Saturday, May 31, 2008

World Tea Expo, Day 2

Random notes for the day:

Many more young people in attendance than last year
Lots of tea factories, fair trade farmers' alliances, and plantations in booths (increased ability to source directly)
More organics

Tea and Meditation by the authors of Tea Here Now, very interesting presentation on the connections between the two

Meeting James Norwood Pratt
Getting to see all the booths up close
Snagging samples of some fantastic shaped/flowering teas
Talking tea with other tea people
Buying some recent translations on Chinese and Taiwanese teas (particularly oolong and pu-erh)

It was an incredibly full day. I'm taking a moment to relax in my hotel room (if you can call blogging relaxing!) and then I'm off to dinner with Rajah Banerjee of Makaibari and a night on the town with a bunch of tea kids. Fun! More tomorrow...

World Tea Expo, Day 1

Day one is over and I have to admit that, despite the sleaze and wastefulness of Vegas, I am having a fantastic time. The pu-erh course was very informative and Jane Petrigrew's Taiwanese oolong tasting was dead on. There are some interesting new (in general or to the Expo) products on display (more on those later), and catching up with all my tea people has been absolutely wonderful. After the Expo, I attended an industry event, had a business meeting, ate dinner with tea friends, went to see Love (Cirque du Soliel does not cease to impress me), AND hit a nightclub (The Cathouse, which I do not recommend). It's after 4 AM in NYC time so, as you can probably guess, I'm exhausted. More tomorrow...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Vegas, Baby!

I'm about to leave for the airport and fly out to Vegas for The World Tea Expo. Never been to Vegas before and can't say I'm thrilled about visiting the city itself, but I am very much looking forward to the Expo, the teabar at Qua, and catching up with/meeting new tea people. I'll be doing short posts via iPhone during the Expo, and then filling in the details, photos, and links after I return. More soon!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mental Abilities and Tea

I've always found that tea produces a calm sense of alertness, a wakefulness without jitters, that I can't get elsewhere. (Blame it on the unique blend of caffeine, l-theophylline, and polyphenols.) According to several new studies, it does more that just that. Apparently, it tea helps older women avoid the decline in verbal skills associated with aging. From the NY Times:

"After controlling for other variables, the scientists found that women at age 65 who drank three or more cups of coffee or tea a day were about one-third less likely to have a significant decline in verbal skills than those who drank a cup less. By age 85, they were 70 percent less likely to suffer those deficits compared with women who drank less than a cup of coffee or tea."

It may also help people who suffer from sleep apnea reduce concentration problems. According to Dr. Andrew Weil (who got his info from the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine):

"Six to 10 cups of green tea per day may help reduce memory and concentration problems ... among people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.... Drinking green tea won’t help you overcome sleep apnea (you’ll still need to use your breathing device) but may lessen any memory or concentration problems associated with the disorder."

Very interesting. I was glad to see both coffee and tea included in the first study. It was conducted by the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research. Tea's popularity is quickly rising in France right now. It's good to see researchers stay atop the trends in their studies--I hope it catches on in the US!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tea Tourism in India

Tea tourism in India is getting more and more popular with tourists from around the world. All types of people from around the globe are beginning to think about and appreciate the beauty of what goes into the world's second-most popular drink (after water). Time Magazine is definitely a fan of the trend--they named Makaibari Tea Estate one of the best things about Asia for 2008. From the article:

"If Darjeeling is the champagne of teas, Makaibari is the Krug or Henri Giraud. At the 677-hectare Makaibari Tea Estate nestled in the eastern Himalayas, you not only taste the finest of its aromatic, amber brews, but experience tea as a way of life.... After a day's induction — with tea-tasting sessions and a guided tour of the factory to see how luscious, freshly plucked leaves are processed into green, white, oolong and black teas — visitors get some hands-on experience.... Not a tea lover? You will be at Makaibari."

