If you've never stepped foot inside a Wegmans, it's hard to imagine someone being obsessive over a large supermarket chain. But if you have ever been inside, you will instantly understand. Everything is well organized, super clean, and the staff is beyond friendly. I went to college in upstate NY, and much of my husband's family lives in Rochester. So whenever we go back to visit, we make sure to have multiple trips to the Ultimate Grocery Store. There is one extra-large (and extra-awesome) Wegmans in particular, and at our visit over Thanksgiving weekend I visited their tea bar. Yes, a grocery store with a tea bar!! It's a dream come true for me.
The tea bar is in the middle of the store, but is designed in such a way that you don't feel like you are sitting in a produce aisle. It's not easy to find, but when you enter the little bar area, you are immediately hit with a selection of loose teas. A sign encourages you to examine and smell the teas. There is also a little area for their new, featured teas. After inspecting the selection, M and I sat at the bar and placed an order.
Looking around, the bar doesn't feel particularly relaxing or peaceful. But I suppose this is difficult to achieve when you actually are in the middle of a grocery store. But that's ok, it is still a place to take a nice break from shopping while sipping loose leaf tea.
While waiting for our teas to steep, I noticed a machine that looked like a refrigerator. It wouldn't make sense to refrigerate the loose teas, and it turned out to be a humidor. I was impressed that a grocery store would pay so much attention to their teas that they'd have a humidor for the particularly delicate green teas. They have respect for their tea!
The tea 'bartender' used timers to steep our teas. M commented that he didn't mind this, but he'd prefer it if we were allowed to override the timer and steep as much as we'd like. He prefers teas on the slightly bitter side, resulting in a longer steep. It would be great if more places asked how you liked your tea before they steeped it for you. Just because it's the right way, doesn't mean it's the way the customer prefers it.
my silver tips
My silver tips white tea was smooth and slightly nutty. But after my white tea experience at Radiance, I was a little disappointed. It was refreshing, but the tea was much weaker than the white peony I had there. This could just be the usual flavor profile for the tea. It did not have the depth I was expecting. It was very light and a bit floral, without much else in the background. As I've mentioned, I don't have much experience with white tea. I will have to try a silver tips somewhere else, to see how it compares.
I suppose that if my neighborhood grocery had a tea bar, I would never get my shopping done on time. My tea budget would also be much higher. But, it's great that we can visit occasionally, and enjoy a respite from shopping in the Best Grocery Store Ever.
Radiance Tea House is the only place in Midtown that I know of that specializes in various teas and also offers a full menu of food. I haven't been to Radiance in well over a year, and knew it was time to re-visit. PC, AP, and I walked over from the office to have tea and lunch. Radiance is a great find in midtown. The staff is friendly, the atmosphere is comfortable, and most importantly, they have a wonderful selection of tea. Three tea menus, to be exact!
my oolong leaves
I was craving an oolong, and chose the Dong Ding oolong. A few months back I had been gifted an incredible canister of Dong Ding (it is sadly long gone), and I was looking for that smooth, deep flavor. The Dong Ding I had at Radiance is a mellow, soothing oolong. It had a buttery smoothness, with a soft vegetal flavor while still holding the lovely roasty, nutty, gentle smoky flavor that I love from oolong. I don't know how long it was steeped, but it was perfectly smooth and flavorful. Not the least bit over-brewed. This is a tea that could have held up to more steepings, but we had a limited time for lunch and I had to say goodbye to the beautiful leaves. I had toyed with the idea of asking to take the leaves with me, but then chickened out.
PC's white peony
PC had the White Peony tea- I hate to admit it, but I've only had white tea once before, years ago. I didn't care for it, and haven't tried it since. The version I had previously was very weak, and tasted like an herbal tea. This white tea was very different, and it opened my eyes to a new type of tea! It had a jasmine-like aroma, but did not have a floral taste at all. It was bright, slightly earthy and nutty, with a hint of sweetness. It had a stronger flavor than I ever would have expected. PC felt that "Though it smelled slightly floral, almost like jasmine, it didn’t taste like that, which is good because I’m not big on floral notes. I liked the subtle earthiness of it." I will be exploring white teas a bit more in the future, and will dedicate a longer, more informative post to it.
AP had the 'tea of the day' which was a jasmine green. Whenever he visits Radiance, he always picks the tea of the day, because, " it is always good – and I can never decide from the pages and pages of different teas they serve" I didn't taste his tea, but AP enjoyed it.
my oolong leaves
The food here is a bit pricey, but it pairs well with many different types of tea. The service is definitely on the slow side, but lends itself to the peacefulness you feel as you sit with your tea. It sounds cliche, but Radiance is a true oasis in midtown Manhattan. It is a lovely place to relax and savor a quality cup of tea. They also have beautiful teaware for sale, which is very tempting for me. I try to focus on the tea, or else I'd end up purchasing numerous teapots, gaiwans, and cups. We had a pleasant lunch hour at Radiance, and it reminded me that I need to return again very soon.
