Monday, October 3, 2011

A Melange of Tea!

I know, I haven't been updating TTG as much as I'd like to. But, due to a busy schedule and an overwhelming amount of work I've had on my hands the past few weeks, updating has been a dilemma in and of itself. That isn't to say I haven't been drinking tea. Of course I have! As the weather changes to Autumn and New York begins to become brisk and breezy, I like deep black Assams and Keemuns to keep me warm. Pumpkin anything usually wins my heart quite easily, and tis the season for Pumpkin Spice Chai, Pumpkin Pie Tea, and Pumpkin Muffin Tea. Search hard and you will find! Here are just a few teas I've had over the past month:

I recently picked up Zabar's own loose leaf Assam. Okay, it isn't the best Assam tea I've ever tasted, but it also isn't bad. A nice ritual with a two-cup teapot and Royal Albert China, a splash of milk and a bit of sugar. The perfect way to break during the day.

Dragon Well Green Tea at Cha An Teahouse in the East Village. A light and fragrant Chinese green tea that is smooth without much bite or bitterness. The thing I love about Cha An is that they refill your teapot multiple times...four in my case! I could drink this green tea all day. Have you looked up the health benefits of green tea? Do. You'll be happy to make it a part of your daily cuppa.

Iced Chai at Hampton Chutney Co. To assuage the heat of that severely spicy dosa, grab an iced chai. Milky and cold, and not too sweet, this chai combines cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and a strong black tea to create a delightful concoction. Now that the cold has started, it may be time to switch to the hot chai.

Taro Bubble Tea from Queen Bakery on Mott St at Grand. Although Queen Bakery uses tea powder for their bubble tea, they make a really great cup. It may have something to do with the fact that they use a blender in the process. The women who work there are all very nice (a surprise for Chinatown) and this is one of the best Taro Bubble Teas in Chinatown. Especially a surprise because it comes from a bakery, where most people are eating buns or slurping noodle soup.

More tea to come! Stay on the lookout!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Radiance Tea House, New York, NY

I've been meaning to go to Radiance Tea House for the past couple of year, but only this Sunday did I finally make it out to the tearoom. Located on 158 West 55th St, between 6th and 7th Avenues, Radiance is an East Asian Tea House with an extensive tea room and a focus on the Eastern tradition of enjoying tea in a tranquil surrounding.

My friend and I arrived at around 11:30 this past Sunday afternoon and there were only a few other sippers, so we mostly had the place to ourselves. The room is bright and open, with wooden floors, wooden chairs and tables, and plenty of Chinese teapots and cups on display on shelves throughout the space. I particularly like the tea brewing station set up in the middle of the shop. There is also a bookstore/gift shop within the space selling books on tea, teapots, and Radiance Tea House's own blends that you can browse after you finish your tea and snacks.

Although I really wanted to try the purple yam latte, I wasn't really in the mood for something milky and sweet, and I was so taken with the vast variety of tea on the menu. I decided to go for a Pu'er, settling on the Tuo Cha (Bird's Nest) tea. Radiance describes this tea as a "A traditional cooked pu’er that is brisk, smooth and earthy, giving the body and clean and detox feeling." The tea arrived in a Yellow Dragon Chinese teapot with an accompanying white teacup and was poured for me tableside. My first sips revealed that earth flavor with notes of smooth sweetness and a very clean taste. I really loved it. I haven't been drinking as much Chinese tea lately, so this was a good remember of why I should get back on that. My friend ordered the Southern Joy Iced Tea, "Radiance Classic Black, fresh lemon, rock sugar" mixed together for a tart and sweet iced tea.

Tuo Cha

Southern Joy

To pair with our tea we got some small dim sum. What they call "soupy pork dumplings" are similar to Shanghainese Xiao Long Bao. The dumplings were good, but they were lacking in soup and were too small. And for the price, I could certainly get more and better Xiao Long Bao in Chinatown. We also ate sticky rice filled with pork which was fine, but nothing special. The portions are small and rather expensive, for what you get. Still, it is important to have snacks with your tea and the food is quite nice. I think next time I'll go for sweets and order the green tea scone.

