Thursday, August 30, 2012

Empire Coffee & Tea

There are many shops selling tea in this city, but the area of Midtown west is a bit of a wasteland for tea purchasing. There is Radiance (my favorite) if you are in central Midtown, Argo, or even Whole Foods for a little farther north, but not much else if you are looking for a good selection of loose leaf teas. But, if you are willing to venture a little further south west, an old shop with NY attitude awaits.

These days when I think of the southern end of Hell's Kitchen, I think Lincoln Tunnel, and the tush-end of port authority (although, who can really say which is the non-tush end?). Unlike a few blocks farther north, the area still retains a bit of NYC grit, with older storefronts and fumes from the cars waiting to enter the tunnel. It's an area that I usually avoid because it's just a little too far from my office. But if you are willing to explore, there are good stores for meat, fish, and baked goods in the area. It's also the backdrop for Empire Coffee & Tea, a great store that sells a nice variety of loose teas.

The store was supposedly established in the early 1900s (I'm not sure if it's always been at that location), but this is not one of those quaint West Village shops with creaky floors that gently sag into the pavement. No, this is a utilitarian store front, with bags of coffee everywhere and containers of tea in the back. A few teapots and coffee mugs can be found, but you're here for your leaves and beans. There is also a to-go counter where you will find coffee and teas by the cup, and a few benches if you need to sit while you sip.
I was pleasantly surprised by the tea selection here. They have just about every type of tea in little plastic containers. I imagine they have larger storage vessels in the back, where the tea is kept away from air and light. They have some blends as well, and Sexy Tea (black tea, oolong, and apricot black)caught my eye. I was tempted to get some, but I'm not usually a fan of flavored blends. The service here is not what I would consider friendly, but knowledgeable and no-nonsense. Just my style. I was impressed when the salesperson knew the difference between the Yunnan black, the mainland China tea, and the China black tea. After some perusal I decided to get a 1/4 pound of Yunnan Black, since I've been craving that sweet, bold flavor. The container was whisked away, and within seconds the salesperson was ringing me up. 

As I was leaving I noticed the Sexy Tea is sold by the cup, and they have a Sexy Arnold Palmer, too. If I hadn't just finished my own freshly brewed pot, I would have give one a try. Who wouldn't? Although, I'm still not sure why it's considered sexy. It gives me a reason to go back and try an iced version before the weather cools down.

Empire Coffee & Tea may not have the old world charm of a historic West Village store, but it has the old-school New York appeal that is just as important. And Sexy Tea. It's a great place to visit if you are trapped at port authority or Penn Station or if you need a respite from the tourists in Times Square. Or even when you're stuck in traffic waiting to get over to NJ. It's also a great place to walk to if you work in Midtown West.

Empire Coffee & Tea: 568 9th Avenue, NY, NY 10036: Recommended for loose teas to purchase, and a quick cup to go

1 comment:

  1. I bought my first Rooibos here, back when there were only a few tea retailers in Manhattan. Glad it's still around...I should visit again!