Radiance Tea House and Books ~ 58 West 55th Street NY, NY 10019
Kombucha is a mysterious thing. It usually starts off as tea and sugar, is fermented, and ends up as an elixir with a beery, pungent flavor. I do have experience with fermented things, kimchi being my most favorite. But part of the mystery for me is the strange glob-like substance that is the bacteria starter for the tea. It's called a scoby which is according to Kombucha.org, it is a "symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria (the friendly type)". It looks a bit like a moldy pancake. You can see one here. The mystery continues in the origin of the tea. It is believed to have originated in the East, possibly China, and has been around for at least two thousand years.There are many enthusiasts out there that tout Kombucha's magical powers of boosting energy, eyesight, and immunity, among other healthful things. I've had a handful of bottles of Kombucha over the years, and have never really grabbed onto it. I do like the pungent, fermented taste, but I'm not always in the mood for it. I've also been pregnant twice in the past 4 1/2 years, and drinking a mysterious brew did not seem like a wise thing to do. But now there isn't anything holding me back, so why not dive into the whole Kombucha craze! Still, I pass the refrigerated case in the health food store, not paying it much attention. But, what about homemade Kombucha? That got my attention.If you have a scoby (you can buy one, or get one from someone that has been brewing the tea), all you need is water, sugar, and a few weeks. Turns out that my friend PC has been brewing his own Kombucha! PC brought his homemade brew to the office the other day, and offered me a taste. There is a strange little creature floating in the tea, which seems to be a remnant of the brewing process (does it have something to do with the scoby? I need to do a bit more research). I was a little hesitant, but I reluctantly took a sip. What a surprise! It was quite delicious! Unlike most other commercial Kombucha brands I've had, it was very smooth, and not overly pungent. There was a mellow tang about it, and it was very sweet. He started with black Darjeeling tea, green tea, and sugar, then fermented the mixture for two weeks. I didn't really taste the Darjeeling, but the mixture had a slight green vegetal flavor. Apparently the longer you let the tea ferment, the more pungent it becomes. I'm guessing the longer it ferments, even more healthful properties are created.
PC offered to give me a scoby, to let me try my hand at the brewing process. If I can find a place in our apartment that is far away from curious little hands, I might just take him up on it! Stay tuned!
A few months ago we were gifted two lovely tins of green tea from friends that visited Japan. I've been drinking both teas for awhile now, but I am not completely sure what one of them is. It's definitely a green tea, but is it hojicha? It has a smooth roasted green tea flavor, very similar to what you'd find in hojicha. It is quite refreshing and soothing. My only confusion is in the tea itself. There are definitely leaves of green tea, but also something that looks like twigs, or stems. Does this look like hojicha? Or could it be kukicha? I've never had kukicha, so I can't make a judgement call. But googling pictures of kukichacauses me to wonder. It looks similar to what I have, although I haven't seen as many actual tea leaves in the pictures I've seen. If anyone can help out, please let me know! I'd love to know what I'm drinking. Help me solve the mystery!!
A few days ago I wrote about my experience with Yorkshire Gold tea, and wondered how it would compare to my favorite standby, PG Tips. This morning it was time for the showdown. The bags are similar in size (YG may be slightly bigger), but PGT is a pyramid shape, and YG is square-ish. I brewed a cup of both, using hot water from the same kettle, and used the same steep time. The YG had a delicate, almost floral scent, and produced a slightly lighter brew (the left cup in the picture). The PGT was a darker with a stronger, malty aroma.
Upon tasting, the YG had a nice smoothness, with a taste similar to English Breakfast. It was actually difficult to discern many flavors in this tea. There was a hint of fruit in the background. This tea is more delicate than its competitor, both in aroma and flavor. The PGT hit with a strong malty scent. It had a bold, and slightly bitter taste. Like YG, it is simlar to English Breakfast, and there wasn't much to detect on the palate except for a distant fruitiness. I was curious to see how the teas would do if over- steeped. I left a bag of YG in hot water for about 15 minutes to see how the result would taste. It is definitely bitter, but much lighter and smoother than expected. When done with a bag of PGT, it produced almost undrinkable results.
I prefer a stronger tea (especially in the morning), so the PGT was my overall choice. We use PG Tips frequently for iced tea, because the bold flavor holds up well to the ice. But there's nothing wrong with the YG tea. It would hold up well throughout the day, because it is lighter and easier to drink.