Xiao Long Bao

Sticky Rice in Banana Leaf

All in all, I had a very enjoyable experience at Radiance and I look forward to returning. The service was friendly and attentive, the room is beautiful, the tea is delicious and the menu is extensive, and they let you linger as long as you like. All qualities that make up a fine tea room. For your own bit of serenity from the hustle and bustle of midtown, visit Radiance.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Iced Matcha Latte, Takahachi Bakery, New York

In the early afternoon, I found myself wandering the FiDi, a bit peckish. I knew exactly where to go: Takahachi Bakery on Murray Street. It has been a while since I've been over to this spectacular Japanese Bakery, but it's nice to see some great things don't change. Entering, I noted that the prepared foods are all still up front, and the fresh buns and pastries line the casings by the register.

Without even looking at the menu, I knew to get one of Takahachi's signature iced matcha lattes. The nice thing about the Takahachi matcha latte is that the matcha flavor comes through fully and it isn't overly sweet. Mixed with fresh milk, and enough ice to cool you down, but not to dilute your beverage, you have a perfect anytime pick-me-up. Paired with a corn-mayo bun on the side, this for me is a great Japanese afternoon snack!

Takahachi Bakery
Murray Street (Btw Church and Broadway)
New York, NY

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bosie Tea Parlor, West Village, NYC

Bosie Tea Parlor is one of the newest additions to the tea scene in downtown Manhattan. Since my time away in South Africa, I had been reading up on Bosie and had only heard and seen what looked like a great new tearoom. All my expectations were met and exceeded this past Monday evening when I met with friends for some tea and catching up.

The room itself is comfortably decorated in dark oak, wooden tables, and soft lighting. Golden tea tins line the shelves and a cake display is filled with macarons, french pastries, and golden croissants. We were greeted by a friendly server who we chatted with for the majority of the evening and she had no qualms about keeping the shop open as we stayed into the night. It's nice to find a tearoom that stays open past 5:00 PM. Of course, this is Manhattan, so everything stays open quite late, unlike South Africa.

As I had already had my supper, I had to pass on food, but I will certainly return for a proper three-course tea complete with sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, and cakes. Instead, I ordered a matcha macaron with my tea, which was delicate and delicious, filled with green-tea flavor.
All of the tea served is from l'Age de The, a very fine tea purveyor. My first tea was the Golden Monkey, a nice blend of blacks that handles milk and sugar well, although I took mine black. Following my Golden Monkey, I enjoyed the pure Assam which was, as a good Assam should be, rich and full-bodied. What I really appreciated at Bosie is that the water temperature is perfect, the teacups are warmed before being brought out, and the tea leaves are steeped and then removed from the pot after the proper brewing time to allow a fine brew without any bitterness.

My friend Anna ordered the tea sandwiches and they came out beautifully. I can't wait to go back and have them myself. I give Bosie high marks in all categories. The tearoom is truly a nice blend between elegant and casual and all varieties of tea drinkers are welcome!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Contessa Tea Shop, Rivonia, South Africa

I have been meaning to go to Contessa Tea Shop for the last four months, but I only finally got around to doing it this past Friday. Contessa is a Tea Shop and cafe located in Johannesburg's northern suburb of Rivonia. Despite the huge tea drinking culture here in South Africa, for the most part, variety and loose leafed teas have not steeped themselves deep into this culture, yet (pun intended!). Contessa is on a mission to change that, with a sprawling menu of over 70 different types of tea ranging from premium black, flavoured, green, white and herbal infusions.

