We may have (literally) dumped it 200 years ago, but tea’s returned to the top of the totem pole. Restaurants, bakeries and dedicated shops are upping their tea ante, moving away from commercial blends to embrace the ritual of tea, with proper leaves-to-water ratios and precise steeping time.
Sound overwhelming? Leave it to the experts. After all, the experience of afternoon tea is half the fun. Plus full tea service often means sweet and savory tea cakes, sandwiches and scones alongside a proper cuppa. So, whether you’re looking for the tea selection, bites, clotted cream or the Brit-centric atmosphere, we’ve got the inside scoop on the best places to get your brew on.
Anglophiles rejoice! Tea, English accents, Cadbury and love of the Queen abound at this West Village nook. Photographs of generations of the royal family hang above diners who cluster here for cups of English breakfast and traditional fare like Welsh Rarebit, all served on mismatched china. Tea is prepared the English way: loose-leaf in a pot that diners then pour through a strainer into an English china teacup.
The best part is the clotted cream. If you’ve never heard of, or have never tried, clotted cream, you are missing out. At its best creamy and thick, the whipped topping hits the ideal balance between salty and sweet, and never tastes better than atop crumbly scones. It’s creamy, delicious heaven. And Tea and Sympathy does it right. (108 Greenwich Ave., West Village; 212-989-9735)
Tim Burton couldn’t have dreamed up a better tea house. Sippers of all ages will appreciate the wacky interior design and menu that expertly blends sweet and savory. But the real stand-out is the vast tea selection: Anyone could go slightly mad at this tea party trying to choose. The best bet is the signature Alice’s Tea, an aromatic blend of Indian black vanilla, rose and Japanese green tea.
Then turn your focus to the scones. The bakers alternate their flavors daily, and if you happen to fall through the rabbit hole on a Blackberry Lemon scone day (or a pumpkin caramel, which might as well be dessert), you may never come back out. Sit in or take out pretty much anything to nearby Central Park for a real Mad Hatter party. (Chapter I – Upper West Side; Chapter II – East Midtown; Chapter III – Upper East Side; check alicesteacup.com for exact locations)
Think tea reincarnated as dessert. The Green Tea Mochi is just strong enough to satisfy a tea craving, but has the pleasant sweetness of a sugary rice cake. This minimalist Japanese-style teahouse has more than just desserts — it also has an excellent assortment of Japanese teas, presented in a traditional tea ceremony. Green tea — specifically matcha — is the staple in most Japanese ceremonies, and you won’t find better traditional matcha anywhere than here. It’s even better paired with mochi. (230 E. 9th St., East Village; 212-228-8030)
Calling all Downton fans: Now’s your chance to feel like the Dowager. It may not be the turn of the century, but this Gramercy tea salon will make it feel that way, transporting guests to upper echelon of the Victorian era.
The posh, vintage-inspired parlor is popular, and typically filled with mother-daughter pairs, chatty best friends and, often, baby or bridal showers. Most opt for the five-course afternoon tea, an ideal spread of savory sandwiches and decadent sweets. Dainty as they may look, the smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches have been known to start squabbles. We suggest you dig in right away. And just say to yourself: What would Dame Maggie Smith do? (56 Irving Pl., Gramercy; 212-533-4466)
Ah, the refreshing scent of novelty. The quiet quirkiness of Podunk could keep tea fans lingering all day, admiring the merry hodgepodge of mismatched furniture and decorations.
The scent of homemade baked goods dominates the small East Village space. If cookies carried more nutritional value, we’d devour every last one — the treats all manage to taste lovingly homemade. Just don’t bring work. Though the little shop has the perfect ambience for an afternoon with the MacBook, the shop bans phones and computers. You’re meant to be there for the tea, the company and perhaps the comfort of originality. (231 E. 5th St., East Village; 212-677-7722)
Not a green-tea fan? Harney & Sons might sway you. Brewed to perfection so it’s not too tart or earthy, the Blueberry Green tea could convert green tea haters see the light. If you still don’t think it’s easy going green, there is a wall packed with hand-crafted alternative teas to choose from.
This Soho spot is ideal for people pausing for a break in Broadway browsing or those interested only in tea, since the small space does not specialize in baked goods. The indecisive can grab two free sample cups of any tea on the menu , but if you know what you’d like, head to the back to grab a table. With tea brewed using scientifically exact temperatures and times, your tea will taste just as it should. (433 Broome St., Soho; 212-933-4853)