PG Tips, you are the winner of my showdown for taste and strength, but Yorkshire Gold gets an honorable mention for versatility.
Tea News via Grub street! I visited the original Harney & Son's shop a few years ago, and can't wait to have one in Manhattan. Oolong-Awaited Harney & Sons Shop Opens Tuesday. In Pursuit of Tea has also opened a store nearby. Two new tea places to check out very soon. Also great for a SoHo shopping break!
Strong black tea is what I usually crave in the morning, and early afternoon. I like a malty, semi-bitter, slightly astringent tea to wake me up and get me going. Especially now, with two kids, and a full time job. I need a good kick of caffiene!
I try to drink mostly loose leaf teas, but I do like to be open minded when it comes to bagged teas. Not all teabags are tasteless tea dust. I actually have quite a few boxes of tea in the office right now. The Taylor's of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold teabags may contain dust and fannings, but they are larger than your average american teabags, which lends for a shorter brewing time and more flavor. From reading the box I learned that they 'work with the world's best tea gardens' and they 'combine the smooth malty flavour of top quality Assam teas with the fresh, lively character of peak season teas from the highlands of East Africa'. Not so sure about all of that, but it is a nice morning cup of tea. Brewing for about 4 minutes yields a nice rich golden color and a malty scent. Nothing fancy about the taste, but it's just what I look for in a quick breakfast (or early afternoon) tea- slightly bitter, malty, with a faint hint of fruit on top. This is of course a tea that would do well with a drop of milk and some sugar. I will sometimes fix it up this way when I'm in the mood, especially when I'm craving a coffee substitute. But I usually prefer it strong and dark. This tea does not have any of the delicate nuances of an Assam, but it definitely delivers the goods when you are sleepy, and just need a reviving cup. It is what I imagine the folks on the old-school British comedies are drinking when they are trying to get through all sorts of silly drama. When Hyacinth Bucket shrieks 'tea Richard!', this is what I imagine she's reaching for. She drinks it in her Royal Doulton with the hand-painted periwinkles, of course.
Another tea I associate in this category is PG Tips. I have a box of it at home, because we use it all summer long to brew iced tea. It makes a perfect strong cup that holds up to the ice. I think I need to do a mini-showdown between the YG and PG Tips, to see which basic black, bagged tea reigns supreme! It's on.
Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold ***1/2 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
I don't know if I have a favorite tea, but when faced with a decision I usually pick Darjeeling. Now, I don't know the ins and outs of this tea, such as where is the best estate, what the difference is between harvest years, etc. But I do know that I prefer the second flush over the first flush. The flushes refer to when the tea was harvested- first flush is in the early spring, and the second, around June. The first flush produces a lighter hued tea, as well as a gentler taste. The 2nd flush has a fuller body, with more astringency and a 'muscatel' (nice way to say musky) flavor. A quick search has just taught me that there are three other varieties- an autumnal flush that is harvested after the rainy season, which produces a darker, more robust brew, with less delicate notes. There is also the monsoon or rains tea, which is harvested in the rainy season. This takes place between 2nd flush and the autumnal. This tea is more oxidized, and is rarely exported. Interestingly, it is often used in masala chai.I wonder if that is what is in the tea my friend brought back from India!Finally there is also an in-between harvest, which is done after the first flush, and right before the second. Got all of that?
I recently purchased a Darjeeling from serendipiTea that I've been drinking for about a week now. The package doesn't specify when the tea was picked, but it is from the Makaibari estate in India. I've noticed that many Darjeelings I've had in the past have come from this estate. This tea is also fair trade certified, and organic.
The tea produces a nice golden-to-dark cup. It has mostly an astringent taste, the muscatel that I've grown to love from Darjeelings. I'm guessing this is probably an autumnal flush, because while it has the distinctive Darjeeling aroma, it does not have any delicate floral notes. The tea was a bit steep at $10, but the leaves are nice and large, and you don't need much to get a dark full bodied cup. It is a descent cup of tea, especially on a chilly day. But I will continue my quest for my favorite Darjeeling, as this is definitely not the one.
I've decided to add a star rating to my reviews, a great idea that my husband recommended. Please feel free to comment and give the teas your own star ratings as well! serendipiTea Darjeeling- *** 3 out of 5 stars.
I've recently noticed an Argo tea cafe in the upper reaches midtown, and haven't had the time to stop in. It's a good few blocks from my office, just far enough that I need to make a conscious effort to get there. When I was in Chicago a few years ago, I remember enjoying a full pot of tea at one of their locations while sitting and reading a book.