Makaibari was listed under the category "Best for the Soul." Having been there, I have to agree. It is a deeply calming and centering place, and I am thrilled to be returning to Makaibari and several other Darjeeling tea estates as a tour guide this October. We're working out all the details now (Tearooms and tea estates and tea factories! Oh, my!) and I will have them posted here within the next two weeks. It should be a fantastic tour and I hope some of my readers, students, and clients out there can join me. For now, I'm off to work on the itinerary some more!

Friday, May 23, 2008

World Tea Expo Countdown

In less than a week, I'll be flying out to Vegas for the World Tea Expo. Exciting! In my blog, I'll post about the classes I take and the products I try, along with other various highlights. Check back often to see what's new, what's hot, and how my tea expo forecast fares. Afterward, I'll probably do some follow-up posts, like I did last June.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Matcha (and Green Tea Chocolates) at Whole Foods

Yesterday, I stopped by a Whole Foods Market that I don't go to often and, as I always do when I'm in a grocery store I haven't been to in a while, I checked out their tea selection. I remembered reading that Whole Foods signed a deal with Ecotrend to carry DoMatcha brand matcha on the West Coast, in the Midwest, and in Toronto. I'm in NYC, so no DoMatcha for me. However, they DID have all three varieties of Rishi's sweet matcha. (I haven't tried it yet. Have you? What did you think?)

One matcha product they carried that I KNOW that I love is Vosges' matcha chocolate bar. Delicious! They also carried two kinds of green tea truffles--one by Anna Shea and another (apparently in-store?) hand cut and rolled. I was super-excited to try them, but in the end decided I wold have been better off making my own. The Anna Shea green tea truffles are white chocolate and gorgeous, but are nothing I would write home about taste-wise. The hand cut and rolled truffles are dark chocolate. They look less rough than the hand cut and rolled truffles I've made at home, but (sadly) they don't taste as good. (The ganache was too astringent and the shell was too hard.) As much as I love Whole Foods, at $1.80 for two of the Anna Shea and $2.50 for two of the hand cut and rolled, my quick mental calculation of the cost of making a whole batch of my own green tea truffles (about the same as what I paid for four of the ready-made truffles) reminded of a student-friend's nickname for the store--"Whole Paycheck."

Looks great, tastes OK

Looks OK, tastes OK (and costs more than the lovely white chocolate truffles)

If you're interested in making your own chocolate truffles, here's a recipe for Earl grey Chocolate Truffles and here's one for Matcha Truffles. You can easily modify your favorite truffle recipe to make green tea truffles by whipping matcha powder into the ganache with a bit of extra liquid, infusing the cream with green tea, or replacing some of the cream with green tea that has been brewed strongly and then boiled down. You can also simply roll the truffles in matcha powder or a blend of matcha powder and sugar. Also, keep in mind that it is not necessary to make truffles with high-grade matcha that you would normally use for drinking. (You wouldn't believe how many customers I saw at Takashimaya who wanted matcha for making ice cream and who were scared off by the high price tag. Worth it for drinking, yes, but not for regular cooking.) Muzi carries a good matcha for cooking. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


A few months back, I saw this "tea"-shirt on Cafe Press. Cool! However, I wish they had an "I Love My Nerdy Tea Chick" shirt as well. There are enough of us around with people who love us to warrant it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Iced Tea

Over the weekend, I went to a great barbecue. I'm originally from North Carolina and when I mentioned to a few of my Southern friends that I was going to a barbecue, they thought I meant there would be a pig on a spit like at a Southern barbecue. Much to my relief, there was not, but there were many meats and (thankfully) veggie options grilled over the course of the day. The one really Southern thing that was consumed... sweetened iced tea, made by yours truly.

Me drinking my Southern iced tea

As the weather gets hotter, many people switch from hot tea to iced tea. Most in the US choose RTD (ready-to-drink, or bottled, tea).

Most kinds are very sweet and have a lot of added flavors.

Some kinds are unsweetened or less sweet, and have fewer flavors added. (These particular ones are at my favorite Asian market in NYC.)

