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Jan 31, 2013 08:16 PM


I have been looking for great tea for many many years in Manhattan. One tea shop on Madison had great tea, but they didn't prepare the tea. So far, I only have two "go to" tea places that properly prepare tea. I went to a tea shop in Soho that is quite popular and ordered Matcha. Way too much water, didn't heat the cup, wrong amount of tea. "But we took a course in this". Here are the ones that make good tea:

MANDARIN TEA ROOM: This is great. It's a private tea room-a "speakeasy" of tea, if you will. Here you can expect the proprietor, Tim Hsu to serve you tea in traditional "gongfu" style. He heats the pot appropriately, adds a good volume of high quality Chinese tea at the correct temperature-not too hot if it's green tea-hotter if it's an oolong. His teas are sourced directly from the tea masters and farmers of China. Otehr tea shops generally source most of their teas from agents in China. When they do go to the farm, unless they have an incredible sensitivity to the culture and an amazing palate, they can be sold low quality that they are told is high quality. That is actually the vast majority of so-called high quality tea in America. Low quality that is believed to be high quality. Tim is Chinese from Hong Kong with family from Fujian and Shanghai. He knows the culture and the language and has been "steeped" in tea culture his entire life and it shows in his teas which are unmatched in the city. He has even developed some teas that are uniquely made for his clientele. There is not food-just tea. There isn't 200 different teas-just a few. And don't expect herbal teas. This is all about tea-straight tea. Tea culture is about drinking just a few teas; not hundreds. And don't expect teas from other tea countries such as Japan or India. Tim sticks to the tea he knows. Try the jin ju mei-probably the priciest tea out of China these days, the the guanin or if you want to, try his pu-erh teas. He is one of the very serious collectors of the famed pu erh tea.

KAIJITSU: This is really more of a food place-an incredible vegan kaiseki restaurant based on zen monastic food; they have a michelin star as well. They have some great senchas. At the end of the meal you get a great matcha prepared in the urasenke way traditionally. Not by some 20 something who took a 2 hour course. Matcha is sweet rather than overly bitter meaning it's great quality rather than the standard stuff you get in NY.

I haven't been there in a while, but HANGAWI used to have some great Korean teas.

Any that I am missing?

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  1. have you tried Radiance on 55th & 7th?

    4 Replies
    1. re: coasts

      I just looked at their menu. I have not tried it yet, but I will stop by. The menu reminds me of a fairly typical type of tea house. Usually the problem is quality and preparation. Having so many teas-to me-is a bad sign, not a good one. It is hard to have high quality with so many teas. Preparation is the next issue, and though there are many ways to prepare tea, there are fewer ways to prepare it and maintain the quality. I will try this radiance, and reserve judgement in the meantime. Thanks for the recommendation, though. I will report back when I have tried it.

      What do you like about Radiance?

      1. re: foodlovergeneral

        i don't seek out tea, but Radiance is just a good place to know when you have visitors in town that want to see Times Square and Rockefeller. sometimes you just need a place to let them sit and relax. for that reason, i've been there a handful of times and know that they specialize in Chinese teas. the staff seems thoughtful, at least. that said, i've never seen a preparation like at Kajitsu.

        1. re: coasts

          They might specialize in tea, but it helps to know teas and how to select and brew them. It's not helpful to compare Tim and his company to Radiance because they have different strong points and specialize in two different things: he understands tea and they understand marketing of tea.

          1. re: diprey11

            After yet another visit, I want to double down on what I said before: it helps to know something about tea.

            I am sorry to sound rude but they have no slightest idea of Chinese tea and behave just like a mad hatter. It doesn't matter a bit if the staff can read Chinese tea labels: it is not helpful at all and it may only impress the rookies. After trying 8 different teas, I have noticed no knowledge or skill whatsoever.

            I hope people will have a good time, especially if they fancy exotics and are willing to pay for them.