You can get your tea by the cup or the pot (they use cute little bee house teapots http://www.beehouseteapot.com/teapots). There is a 'self serve' area where you can create your own bags of bulk tea to take home. The staff will also brew these teas by the cup. The signs indicate the prices, and how long the tea needs to steep. I like that you could see each type of tea available, and smell them as well. But a pet peeve of mine is when a shop stores their tea in glass or other translucent containers. The light and heat from the sun will ruin the taste of the tea much quicker than if it was stored in an opaque container. I assume that the tea in these vessels has a high turnover rate, so it probably isn't much of an issue here. It's also a good way to showcase the tea. Argo also has a large menu of flavored and blended tea 'signature' drinks, both hot and iced. But I am going to focus on a simple cup of tea today.
PC and I spent a good few minutes inspecting the self-serve teas. After a long deliberation I selected the Nilgiri Black. I decided on this tea in order to get a baseline of what an everyday tea would taste like here. I've also never had this Indian black tea before. PC chose the oolong formosa, which turned out to be the better choice. My tea order was up rather quickly- it didn't feel like the 4-5 minute steep time that was suggested. PC's tea took much longer, even though it also has a suggested steep time of 4-5 minutes. I imagine an oolong would need more steeping than a black tea, so we did not complain. My black tea tasted like a generic bagged black tea. There was nothing about the tea or the aroma that jumped out at me. I do admit that it was brewed skilfully, because it was the perfect hue, and did not have any astringency. Perfectly smooth, just not very flavorful. But I guess that is typical of a generic black tea, especially at $2.25 per oz. It would probably work well as a base for the many flavored tea drinks that they have on the menu. PC's oolong was delicious, a very different cup. It's hard to tell from the picture, but it had a golden hue, and a pleasing toasty aroma. This semi-oxidized tea had a lovely nutty, slightly sweet, deep, roasted flavor. It reminds me of Japanese hojicha tea. Again, it was prepared expertly. The cup was smooth, without any bitterness.
As far as the atmosphere goes, this place feels very much like any other commercial 'cafe'. It's fine for a quick cup of tea, but it's not the type of place that you'd want to linger and slowly sip your beverage for a few hours. But in midtown, perhaps efficiency is the focus. When I visited one of their Chicago locations, I remember it having the same commercial feel. But the place was a little bigger, and felt more comfortable.
There was one glaring issue that I had with Argo. If you are going to call yourself a tea cafe, don't tell us how great your coffee is, and say it is better than your tea!? I do understand that it is more difficult for a tea cafe to make money alongside the myriad of coffee shops, but you are insulting your poor little tea leaves!
Despite this tea sadness, I will probably be back to try their darjeeling tea, which looked promising. I also noticed that they have bubble tea, which is a favorite of mine. I'm curious to see how theirs will stack up against some of the Chinatown stalwarts. I also wonder if they use brewed tea, instead of the powdered mixes that many of the bubble tea shops use. I am so torn, Argo tea! I hate your coffee signs, but I will have to come back and try your tempting darjeeling, and bubble tea. At least someone will give your tea the love it deserves!
I am slowly becoming a fan of the whole tea infused chocolate thing. Last week PC let me taste a bit of his maté infused chocolate bar. It wasn't something I'd purchase for myself, but it was still chocolate. As an adventurous chocolate lover, he went and purchased a new flavor- 'raspberry rooibos' infused dark chocolate. PC was generous enough to offer me a taste of this chocolate as well.
Now I have to admit that I was hesitant to try it, since chocolate and rooibos doesn't sound like a winning combination to me. But rooibos does tend to just take on the flavor of whatever is added to it. As I reluctantly looked at the chocolate bar, PC mentioned that the flavor tasted very similar to what we know in NYC as 'Jelly Rings', one of my most guilty pleasures. http://www.amazon.com/Joyva-Ring-Jells-9-Oz/dp/B000EPV028
As soon as PC mentioned this, I dove right in to the chocolate bar. He was right, it tasted just like jelly rings!! An extremely sweet, raspberry flavor with a little dark chocolate bitterness, as well as a pleasing smoothness. There was a slightly herbal flavor, that I'm guessing was the rooibos. But it was hard to detect. I mostly tasted raspberry extract and semisweet chocolate. The ingredient list is simple, yet it still reminded me of my precious, artificially flavored jelly rings. I'm sure if I did a side by side tasting, I'd notice a vast difference. But this chocolate is a great, healthy (well ok, healthier) alternative!!
It doesn't really taste like tea, but I will definitely get this chocolate bar again for the yummy, nostaligic flavor.