Whether you prefer your tea sweet or "unsweet" (as they say in the South), it's easy to make delicious, natural, high quality iced tea at home. If you want to learn more, here's an article I wrote on iced tea last year. It includes which teas ice well, how to make iced tea, and a bunch of other interesting info on iced tea. Enjoy!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tea Phenolic Profile

The USDA Agriculture Research Service recently released a guide to flavonoid contents in various foods. From their press release:

"The flavonoids are the largest group of plant chemicals now widely studied by the scientific community because of their purported health benefits. Dietary flavonoids fall mainly into five subclasses and are found in certain teas, wines, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, roots--and even chocolate. In addition to antioxidative effects, certain flavonoids are reported to have antimicrobial and possibly anticarcinogenic and cardioprotective effects. Food flavonoids include, for example, anthocyanidins in blueberries and cherries; catechins in tea, red wine and apples; and quercetin in onions."

You can download a pdf with more on flavonoids in tea and other substances from their website.

Another exciting development they recently completed on is a method of accurately measuring phenolic compounds in plants. They "identified nearly 60 phenolic components in Ginkgo biloba leaves, including many that had never before been detected in the popular herb. They also used the unique profiling method to differentiate phenolics in more than 360 other foods, such as Mexican oregano, Fuji apple peel, soybean seed, broccoli, dry beans, tea and coffee." I hope they publish a database on this new (and potentially very useful) information as well.

On a related note... I really believe in the consumption of whole, natural foods rather than the use of specific extracts from foods that are shown to be beneficial. All too often, people assume that because a group of foods shows a benefit and shares a component, that the component is the reason for the benefit. This type of illogical argument is, of course, easily derailed by the point that correlation is not causation. Who knows if one particular element is the cause? It could be any number of combinations of compounds. However, if we know that a food provides a benefit, then why not simply consume the food? This is something I have believed for some time now, but it is very clearly argued in "In Defense of Food: The Eater's Manifesto" by Michael Pollan (author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma"). If you're interested in that kind of thing, check it out.

Friday, May 16, 2008

$6.9 Million Teacake Dispute

Recently, popular UK retailer Marks & Spencer fought against the British Customs and Excise Department (their equivalent of the IRS) in EU's European Court of Justice (rough equivalent of The Supreme Court) for $3.5 million pounds ($6.9 million) in court over one of their treats, chocolate-covered teacakes, which had been misclassified (and over-taxed) as biscuits (cookies) for over 20 years.* Who knew that a little sweet could cause such a big fuss? From Yahoo News before the verdict:

"In a case dating back to the to the early 1970s, the Marks & Spencer retail chain is seeking a refund for sales tax it paid for 21 years on chocolate-covered 'teacakes,' which British authorities wrongly classified as cookies instead of cakes. Britain taxes sales of chocolate-covered cookies, but not chocolate-covered cakes...

British tax authorities acknowledged their teacake mistake in 1994 and reclassified the milk-chocolate-swathed domes of marshmallow and biscuit as tax-exempted cakes.

However, they refused to pay back the full 3.5 million pounds that the retailer says it paid on the products since Britain introduced Value Added Tax in 1973.

Instead, the Customs and Excise department offered just 88,440 pounds."

Of course, it was the CUSTOMERS who paid the tax, not the company. According to BBC News, The VAT (Value-Added Tax) and Duties Tribunal (like The US Tax Court) argued that any more than 10% compensation would be an "unjust enrichment" to Marks & Spencer. (Be sure to check out their article's chart on the giant headache that divides British sweets into taxable and untaxable categories. Example: Gingerbread cookies with only two dots for eyes for decoration are untaxed. Any more decoration, even a little icing smile, means a 17.5% tax.)

Drama, drama!

In the end, the court decided to award Marks & Spencer the full $6.9 million. According to The International Herald Tribune:

"Tax experts said that the ruling ended a situation in which the government could claim unjust enrichment for not refunding wrongly paid VAT but a taxpayer could not.

