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Jan 11, 2007 12:13 AM

Decent Cup of Tea in Even A High End Spot -- Rare As Bigfoot

Responses in another thread brought up the question of quality -- or lack there of -- of tea in even high end dining spots in the U.S. I've stopped ordering it when out, since not only will it not match the most basic bags of Yorkshire Gold or even Barry's at home, it is likely to be just terrible. (I'm always shocked by that. Perfect meal, they make great coffee, but then the tea comes out and yuck.) I suspect it's the fact that few places have enough demand to keep decent loose leaf in stock, and don't want to boil water fresh for each customer. Asian places are the exception of course -- but basic, non-green tea, properly brewed is tough to find in some place in the U.S. other than the occasional tea shop. Anyone know why, or had great tea when dining out here?

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  1. BHAppeal - You are quite right to continue my ranting about this very subject from another post and begin a-fresh! And I agree with everything you are saying.

    Tea is more of an option now than it ever has been, but quality tea is extremely rare, as you point out. If we fast forward five it still not appreciated?

    1. didn't i hear something about someone wanting to start a tea craze a la starbucks. who knows...5 years from now maybe there will be one.
      i stick to my barry's at home and in local coffee shops (i live in an irish neighborhood). and usually jasmine when out at a nice asian place.

      3 Replies
      1. re: ceeceee

        I guess you mean aside from the tea shops like Tea and Sympathy and any of the myriad of high tea places in the city? I'm not being sarcastic, I'm honestly asking.

        I had Thai out the other day at a place in Forest Hills and they served us lipton in a gorgeous pot. I was horrified.

        1. re: krissywats

          no, it was more of a "fast food" kinda chain sort of thing. exactly like starbucks, but for tea.

          1. re: ceeceee

            I think some of the coffee shops like Peets and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf actually do offer some very good teas. My only problem with this is that the coffee odor overpowers the tea and I am not able to enjoy the more delicate tea tastes and aromas. I do wish they would house the tea under a separate roof!

      2. I remember getting good tea at the Four Seasons in New York. I remember being pleasantly surprised. Sumile in New York also has decent tea.

        As I put in another thread, surprisingly, at least a few years ago, the tea at Asiate at the Mandarin Oriental in New York was mediocre.

        No high-end non-Japanese restaurant in L.A. is resonating in memory at the moment for good tea. You can get decent tea at the Tea Garden on Beverly in West Hollywood, but then you have to contend with horrible pre-packaged food brought in from M Cafe (I know some people on this Board love M Cafe, but I am not one of them).

        And you know where I have had the best quality black tea (outside of my home) anywhere in the world? Yes, ironically, in Japan. Just drop into any decent looking tea salon in the Aoyama neighborhood of Tokyo.

        4 Replies
        1. re: omotosando

          The Four Seasons BETTER have good tea - they do high tea on the weekends.

          1. re: krissywats

            Krissywats hits upon one way to scope out restaurants that serve good tea--the ones that actually have tea rooms or separate tea service. In my area (Charleston, SC), that means Charleston Grill and Woodlands Resort. They both serve the same teas at dinner that they do at afternoon tea. Makes sense. Now, since they serve their teas "English-style," they leave the leaves in the pot, so "stewing" is a definite possiblity if you don't act quickly. Sad that even places that serve high quality tea often don't know (or care) enough to remove the leaves from the water. Sigh.

            I appreciate this topic and am gratified to see so many tea lovers chime in. With the exceptions mentioned above, I seldom bother to order tea at restaurants. The dreaded phrase "assorted teas" on a menu is the kiss of death (by tea bag). Any place serving decent tea will most likely name them or at least say "loose leaf teas."

            Why do restaurants serve lousy tea? I think they serve what the market will bear. Most customers don't know any better. It's no surprise really. Friends and family know my wife and I are tea lovers and collectors, and what do they often give us as gifts? Bag tea. We try to be grateful. ;)

            One could go on at length about coffee vs. tea in America. I'll simply point out that there are many coffee aficionados who've never made their own cappuccino (espresso, whatever), but just about every tea aficionado makes his/her own tea at home and makes it well. Tea culture in America is growing from the ground up, whereas coffee culture has grown from top down, thanks largely to chains like Starbucks. As a result, I believe tea culture will grow more slowly and probably never rival coffee in popularity; on the other hand, I think tea culture tends to run deeper because it is typically something we cultivate at home and then take out into the world rather than something we take from the outside world and bring home in a paper cup with a cardboard ring.