      1. The best source for high quality loose Chinese, green, oolong and red, is the great Chinese herb shop Kam Wo Herbal Pharmacy (211 Grand Street 
New York, NY 10013 
Between Mott & Elizabeth Street- (212) 966-6370),
        All their loose tea is amazingly fresh and aromatic, and displayed in air-tight glass jars. I've been buying herbs and tea here for years and have never once been disappointed with the quality.

        32 Replies
        1. re: victoid

          Another great source is 芳茗軒, at least for me, and I have been their customer for over 6 years:
 , the store address is on the page

          Their teas can get quite expensive but with tea you usually get what you pay for. So far, this is probably the best quality available here in NYC.

          1. re: diprey11

            I don't even bother buying tea in Manhattan anymore (I used to go to Eto En when they were open for Makaibari Silver Tips). I still stand by Seven Cups: . I've been buying from them for years, like to think I know at least a little something about tea, and have been disappointed exactly once. They're PASSIONATE about quality and also don't deal with middlemen. The co-owner is a tea master from China--check out her videos.

            Franchia's Korean--a whole different animal than Chinese.

            1. re: MacGuffin

              I buy my green tea from Seven Cups too as I like theirs best. But green tea is highly seasonal (unless you want Japanese tea blends). Where would you go looking for a hand-rolled Taiwanese oolong or a good-quality black tea (I mean 黑茶)? Hint, hint... Fang is in Flushing actually. So sorry it cropped up the Manhattan board.

              1. re: diprey11

                Another fan! Actually, I get my Taiwan tea online, too. And depends on the black. I get my Chinese black from SC, Assam black here , ...

                1. re: MacGuffin

                  I am so sorry: I'm afraid we had a miscom. I followed a very strict Chinese tea classification: black tea as known in the English language is notably different from the Chinese 黑茶. I like the (English name) black tea too! Especially the Fujianese varieties!

                  1. re: diprey11

                    Had you posted "red tea," I'd have understood that you were referring exclusively to Chinese tea (which I buy from SC). I know virtually no characters so posting them is lost on me.

                    1. re: MacGuffin

                      So sorry: I posted *black tea* as in fermented black. It's just a terminology, nothing major, so please don't feel excluded for whatever reason: there is a vast difference between what is called black tea in Chinese and a normal notion of black tea: often called *red* by Chinese.

                      Chinese black tea is a fermented tea. Some people say cooked pu'er is like this. Liu Bao is, too!

                      For red Chinese teas, let's just talk Fujian red varieties, or I'm out of depth, so shall we?

                      1. re: diprey11

                        I think that black tea is a usage in the west that refers both to what the Chinese call "red tea" or "hong cha" and "black tea" which refers to some post fermented tea, the only one of which I know if is pu erh tea. But hongcha comes from a number of different places in China, not just Fujian. The wuyi mountain versions of red tea include da hong pao and jinjumei, which are wonderful fragrant and very red.

                        1. re: foodlovergeneral

                          Although I've come across a number of different levels of roasting for DHP, I've never seen it described or sold as anything other than oolong. I've never seen puerh (including on Chinatown shelves) sold as anything other than "puerh" (green or cooked). "Black tea" in the west covers a very large range of tea (not much of it Chinese), usually of commercial quality. And like coffee, it can also mean "without milk and/or sugar," regardless of how it's processed.

                          1. re: foodlovergeneral

                            May I reply with what I think might look like a bit of advice? And if you knew that already, please feel free to shrug it off, of course, otherwise please ask people at Fang about tea varieties.

                            They are salespeople and as such, they are *VERY* interested in sophisticated buyers, like yourself. They do top-shelf (also, expensive) teas very well. I don't think they would rip you off--it's just not done there--but if you have any doubts, please post them here.

                            Tell Teresa at the store I said hi.:-0) If you speak Chinese, you can also ask for Su Dou-Wei: he's the head tea-master there.

              2. re: diprey11

                After being absent for a while I've found Fan Gourmet Tea and liked their $3 per person per tea tasting option. I've not been to the Mandarin's Tea room, (assuming it's by appointment only?) but it appears that they have the Pheonix tea I've been looking for since 2004. (Fan Gourmet doesn't have it last time I asked) Thanks all, for reminding me to look.