My tea partner in crime, Alex, and I arrived at Contessa at about 10 AM and the place was bursting with life. Men and women alike were sitting at tables indoors and out sipping on pots of tea. We chose a quaint two person table in the corner by the front. What I love about Contessa is the rather eclectic style. Mirrors and portraits and old tea tins adorn the room, while exposed wooden tables and rustic chairs are planted on the checkerboard floor.

When presented with our tea menus, my eyes immediately gravitated toward Coconut Snow, a flavoured black tea. Alex decided to go for the Masala Chai. The tea at Contessa is presented in lovely glass pots, infuser inside so you can steep for as strong as you like. The cups and saucers are beautiful, flowered china cups, and as I always say, tea just tastes better from fine china cups and saucers. My Coconut Snow was a deep and powerful black tea laced with hints of coconut joy. Only a splash of milk and sugar bring out the its full glory. Alex's chai was full of cardamom and ginger flavour, and transported me to India for a brief moment. After we had finished our two pots, we opted to share a pot of Blackcurrant. Although I'm usually not a fruity tea drinker, I do love Blackcurrant, and this particular blend proved to be superb. Light and refreshing with subtle notes of the berry bursting.

Contessa has a full food menu with lavish breakfast such as Full Englishs, pancakes, toasteds, and oats. There is also a very impressive cake stand brandishing the delicacies of the day. Although I would have loved to try the chocolate coconut cake, it was just too early for me, so Alex and I opted for two muffins, which we split between us. The cappuccino and cheese muffins were large and fresh, served warm. What I love about South Africa is along with your serving of butter, strawberry jam, and apricot jam, you also almost always get a side of grated cheese to sprinkle on top. This mix of savoury and sweet is so delicious, and I want to continue this trend once I get back to the states.

Our bill total came out to about 60 Rand each, which is about 8 dollars a person. Very reasonable for three pots of tea and two large muffins. If I have the time, I would love to go back to Contessa. This is a tea shop that knows what its doing, and I promise you won't be disappointed with the selection or taste!

-The Tea Gastronomer

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


I spent the past weekend in the Kingdom of Lesotho, a landlocked country within the confines of South Africa. It was extremely cold, but the mountainous countryside was beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. On a bitter Saturday morning, I woke up to this simple, little pleasure: a hot pot of green tea, served with a small bowl of buttermilk rusks, tennis biscuits and custard creams. So simple, yet so perfect. Taking time for tea and a biscuit allows you to appreciate your hosts and surroundings no matter where you are! Take time for yourself and make some hot tea and have something sweet to go with it. I promise it will brighten up your day! Will hopefully have some South Africa updates for you all soon!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Afternoon Tea, The Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town

Afternoon Tea at the Mount Nelson in Cape Town is somewhat of an institution. The hotel is said to not only serve one of the greatest teas in South Africa, but one of the oldest. Since the turn of the century, the royal and the rich alike have met at the Mount Nelson to partake in this age old tradition. Today, all walks of life come together to indulge in this British tradition that sets apart the day and allows ultimate relaxation.

It was a beautiful and sunny Friday afternoon that I set out with my American counterparts to the Mount Nelson. We traveled on foot as the hotel was only a fifteen minute walk from our accommodation in center-city. The occasion was also very special because I would be meeting with a friend I went to high school with but hadn't seen for over three years! She has been studying at the University of Cape Town and we got in touch. The last time we were together, we were wearing our graduation robes and now here we were sitting down to tea in South Africa! That is the magical thing about taking tea; it brings people together.

The Mount Nelson is beautiful. Old colonial elegance set against lovely and flourishing gardens. This alone was enough, but as we were led through to our reserved seating on the terrace, I knew the afternoon would be perfect. White porcelain cups and saucers waited for us next to linen napkins and a gorgeous view of the grounds made for the perfect setting. Before long, our server Sydney came to chat with us. I want to applaud Sydney for being one of the best servers I have had to date. His knowledge and friendliness made the experience so much more memorable! I will hopefully return to meet him again one day!