            1. re: krissywats

              I'm talking about the Four Seasons restaurant on E. 52nd not the Four Seasons hotel on E. 57th. I wasn't aware the restaurant did high tea.

              1. re: omotosando

                Ah, my bad - I honestly don't know if the restaurant does high tea - the hotel does, though.

          2. Several years ago, I had an amazing cup of tea at Turkish Kitchen on Third Avenue in New York. It's weird, because I remember that the food was ok but not great, and I actually don't remember a single thing I ate; the only thing I remember is being so surprised by the tea. It was bright and delicious, and I feel like it was already sweet. They did the thing where they pour it from a giant teapot in a long stream from high up. I don't know how it is now because since I wasn't that into it otherwise I haven't been back there; but I actually have thought about going back just for the tea . . .

            18 Replies
            1. re: tomato

              I have had a similar experience at Amandine, an Asian bakery in West Los Angeles. Originally, I went for the pastry, which is delicious, but once I had a sip of their green tea, I didn't care much about the pastry. Now, I can go and sit and just have tea -- no pastry!

              Finally, I asked them if they would sell me a pound; they had no idea how to do that. Eventually, they did figure it out, and now they are happy to supply me whenever I run out. However, I can't quite duplicate their formula and it is not as good at my home as it is in their "house" might be that the tea mixes with the fragrance of their croissants!

              1. re: liu

                You are so lucky it's a bakery and you can just go have tea! Although it's nice that the pastry is tasty if you're in the mood ;) What kind of green tea is it? I drink it all the time at home, but I usually just get the no frills Temple of Heaven gunpowder stuff. If I buy it from someplace pretty good, I like sencha and grassy-tasting ones; also pearl with mint. I know what you mean about the at-home thing though; I think you might be right about the smell factor!

                1. re: tomato

                  Hello, tomato! You made me laugh...try their green Dragonwell tea, hot, and let me know if it is completely satisfying and cancels the pastry cravings...or, complement it with just a little something sweet!

                  And if you haven't yet been, I highly recommend trying Paris Baguette (125 N. Western Ave. #323.467-0404) for their delicious pastry (my current favorite!) AND Jin's Patisserie (1202 Abbot Kinney in Venice #310.399-8801) for their amazing selection of good quality teas.

                  You say you like "sencha and grassy-tasting" teas. I recently just discovered the world of oolongs. Have you ever explored any of these? Some are too smoky for me, but the gentler ones are really smooth.

                  1. re: liu

                    I want Dragonwell tea but I live in New York! No Amandine for me any time soon . . . One of these days I will make it to LA and I will use your recs for a tea junket.

                    I've liked oolong when it's comes my way, like smokey tea, but never sought out the oolongs so will have to investigate . . .

                    1. re: tomato

                      Actually as someone who lives in L.A., but who has spent a fair amount of time in NYC, I think you have much better tea options in NYC. For one thing, it's much more common to get good quality loose tea in high-end non-Asian restaurants in NYC than in L.A. (Only the Four Seasons restaurant is coming to mind at the moment, but I know there are others). And then you have Kai on Madison Avenue, my favorite place to while away the afternoon drinking tea . . . Ah, just the thought of it is making me want to jump on a plane! Also, while I love and mostly drink green tea, if memory serves, Kai also has black tea in the afternoons.

                      1. re: omotosando

                        I think the Bay Area has a pretty good tea-drinking culture -- I think it's part of the hippie/organic/ingredient-centric aspects of the food culture. But tea service comparable in quality and sophistication to their coffee service is still far from the norm in "fine dining" restaurants.

                        1. re: omotosando

                          I'll have to take a trip to Kai, much closer than LA. I don't have any LA tea experience to compare, but next time I'm some place spectac in New York I'll see if they know how to make a cup of tea, because if I'm out for dinner at a really good restaurant, and perhaps this is *not* for the tea thread, I order cognac after dinner ;)

                          1. re: tomato

                            I was also going to recommend Wild Lily Tea Room in West Chelsea, but I just checked on line and was very sad to read that they closed as of December 31, 2006. That used to be one of my favorite places to spend a snowy afternoon. Wonder why they closed?