'The court is setting aside some of the unjust enrichment argument put forward by a member state,' said Chas Roy-Chowdhury of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

'It makes it less of a one-way street and much more of an evenly handed approach to incorrectly applied VAT, as before the odds were stacked against the taxpayer,' he said."

Let me reiterate that in this case the tax payer was NOT Marks & Spencer, but the end consumer. I never paid the tax-added price, so I feel no qualms about buying a box of these argument-inducing "cakes" the next time I hop the pond. However, I can only hope that Marks and Spencer will offer a lower price on these treats for some period of time to at least symbolically offset the customers' overpayment. After all, the most loyal customers end up feeling the most resentment over this kind of thing, and no one wants another iPhone rage incident.

*Personally, I think they look like tiny bits of cookie inside chocolate-covered marshmallows, which I wouldn't classify as a cake OR a cookie/biscuit given the choice. If I absolutely had to pick one, I'd say cookie/biscuit. Then again, I am part British only by blood and never ate a crumpet until I was a teen, so my opinion on the semantics of British foods' terminologies doesn't really matter.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tea Scholarship

The Tea Council of the USA has launched their second annual "Calm-A-Sutra of Tea" national scholarship competition. They are asking for submissions of 1-2 minute videos that portray a creative/unique way of drinking tea and highlight at least one of tea's many health benefits. The winner will receive a $20,000 scholarship (and have tea and go on the news with some celebrity I've never heard of before). Here's last year's winning tea video. Learn more on The Tea Council's site.

PS--Here's another tea video submission that didn't win last year, but I thought it was cute. Check it out!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Brooklyn Chinatown Food Tour

This weekend, Liz Young Tours is doing a walking and eating tour of Brooklyn's Chinatown to benefit Slow Food NYC. It includes dim sum (China's traditional foods to accompany tea, "yum cha," literally "tea drinking," is the name of the light meal they comprise) and visits to tea vendors on the Lucky 8 Strip. Cool! Details (from Slow Food's email announcement) below.

Saturday, May 17
9am - 1:15pm
Meet outside the 8th Avenue (Brooklyn) N Train Stop, on 8th Ave at 61st St.

Slow Food Members - $35
Non-members - $45

You are invited to join a special walking (and eating!) tour of Brooklyn's exciting Chinatown, where you will enjoy a variety of delicacies at four tasting stops, tour open-air fish and produce markets, and visit tea and ginseng vendors lining Lucky 8 Strip. (Bring your re-usable shopping bags!).

This food and fun-filled tour, designed just for Slow Food members and friends, will be lead by Liz Young, of Liz Young Tours. Liz graciously is donating proceeds to support the activities of Slow Food.

For lovers of all things Chinese, you do not want to miss this guided tour of Chinatown Brooklyn, a neighborhood still unknown to many New Yorkers. Participants have the complete Chinatown experience on this excursion, with four tasting stops, including dim sum and other delights, a tour of the open-air fish and produce markets, along with the grocery, tea and ginseng shops that line the lucky 8 strip. This fun and food-filled experience in Brooklyn's secret neighborhood lasts 4 hours and starts early in the day, while the dim sum flows!

Tickets available here

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tea Brings in the Bling

Sweet Leaf and NUMI received $18 million* and $1.8 million, respectively, in capitol from investors during April.

Sweet Leaf Gets a Sweet Deal. Excerpt:

"Catterton Partners, which is based in Greenwich, Conn., invested in numerous companies, including Build-a-Bear, P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Odwalla and Kettle Foods.

'The ready-to-drink tea category is a $2.8 billion industry with the premium segment growing at an annual rate of 25 percent,' says Michael Farello, partner, Catterton Partners, who will join Sweet Leaf Tea's board of directors. 'Our assessment shows that Sweet Leaf Tea has the greatest potential for growth of any company in the category. This investment will give Sweet Leaf Tea the resources it needs to achieve an entirely new level of national awareness and sales.'"