The Mount Nelson is nontraditional only in that instead of the food being served on tiered stands, it is set up as a buffet with unlimited access. None of us were complaining. And the extensive tea menu with over thirty teas to choose from, and unlimited coffees and drinking chocolates were all at our disposal. And for the price of R165 (about $24) you get so much more than what you pay for.

View from the Terrace

My first tea selection was the Mount Nelson Blend. The blend is made up of Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Keemun, Kenyan, Oolong, and Rose Buds. I knew it would be enjoyable from the exciting mixture alone. All tea at the Mount Nelson is served in glass, see-through Nigiro teapots. These beauties allow you to watch as your leaves unfurl and alter your boiling water. I also appreciate that each table is equipped with a time to allow for appropriate steeping. Sydney all showed us how to work the glass pots. The glass infusers stick right into the pot and there is a side plate waiting for them after steeping is complete. My first sip was perfect. No milk, no sugar and all taste, the Mount Nelson blend was true and full-bodied triumph. For any black tea lover, this should be at the top.

Mount Nelson Blend Steeping

As it was a proper afternoon tea, we decided to explore the buffet table. Although some of my friends decided to take what they pleased as they pleased, I wanted to maintain tradition in the order of sandwiches followed by scones followed by sweets. The sandwich selection was quite impressive. I munched on cucumber sandwiches, egg mayonnaise, and roast beef. I loved that all the finger sandwiches on offer with presented on your choice of brown or white bread. I chose brown for each sandwich. I also picked up a miniature quiche which was divine and I munched on a bite of a friend's mushroom pie.

As my Mount Nelson blend began to diminish, I ordered a fresh pot of tea from Sydney. This time I went for Ceylon Dimbula. A pure, unblended Ceylon with a lovely, rather oakey taste. I did add sugar to taste, but only a very small bit. This was my tea for the scones. I had one of each, a plain and a fruited, and spread with the fresh cream and apricot jam, they were splendid. These were probably the best scones I have had in South Africa yet!

Tea and Scones (and some milktart)!

Already feeling full, I took a bit of a break, but knew I wanted to sample some of the sweets on offer. Although I couldn't handle everything, I picked what was most appealing to me. I chose a miniature milk tart, a mini lamington, a mini Cape Malay koeksister, and a slice of the banana bread. All of this paired with a fresh pot of Rooibos tea made for a sweet ending to a particularly perfect Afternoon tea.

Beautiful Hibiscus Tea Steeping

We all sat and chatted, basking in the ambiance and beautiful weather as Sydney came by frequently to chat and replenish our teapots. The afternoon could not have been more perfect. Before we knew it, it was getting close to 6:00 PM and the last diners were leaving. We all said our goodbyes, but not without a picture with Sydney first.

The American Crew and Sydney

All in all, it was an afternoon tea above and beyond what you might get somewhere else, and a fraction of the price you would pay in Europe or the States. Bravo to the Mount Nelson for providing such a great experience all these years down the road.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chai Tea, Biesmiellah Restaurant, Bo Kaap, Cape Town

Cape Town has a very interesting and diverse culture. During the Dutch occupation of South Africa, the Dutch brought slaves over from Indonesia and Malaysia who would form what is today called the "Cape Coloured" or "Cape Malay" group of people. Although the people look very similar to their Malaysian ancestors, they speak Afrikaans as their first language and their connection to Southeast Asia is only really through blood. Bo Kaap in Cape Town is the Cape Malay quarter where traditionally and to this day, Cape Malay people still make their homes. Colorful houses and Halaal restaurants line the streets.