                            Then there was Toroya, another great tea place on the Upper East Side that also closed. There also used to be a nice place, on W. 56th I believe - a six story or so mini-department store with a cafe on the top floor that served good tea, but they also closed (I see a trend here). Anyone remember that place?

                            Lady M Cake Boutique at 41 E. 78th St. has decent tea (and Japanese fantasies of Western cakes) - not top, top, but better than you will find most places, and served in fine china cups.

                            You used to be able to get matcha (at an exorbitant price) at Geisha near Barney's on the Upper East Side, but the service is erratic and it's a bit too much of an Upper East Side "hot spot" for my tastes.

                      2. re: liu

                        i didn't like jin so much. the tea i had was overboiled so stuck in my throat, yuck! no doubt its good tea but that means nothing if it is not prepared correctly. my gf's was the same. some of the cakes are very nice though.

                        Palais Des Thes in beverly hills carries a good, wide selection and friendly staff (gave us a free pack of blueberry rooibos).

                    2. re: liu

                      Nice to know about Amandine. It is down the street from my office and I actually stopped in for the first time this weekend. It never occured to me that they might have good tea. But now that I think about it, the place does remind me of the Western-style pastry shops that you see in the Aoyama neighborhood of Tokyo where they always have excellent tea (except for the fact that you absolutely cannot get green tea in a Western-style pastry shop in Japan, only black tea).

                      1. re: omotosando

                        Hi, omotosando! "...down the street from my office..." oooh, what a dangerous thing! I don't know if Amandine is the ultimate's not, but there is something really quite comfortable about it. (I love Paris Baguette on Western for their pastries!) And Amandine does have some very good croissants and others on the left side of the cash register.

                        The green tea that they serve is Xanadu Dragonwell; give it a try -- hot -- and let me know what you think. It is quite aromatic and delicate, and the color is heavenly. I also quite like the way they serve it.

                        1. re: liu

                          Ah, deep deep disappointment. Had to go run an errand this afternoon and I thought, I'll stop at Amandine on the way back and get some tea. No time to sit there and drink and tea is never as good to go (you can't truly enjoy tea in a wax paper cup), but still, good tea in a wax paper cup is better than nothing.

                          Ordered some green tea to go. Man at counter put hot water from spigot into a paper cup and threw in a tea bag. My mouth dropped . . . "But, but," I stammered, "I thought you had loose tea." It turns out that they do not brew loose tea to go. I guess in retrospect I should have realized that it would have been asking way too much to have "real" tea to go.

                          So not a good day at Amandine. Plus I got a chicken sandwich to go, which I asked for without onions (to which I'm deathly allergic) and without mayonnaise (which I just don't like). Of course, the sandwich came with both onions and mayo (which I discovered when back at the office).

                          Screw-ups do happen, but together with the tea bag, I'm not a big Amandine fan today. Sorry for the rant!

                          1. re: omotosando

                            Oooooooh, so sorry that the chow part of your day was not wonderful, as every morsel should be!

                            Do give the in-house green tea at Amandine another chance - a better day. While some of their bakery items aren't my favorites, I have heard that their almond croissants (would not be my pick) are quite delicious.

                            If you must run, ask for the tea in-house, and then when steeped to your perfection, transfer it yourself into something go-able; even a paper cup will work.

                            Have you had Jin's teas (Abbot Kinney in Venice)? I think she uses the teas from Palais des Thes in Beverly Hills. Her selection is really good, and she will help you choose something to your tastes. If you haven't been there, wait for a warm-ish day and sip outside.

                            I hope tomorrow is a better day for you, and just remember: you could live in Sweden!!!!!!!!! (I heard it from YOU!)

                    3. re: tomato

                      You can order Turkish, Irani, or other regional teas from either Uptons or Palais des Thes.

                      1. re: Loren3

                        Palais des Thes in Beverly Hills is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon or three! This past summer they had a bar set-up, and we wandered in on a hot day and they served us iced tea that was fruity, but the taste was far surpassed by the color! I need mention, they did charge us for such service!

                        I have ordered from Upton's, the other place you mentioned. I also like Teance (in Berkeley, CA #510.524-1696) right now because I am trying some of their oolongs; my favorite is their Honey Dan Chong. There are quite a few other tea purveyors where you can purchase sample-size packets to try (1 or 2 ounces). I think this is a great way to expand one's tastes, and I usually find good suggestions when I call and talk with the particular tea company.

