonized over the selection of Bubble Tea, a popular beverage in Taiwan. These drinks are commonly green teas mixed with fruit or milk, often served in an icy version with tapioca bubbles. They are increasingly popular in the New York summertime. As I was looking for more traditional loose-leaf teas, the staff invited me to try King's Oolong, their specialty, a fragrant blend of oolong and ginseng.

• ‪Sun's Organic Tea Shop‬‎
‪79 Bayard Street‬

‪Sun's Organic Tea Shop‬‎
Sun's Organic Tea Shop, 79 Bayard St.

Relatively new to Chinatown, ‪Sun's Organic Tea Shop‬‎ is a personable store with an engaging owner and many rejuvenating tea blends. While there, it occurred to me that I have never once asked in a coffee shop for a blend that would make me sleepy and peaceful. I came away from the store with delicious-smelling blends for both rest and a state of calm (mixed with chamomile), including instructions for steeping. Just smelling the aromas can take me far away.

Nom Wah Tea Parlor
13 Doyers Street (Bowery)
Web: nomwah.com

Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers St.

By now, we're deep into Chinatown, and we're also hungry. Nom Wah Tea Parlor, at the bend of Doyers Street, is one of the oldest dim sum establishments in the neighborhood. The look is mid-century diner with red and white checkered plastic tablecloths, and the atmosphere could not be more comfortable. Affordable prices greatly enhance the comfort level. The shrimp and snow leak dumplings are exquisite, but all the steamed dim sum selections are tempting enough for repeat visits. Whatever kind of tea is selected to accompany the food, Nom Wah Tea Parlor provides a great escape from contemporary Manhattan.

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
65 Bayard Street
Web: http://www.chinatownicecreamfactory.com/
After a day of walking and drinking tea, capped with dim sum, a scoop of green tea ice cream at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory seems a perfect way to conclude the tea adventure.

Never has a solo self-guided walk in the city seemed so peaceful, so communal, or so invigorating, all at the same time.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple.





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