Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Harney & Sons SoHo

If you live in the NYC area, a great way to kick off National Hot Tea Month is to check out the enormous selection of teas from the Harney & Sons SoHo location. I once visited their beautifully rustic shop in upstate NY, and have been eager to visit the new store ever since it opened. The SoHo store is quite large and airy, with a floor to ceiling shelving unit for their loose teas, very different from the cozy upstate shop.  This is not a bad thing, they fit in well with the other stores in the area.

There are two parts to the store. The first is the large retail space, that has the huge tea selection, and a 'tasting bar' where you can sample the tea of the week, as well as any other tea you would like to try.  They also have tasting flights, which is a fun way to try new teas. There are also shelves and tables holding teaware and bagged teas.  After taking in the scene, I headed straight to the back of the store to the small cafe area, which is separated from the main space with a couple of bookcases. 

view of the store from the tea lounge

The cafe has 5 tables, and a nice little bar area for a quick cup, or to order a cup to go. Cups are $3, a small pot is $6, and large $8.  If you prefer to drink one of their specialty teas, you can add $1 to your order.  I thought the prices were reasonable given the quality of their tea.  If you are looking for a bite to eat, there are also sweet and savory food options. I took the last available seat and had a look at the menu. 

After sitting and studying the large menu, I decided on a white tea.  It was late in the day, so I wanted something light and refreshing. I had a few questions, so one of the experts was called over to explain the differences in the white teas they had available.  I chose one that sounded light but still flavorful, the Mutan white.  After a few minutes I heard a timer go off, and my pot was brought over.  The liquid was bright yellow, similar to other white teas that I've tried. The aroma was faintly floral and nutty. The taste had the same nuttiness, and was also a bit buttery.  It had a nice smoothness, with a soft texture on the tongue. Suitable for my late afternoon tea break, but not something I'd want to drink earlier in the day. The nutty flavor lingered for awhile, which made me smile as I relaxed and read my book. The noise from the retail area drifts into the cafe, but it was pleasant to sit there on a cold day, reading a book and sipping tea.  I will definitely be back to try more. They even had a small section of 'Yellow' tea, which I know nothing about. I am looking forward to trying them!

Mutan White tea from the cafe
After my tea break, I browsed around the shop a bit.  I noticed they were selling thick and thin matcha, and realized I needed to have some matcha to try at home.  So I picked up a small canister of thick matcha.  As I was standing by the tasting bar, one of the employees asked if I wanted to try the matcha.  She brought out a chawan, whisk, and scoop, and prepared the tea for me.  She even showed me the proper way to whisk it.  Realizing that I didn't have a proper chawan, or the accouterments to prepare matcha correctly, I ended up purchasing the things I needed to make matcha at home. I have been drooling over handmade chawans on etsy.com, but realized that for my fledgling efforts I just needed a basic one.  My new tea bowl is quite lovely to look at! But that is for a future matcha post...

I was very impressed with the staff throughout the store.  They were all extremely friendly, helpful, and very knowledgeable.  I wish I lived or worked close by! But it's just a short train ride away, so I will definitely be back at Harney & Sons soon to try something new.

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