                        I do like your suggestions of Turkish and Irani teas...this reminds me that the options are almost endless!

                        1. re: Loren3

                          Cool, I just looked at their Web sites. Somebody once gave me Palais des Thes as a gift and I remember that it was v.good and wasn't just all about the a fancy box, the worst of the tea fallacies ;) I will have to revisit it!

                          1. re: tomato

                            tomato, I can't tell from your profile what geography you are, but if you are ever in this part of town, the Palais des Thes store is worth the chase!

                            Meanwhile, there's an entire world of tea online. After I search, I usually call the store and talk at length to one of the sales people; I have found them to be extremely knowledgeable and they share my tea interest. Please do post when you find teas you love!

                            1. re: liu

                              I've been in a little bit of a tea rut, so hopefully that will be soon!

                      2. I think there's a prejuduce against tea in America. It goes back to the tea in the Boston Harbor. That's why even restaurants that really care that every step of their food product is first rate and carefully thought about will give the back of their hand to tea service. No joke.

                        They tried to promote against it. Remember "Look at all those little old ladies.....?"

                        Drinkin' TEA?? Ain't MAN-ly, by gawg!!

                        10 Replies
                        1. re: yayadave

                          yayadave -- I think you're right. There's just something askew and maybe even a little mysterious about ordering tea. I think it elicits a little fear in the person who has to prepare it, or maybe it's just not as easy as pouring a glass of juice or a cup of coffee. But making coffee is also an art and a skill, if done correctly, so I just don't quite understand the problem with serving good tea.

                          1. re: liu

                            The problem is the attitude, the prejudice. No joke. If a restaurant can make good onion soup which is so difficult in its simplicity, then they certainly can make a decent cuppa, if they care to.

                            1. re: yayadave

                              "The problem is the attitude, the prejudice." I think this is the result of fear. I think the solution is in the training. Back on topic: "Decent Cup of Tea in Even a High-End Spot" -- If the servers are PROPERLY trained to serve tea, the fears of inadequacy would disappear, and the mystery and 'tude would be gone! Perhaps????

                            2. re: liu

                              I must say that I was gripped by fear when I first moved to England and started working in an office. The custom is that when you go to make yourself a cup, you have to offer to make everyone around you a cup as well. I thought they'd all be scrutinizing the Yank trying to make tea. Turns out that English people aren't all that picky. But it's amazing how many different requests you can get for tea with milk (with sugar, half a sugar, two sugars, without sugar, dark, medium, light, leave the bag in for 10 minutes, just dip the bag in the water...).

                              But I love this piece by George Orwell on making the perfect cup of tea:

                              1. re: Kagey

                                Kagey - The George Orwell piece is wonderful: full of wisdom that still applies and very entertaining! I think it should be law that this piece gets taped on the wall of every establishment that serves tea, and that every employee should have to memorize it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks, Kagey, for sharing this. How did you come about finding it?

                                1. re: Kagey

                                  From my limited experience with a few British roommates, I'd agree that they're not as picky as you'd think -- most just used PG Tips bags or Ty-Phoo, both of which I find almost as bland as American Lipton. Not every Brit is brewing sublime pots of tea รก la Buckingham Palace....

                              2. re: yayadave

                                Tea consumption should improve with more educational strings like this one as people become aware of the damaging health effects of drinking the fancy coffees, that they are addicted to, now.
                                I was weaned to coffee and addicted for two thirds of my life. Tea always tasted bad, since it was strong black tea, usually of the Lipton variety! Most people think of that as the standard for what tea tastes like and reject it. Plus the coffee addiction seals the distaste for the bad tea, whereas Green teas will help the body detox the coffee oils in the tissues and improve the immune system and overall health.

                                1. re: nutrition

                                  "Nutrition" -- I'm not trying to incite animosity, but I'm bothered by your junk-science opinions such as "damaging health effects" of coffee. I enjoy both coffee and tea, I don't think chlorinated water is exactly killing people, and I guess I resent Chowhound being used to promote spurious health claims.

                                  1. re: allegro805

                                    Trust me, they are not spurious claims nor junk science, and I am not taking advantage of Chow hounds. Liking the taste of something does not assure that it is healthy. Just a spurious review of the biochemistry of foods will make it very clear!