NUMI Gets Shown the MONEY. Excerpt:

"'NUMI Organic Tea is a highly regarded industry leader in the premium organic tea category and has demonstrated extraordinary commitment to innovation, supply chain transparency, organic and fair trade advocacy, sustainable packaging, and assistance to tea producing villages in China, India and Africa' said Mark Finser, General Partner of TBL Capital.

NUMI Organic Tea pioneered the introduction of exotic herbs such as Rooibos, Lemon Myrtle, Honeybush and Dry Desert Lime that were popular in Europe but completely unknown in the United States. NUMI Organic Tea is also known for their innovative line of Flowering Tea; hand sewn tea leaves that blossom open when steeped in hot water. NUMI Organic Tea is responsible for commercializing this beautiful artisan trend from China....

TBL (Triple Bottom Line) Capital invests in... companies that are socially responsible and profitable."

It would seem that Catterton and TBL know what they're doing. Tea is increasing being recognized for its rapidly growing market and enormous sales increases. Having interviewed a rep from Austin-based Sweet Leaf a while back and having tried a number of NUMI's organic products, I'm glad to see both of these companies, ahem, infused with capitol they can use to further expand their markets, and tea's popularity in the US. Congrats!

*This figure is a correction from the original post.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Shincha is Here!

Ito En recently announced the arrival of their coveted Shincha, or Japanese spring tea. It is a fresh and (I think) delicious first flush green tea that tea aficionados tend to get dreamy over. It's also very high in vitamin C and the antioxidant catechin. From Ito En's press release:

"We are happy to announce that we have received our first lots of Shincha, the prized first flush of Japanese green tea, from Kagoshima Prefecture, one of Japan's main tea growing regions, located on the island of Kyushu. Shincha's fresh character makes it one of the most anticipated teas of the year. Supplies of this tea are limited and frequently sell out. We are currently taking orders for Kagoshima's Premium and Superior Grades.

Kagoshima Premium, 3 oz. in our signature canister, $30
Kagoshima Superior, 3 oz. in our signature canister, $40

Unlike the widely available Sencha style green tea, Shincha is only lightly steamed, which gives the tea its lively taste. This gentle processing also means that Shincha's signature taste remains at its peak for only a few months. Devotees insist that Shincha should not be consumed after the end of the summer."

Mmm... You can get Ito En's Shincha on their tea retail site or, if you're in NYC, at their physical location, 822 Madison Avenue (at 69th Street). I'm hoping to go buy some this week. I'll let you know what I think!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Tea Quote

One of my favorite tea quotes of all time is from James Norwood Pratt: "No pleasure is simpler, no luxury cheaper, no consciousness-altering substance more benign." How very true! The simple (yet indulgent) ritual of sitting down for a cup (or pot!) of tea brings such a sense of calm and comfort. Of course, the l-theophylline doesn't hurt, either!

L-theophylline is a natural substance found in all true teas (tea from the camellia sinensis plant, not "herbal teas") that creates a feeling of calm alertness. It has been shown to increase the production of alpha waves in the brain. Alpha waves increase left-right brain connectivity and are also produced by the brain during meditation and massage. It's one of the many reasons I am so passionate out tea, but to list those would be a whole other blog post!

Have a good weekend, and enjoy your tea!

Two cups of this year's Darjeeling First Flush at Salon T in NYC

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Teaware Collections

Interested in teapots? Here's a quick (and completely incomplete) listing of teaware collections I've stumbled upon in the last few months. Enjoy! If you would like to add any, please leave a comment with a link. Thanks!

Sadly, the much-anticipated Sparta Teapot Museum still has not opened... However, many pieces from their collection have been shown at my hometown's own Mint Museum of Art and Mint Museum of Craft + Design. (There's a strong tradition of pottery in North Carolina, due in large part to the huge deposits of red clay in the Piedmont region, where I was born.) A few previous exhibitions:

Made in China
With a Grain of Salt (salt-glazed pottery of England and North Carolina)
and, my personal favorite...
The Artful Teapot

Yi Xing teaware and other ceramics by Ms. Rong Jiang, who recently passed away

Tea With Friends blog on tea caddies

A recent show of teapots in San Francisco

The Rosemary's Sampler blog's teacup collection

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

New Honest Tea Teas

Honest Tea (who recently had 40% of their shares purchased by Coca Cola) launched a new line of flavors and packaging designs with "brighter" tastes and colors. The packaging looks great, but what's going on beyond basic appearances?