                1. re: HLing


                  Yeah, but you can get an appointment too. :-)

                  You might not like their tea selection or their price, but let me assure you that the price is fair and tea quality is great--or they won't sell: Tim and the friends are really obsessed with that.

                  BTW, what kind of dan cong are you looking for? Let us know: I can ask around, and who knows... e.g, I gave away my whole tea collection for free last year. (It would be best if you provide the exact Chinese name). Are you looking for the '04 aged tea or just a particular kind?

                  1. re: diprey11

                    Diprey11, I have put in an inquiry to the Mandarin Tea Room for to pick up some tea, though I'm pretty sure theirs will be the more popular kind. Hope I'm wrong.

                    while in Guangdong I bought some Wudong mountain Dan Cong. The seller said it's from his family farm in the mountain. I liked their 烏崠芝蘭香 and 烏崠黄枝香, (one a simple natural beauty and the other rich and complex like good wine). I'm not looking for aged tea. In fact, what "aged tea" I've had didn't taste good to me. 2004 was when I first tasted those particular dan cong quite by chance, and later (too late I found out) they turned out to be hard to come by both in china and in the U.S.

                    1. re: HLing

                      Yeah, aged dan cong is an acquired taste, that unfortunately I don't possess. Imen at Tea Habitat has a decent selection but I always have a toothache when I have to refer to her store.

                      Check out this reputed online store for the first tea:
             They are in Guangzhou. I generally like their dan cong and I have been their loyal customer for over 5 years.

                      1. re: diprey11

                        Can you be more specific as to why you prefer this vendor to Imen?

                        1. re: MacGuffin

                          These are two separate issues. (i) I like this vendor, except for their shipping times. (ii)I had issues with Imen, I'm not coming back, but I have to admit she has the largest selection.

                          1. re: diprey11

                            Gotcha. And yes, she really does have a large selection. Y'know, you, HLing, and I should get together for tea at Fang one of these days.

                        2. re: diprey11

                          Not talking aged here but I picked up an interesting dan from Seven Cups last month although I haven't cupped it yet (am attempting to plow through "old stock"): . It came highly recommended, so I'm looking forward to finally tucking in. I also bought a sample bag of this, , because I'm a sucker for "dan" bushes that have been transplanted in Wu Yi (like their Eight Immortals). Lots of body, minimal possibility of bitterness. :)

                          1. re: MacGuffin

                            Thank you so much for the links!

                            Teadrunk in East Village has a good Yu Lan Xiang, too. It's a fairly new store, and they do certain things right. Check them out: they have a couple interesting single bush teas.

                            Yes, I like GuangDong-to-FuJian crosses too. Also, WuYi-to-Taiwan, whatever people say :-) (usually considered third-class). But the word "organic" scares me off: IMHO, it is something a store puts on display when there is nothing else to say.

                            As to the bitterness, single bush tea is a challenge to make: even Mike Wong of the Tea Gallery fame would admit that. Some bitterness and metallic taste can be OK in certain GuangDong teas as long as the whole experience stays focused.

                            1. re: diprey11

                              I think Austin seeks out organic tea because he feels it's what a lot of his customers want. I was sad when he switched his An Ji Bai Cha source after 2008 to an organic one because the conventional ming qian was sublime. Regardless, I had a talk with their Andrew the other day (a very knowledgeable guy) and he told me that Austin is always trying to source even better quality--it's extremely important to them. (I guess this was a roundabout way of trying to assure that in this case, "organic" is okay).

                              As to your "third-class" transplants, a lot of the stuff I find interesting and enjoyable (including Japanese stem tea) isn't what one would call first-class, although it's never junk. And then there's that milk oolong . . .

                              1. re: diprey11

                                Oh boy, more tea info! Thanks MacGuffin and diprey11. I hope to check out Tea Drunk since it's local.