On a Friday morning, I ventured into Bo Kaap with a friend just touring the area on foot. As we had afternoon tea planned later on that day, we didn't want to eat too much of a breakfast, so decided to grab something light at Biesmiellah Restaurant, a Cape Malay favorite in Bo Kaap. Although delicious favorites like chicken curries and bobotie lined the menu, I just wanted something simple and delicious. Cape Malay food is a mixture of Malay, Indian and African and it is reflected in the spices and flavors. I ordered a pot of chai tea and a potato wada, a deep-fried potato snack of Indian origin. My friend ordered a Cape Malay koeksister. The koeksister is a South African twisted donut, but the Cape Malay variety is a bit different. Cooked in brown sugar syrup, it is then adorned with desiccated coconut.

My chai tea came promptly, smooth and milky with just the right level of strength. Real cardamom pods and other spices were found in the pot among inspection and the tea was hot but not too hot. It was so nice to sit their sipping a local blend in the midst of Bo Kaap, taking in the magnificent amalgam of culture so vividly displayed in the people and their cuisine.

Rooibos Tea, Timbuktu Cafe, Cape Town

After an 18 hour bus ride from Johannesburg to Cape Town, I wanted to see the city, but first, I had to re-energize. Of course this, for me, means finding a nice cup of tea and a cozy place to sit down. Timbuktu Cafe, located on the upper level, nestled within Cape Town's Pan African Market ended up being the perfect spot. Despite being called "Timbuktu" the cafe serves traditional Ethiopian Fare in a relaxed and bohemian environment. As much as I do enjoy Ethiopian Coffee, I ordered a pot of rooibos tea.

The tea is served in fine china pots, with a mismatched cup and saucer, or in my case, a glass see-through teacup. My teapot was adorned with Japanese geishas and flowers. A simple, yet robust rooibos is presented with a side sugar bowl. After one sip, I knew I'd be just fine for the night ahead. As I sat sipping the earthy blend, full of naturally sweet notes, I chatted with my friends as the sun began to set over Cape Town's Long Street. A perfect welcoming.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Little Church Tea Garden: Van Reenen, Free State, South Africa

This isn't a postcard! It's the actual landscape!

I just got back from a long weekend road trip. My friends and I rented a car and drove out to Durban, a beach city in KwaZulu-Natal. It was a great trip, indeed, but one of my favorite parts of the trip was the halfway point to our destination. Tucked into a country side town along the Drakensburg Mountains is the smallest independently owned Catholic church in the world and adjacent to it, a lovely little tea shop with one of the best views you can imagine.

The Tea Garden

The Little Church Tea Garden has a lovely standard tearoom interior, complete with a lovely cake display. On my visit it was sporting milktart, chocolate walnut, another chocolaty concoction and a plate of scones (pronounced sc-awn-s here). As beautiful as the interior is, on a warm South African summer day, nothing beats sitting out in the garden with one of the most natural and beautiful views you can imagine. I took pictures and I couldn't even believe they were real.

Inside the Tearoom
The Cake Stand

The lovely staff was very attentive and before long, I had ordered my cream tea. A pot of Ceylon tea was presented to me in a lovely silver setting and a simple white porcelain teacup. My tea was a perfect relaxing cuppa to break up the drive. Shortly after, I was presented with my scone, already dressed for me in a swirl of fresh cream and homemade jam.

Ceylon Tea with a View!

The jam was the most special part of the cream tea. When I asked her what the deep purple and berried serving was, the proprietress replied, or at least what I heard, "nache". It turns out she wasn't saying "nache" at all, but nightshade. The thick Afrikaaner accent threw me off at first! Nightshade is actually a berry endemic to the Free State. Although it grows in the UK and Australia, it is poisonous there. Here, however, it is perfectly safe to eat and produces a lovely and perfect jam for scones. The scones by the way were fresh and crumbly, just how I like them!

Handmade Scones

Nightshade Jam

I could have sat for hours looking off at the mountains and sipping my tea, but eventually, the road called. As we were leaving, a family was gathering for a wedding in the Little Church. Lovely. It was a perfect stop off in the most perfect of South African country towns. The best respite I could have asked for!

Eric, Me, and Alex

More Perfect View