They tout higher levels of EGCG on the bottles with a bar indicating the levels in each drink. Their website doesn't list ingredients, but I have the feeling the "significantly higher (level) than most other brands" are from an extract, which has questionable benefits compared to the real thing. (I wish I'd had time to check the label when I saw it in a store recently! If any of you see it in person, will you let me know?)

They also added the words "energy tea" to two flavors' names. One is a blend of green tea and yerba mate, which makes sense, but the other is a blend of green tea and white tea... ??? They claim it is because they use green energy, but I find it very misleading to call it an "energy tea."

Their Consumer Reports award-winning flavor, Lori's Lemon, was reincarnated as Lemon Black Tea, this time with more cola... I mean sugar!

They also modified Peach Oo-La-Long to make a new flavor, Peach White Tea. I seem to remember that Peach Oo-La-Long was a sweeter-than-usual flavor created to satisfy the sweet tooth of the comic artist who draws "Bloom County," yet, like the lemon black tea's changes, the new variation on it has 10 (rather than 8) grams of sugar per 8 ounces. With two servings of tea in each bottle, that's an increase of 4 grams of sugar per bottle. Correspondingly, the calories jump from 63 per bottle to 85 per bottle. Not so bad as a Coke, but not so (comparatively) healthy as Honest Tea's teas used to be.

On the one hand, I hate to see Coke mess up a good thing. On the other, if this is what the market wants, it's better than people drinking soda, right? It's a tough call. I try to stand by the idea that quality tea doesn't need a lot of dressing up. However, Starbucks isn't just popular for its burnt beans--it's also the sugar syrup and whipped toppings that keep people craving more. There's a lot of room to move around between a pure, unflavored tea and Snapple's overpowering sweetness. I guess Honest Tea is, ultimately, just expanding its range within that area (albeit in one direction!).

If any of you readers have tried them, please let me know what you think! Do you prefer the old flavors or the new ones? What do you think of the packaging? Is the EGCG an extract? Is Coke making cola out of Honest Tea, or are these flavors true to your own idea of what tea is about? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Honest Tea's new packaging and Citrus Green Energy Tea in action at an NYC bodega.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Photo Day!

I've been accumulating a lot of tea photos lately, so I think I'll start posting a few each week. Some warrant their own posts (a series of photos on how to make chagra sachets, for example), but some are basic enough to share posts with other semi-related photos. Here are a few for now, mostly from local tearooms. Enjoy!

Amai's matcha cupcake, which, I'm sure, helped them win Best New Tearoom in Time Out NYC's Eat Out Awards. (You may remember I posted a quick tearoom review of their tea house last Friday.)

A glimpse of T Salon, which I also reviewed recently.

Two of Sanctuary T's famed tea cocktails.

Sanctuary T's cheese plate. (Oh, how I am a sucker for a good cheese plate!)

Houjicha, freshly roasted by TAFU's tea master at the Coffee and Tea Festival. Yum!

Monday, May 5, 2008

New VeeTea Article on TeaMuse

You may remember that last month, I published part one of an article on tearooms in Austin on TeaMuse. Well, now it's time for part two! Excerpt:

In the heart of Austin, nestled between a New-Orleans-esque college party street, a cluster of indie rock music venues, and a neighborhood that's becoming gentrified by 20-somethings at an alarming rate (watch out, Williamsburg!), lies Koriente Restaurant and Tea House, a charming spot that serves Korean-inspired food and Harney & Sons tea to hip kids and college Greeks alike. The decor reflects the jumbled location and the unexpected blend of patrons;it looks like a hipster bar/coffee shop, homey tearoom, and family-run Asian restaurant all at once. The menu is more focused; it leans strongly toward healthy, fresh, Asian fare and includes a variety of reasonably well-made hot and cold tea drinks...