                                1. re: diprey11

                                  I made it to Tea Drunk on 7th street the other day, thanks to diprey11's tip. The good: I did get some decent Zhi Lan Xiang, though it was the expensive version of what I had in China. The not-so-good: someone needs to inform the server the proper pronunciation of Tie Guan Yin - "Tie" is not the "tie" that men wear around their neck.
                                  My impression is that they have more Pu Erh than other types of tea. No Taiwanese oolong.

                                  1. re: HLing

                                    " someone needs to inform the server the proper pronunciation of Tie Guan Yin - "Tie" is not the "tie" that men wear around their neck."

                                    Oh, no . . .

                          2. re: diprey11

                            MacGuffin, I'm glad I'm able to return the favor!

                            1. re: HLing

                              I'm hoping my buddy liu jumps in, even though she's in Cali. She got me into dan congs. BTW, have you ever ordered from Iman at Tea Habitat?

                              Please post your impressions of what you find at MTR.

                              1. re: MacGuffin

                                When I was in Cali briefly in several years back I had some nice conversations regarding with Liu on chowhound, talking about tea, as a matter of fact.

                                I'm still not a big fan of ordering online for tea, so, no, I have not ordered from Iman, or anyone else.

                                *When the time comes it would be fun to have a chowhound tea meet up.

                                1. re: HLing

                                  I agree that it would be fun. Liu has become a very close friend since meeting on Chowhound years ago--we can't believe how time flies!

                                  1. re: HLing

                                    Y'know, we should talk about that tea get together in the somewhat near future. :) You know that the Coffee & Tea Festival is almost upon us: . I had no idea when I bought my half-price Saturday ticket on Amazon that this was the kind of even that could actually sell out. :O Last year was fun but to reiterate, not a whole lot of what I'd call fine tea. I'll be sure to check out Fang.

                                  2. re: MacGuffin

                                    Diprey11, thanks for the link. That picture of the leaves for Zhi Lan Xiang looks pretty much right on.

                                    (I'm curious about your having a "toothache" in regard to the Tea Habitat.)

                                  3. re: HLing

                                    Hello, MacGuffin! Hello, HLing!

                                    Thank you for your very friendly comments. I wish I were there in NYC to join you at Fang for tea.

                                    If you haven't gone already, GO! What a brilliant combination you will be!

                                2. re: HLing

                                  Gee, you've reminded me that I'm hoarding some unopened Almond Blossom dan cong. Sublime.

                                3. re: diprey11

                                  Fang was at the Festival and their booth looked interesting (they had a bunch of Piao I pots set up and the guy in charge struck me as courteous) but it was extremely crowded, I was called away, and by the time I returned (I had the foresight to ask for a "get back in" bracelet), a lot of vendors were packing up. I'll make it a point to check them out next year, though--I'm always on the lookout for exceptional tea and I'm sorry I missed them this go-round.

                              2. Anyone hit Coffee & Tea Festival NYC at the armory over the weekend? There weren't many good tea vendors (there were a few, though!) but it was lots of fun, regardless. I picked up a very nice sencha for only $10 from Sara's Tea Caddie . It's from Shirakawa, an area I've never heard of but which, it seems, produces tea (albeit not much at all). Really a steal and I sampled a genmai houjicha that was nice, too. Unfortunately, I missed the last of the milk oolong (yeah yeah, I know) that one of the vendors offers--I get a hankerin' for it every once in awhile and this one at least is flavored with real milk rather than chemicals.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: MacGuffin

                                  I am pretty convinced that it's very difficult to get good teas in U.S. Difficult, but not impossible. In Beijing, much of the tea for public consumption is quite low quality. There are lots of questionable quality teas passed off as high grade. I had a tieguanyin from Taiwan at a friends house. The next day, I was taken to a beautiful tea house and they served a tieguanyin that they claimed to be their most special tea. It was not even close to the quality. I had a dahongpao at another placethat was so far from the authentic dahongpao my father in law in China sends and other Chinese friends send that it was unbelievable. This was common. I had longjing teas that either were not longjing, or were served with water at near boiling, which ruins the tea. Even at fancy hotels, "high quality" was not so high quite often. Most often. So I asked a high ranking government friend who is a tea drinker. He said it's hard to get good quality publicly. The best is quite difficult to get. I would venture to say, that no one gets it in the U.S. The prices in China of the best are staggering, and no one would pay those prices in the U.S.

                                  One tea conoisser told me of a friend who actually has several employees camp out for several months under a very special tea tree to make sure that they are really getting the special tea. Even then, they had to fight with the tea farmer once. In fact, they process the tea themselves. It's hard to get great tea in China. It is probably even more difficult to get good Chinese tea in the U.S. The Chinese already pay a huge price for teas, which very well may be faked.

                                  On the other hand, Japanese tea is not likely to have been faked. I think that lower grade teas, such as houjicha can be had very reasonably. But the really good gyokuros and senchas have to be mail ordered from Japan. The best matcha may come from Japan, though some of the U.S. bought matcha is quite decent. Gyokuro is okay, but not great in the U.S. Sencha can be pretty good, but i have a lack of experience with high end sencha, so I am not really certain. Freshness is essential with Japanese teas, and the storage conditions at many many tea purveyors doesn't support Japanese teas.

                                  1. re: foodlovergeneral

                                    Well, this is why I buy most of my Japanese tea direct from Japan and why I was pleasantly surprised by what I bought from Sara at the Festival. As to Chinese tea, what you posted doesn't surprise me at all. Austin at Seven Cups claims to have customers in China. Imagine having to order your Chinese tea, in China, from Tucson in order to be assured of quality!

                                    The other vendor I mentioned--Julia, at Bingley's Teas Limited--is a very knowledgeable fanatic whose line doesn't target connoisseurs (her niche is really nice blends with a very cute marketing concept). We both agreed that almost none of the vendors had anything for an informed tea drinker and when I mentioned that I happened to find one vendor whose stuff was the real deal, she finished my sentence with "Sara!" We both had a laugh over that. Regardless, I plan to attend next year, if only to touch base again with these two ladies. It's always nice to talk tea with those who know what's what and to possibly learn more (e.g. I turned Julia on to a vendor for Assam who'll do custom blends for commercial accounts).


                                2. Y'know, I just happened to run across this: . This is wonderful news for us in NYC. Be prepared to spend--Japanese tea tends to be expensive in general, Ippodo has an impeccable reputation for high-end product (although I think Tsuen has been around longer), and they have to cover Manhattan overhead. And if you're not familiar with preparing Japanese tea, please invest in a proper kyusu and take brewing parameters at face value. Although preparation itself is easy if you take the time to learn, it tends to be fussy and is quite easy to ruin. I'm sure the staff would be delighted to instruct you.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: MacGuffin

                                    I hit Ippodo last week and the whole thing was extremely awkward. Although I went there during regular store hours, they were shooting some kind of promotional photographs and I was basically made to feel like I, a paying customer who ended up spending close to $200, was in the way.

                                    The woman who helped me treated me like I was an idiot. She seemed surprised that I had actually had Japanese tea previously, even though the first thing I told her that I was looking for tea with grassy notes. Her English also wasn't very good -- I kept telling her I wanted the tea shipped and she kept nodding, and when she rang it up, I asked her what the shipping charge would be and she told me the store does not ship. Just awkward.

                                    I tried a cup of matcha while I was in the store. It was okay, but served in a waxy paper cup which definitely takes some of the joy away (although is convenient for carry out).

                                    So far none of the tea that I bought and have opened has been spectacular, although I bought the higher grades. It's not bad tea, just not the best I have had.

                                    1. re: omotosando

                                      Well, that's disappointing. On the other hand, most of what I've ordered direct from Japan (my usual vendors) has been stellar. Although I'm not nuts about Kagoshima tea (too "in your face" for me), one of my friends knew I wanted to try Zencha's top grade of Kagoshima, Kagoshima Sencha Super Premium Strong Roast, and gifted me with some. I haven't tucked into it yet but I have great expectations. And even though I usually don't spend $200 in one shot (not that I wouldn't if finances permitted), my disappointments are extremely rare.