Read the full article on TeaMuse. Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Eat Out Awards: Amai (Winner)

Although Amai's teahouse appeared in NYC only last year, you may have seen their products before. Before serving up tea and sweets near Union Square, they were a successful bakehouse, selling their charmingly packaged, all-natural tea sweets (complete with teas and tisanes as ingredients) and botanical brownies to upscale retailers such as SoHo's Dean & Deluca.

In addition to cookies and brownies, the teahouse offers tea cupcakes and other tea sweets, sandwiches, and a fairly large tea menu. The tea menu has a good mix of flavored/blended and unflavored/blended teas, and is very unique in that it lists the wholesaler for each tea. I had the chance to talk with Amai's owner, Kelli, around when their teahouse opened. She told me that she decided to take the "naming names" approach because she sees no reason to be secretive about it--she's proud of her suppliers' teas and would be glad to have you buy them from her or from them. While this may be taboo to many a tea retailer, for more casual/less obsessed tea-drinking clients it's a great way to branch out and try new teas based on more than just "I like black tea" and the like.

The tearoom is somewhat small, but its convenient location and relaxed feel make it great for popping in or for chilling out. My favorite bonus to visiting Amai--the indie rock vibe that comes across in both the music (early Modest Mouse, The Shins, etc.) and the use of an ultimate hipster furniture piece/card catalog to hold loose tea leaves. Cool.

Congrats, Amai! I wish you many years of success and happiness!

Amai Tea and Bake House
171 3rd Ave between 16th and 17th Streets
Monday-Saturday 8AM-10PM
Sunday 10AM-5PM

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Eat Out Awards: Sanctuary T

Sanctuary T is part restaurant, part bar, and part tearoom.

A sandwich board outside claims "Our tea is good enough to eat," and they back it up by integrating tea into their foods in a variety of ways, some innovative (black cod slow-cooked in lychee black tea) and some classic (chai ice cream).

Their cocktails (which I mentioned in a recent post on tea lectures at the Coffee and Tea Festival) are not quite up to par with those by my personal bar idol Jeff Hollinger nor as, ahem, "original" as those at PDT (as much as I adore a few drinks on PDT's menu, I'll pass on the bacon-infused bourbon old fashioned and the buttered popcorn rum, thanks). However, they ARE damn good drinks that take on the challenge of artfully blending sweet, savory, and sour, and put a fresh twist on classics like the gin gimlet (this time with Earl Grey) and the margarita (tangerine green tea, passion fruit, Contreau, and tequila in a martini glass rimmed with crushed pink peppercorns).

The tea menu includes a variety of flavored and unflavored teas, as well as tisanes and specialty tea drinks like matcha lattes. I think it could use more unflavored teas, but, then again, I think that about most tea menus. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that the staff knows their products (which is, alarmingly, becoming a rarity in the rapidly-evolving and growing tea world!).

The atmosphere completes the Sanctuary T experience--it is a successful blend of modern and eco-chic, with rich wood tones, chocolate brown, touches of silver and sparkle, and deep red highlights.

Aside from nit-picky grievances (e.g.,the tea menu said "Non-caffeinated" when it should say "Caffeine-Free".... If you'd like clarification on that point, read my article on caffeine and tea.), my only complaints are the music (oh, the sigh of relief when it changed from light jazz to Motown halfway though my visit) and the price (it seemed that a number of items were just enough over the appropriate price for you to notice that you are overpaying). Overall, I'd say that it is a fantastic new addition to the NYC tea world... and it would seem that the weeknight crowd I saw there would agree with me. I'm sure that I, for one, will be back again soon.

Sanctuary T
337B West Broadway, between Grand and Broome
Monday-Saturday 10AM-11:30PM, Sunday 10AM-6PM