Visiting tea shops is one of my great pleasures – whether alone or with friends. I try to find at least one in every town I visit and more in cities. Early on, I wasn’t very picky but now, quite frankly, I want my time and my money to be spent in a terrific experience. Whether it’s basic or elegant there are a few things that are important to me.
The shop needs to be comfortable – the chairs, tables, and overall space all have to feel good. I’m not interested in sitting with my friends for one to two hours and not being comfortable. I’ve been in ‘adorable’ places with wonderful antique furniture but have found myself feeling cramped and squished in, the tables too rickety. It’s fine, and even quite charming, to be shabby chic but if my table is not stable or my chair makes me feel like I’m not sure it will hold up, oh my, suddenly even a great cup of tea is not so great.
Please provide a good selection of tea, not just one, two, or three, but a good number to choose from. I may not be in the mood for English Breakfast or the establishment’s special blend. A good selection of both caffeinated and decaffeinated is a must these days. And the tea needs to be hot, really hot, not just very warm. Tea cozies are welcome if it’s a shared pot and we will be lingering over our food.
Speaking of food, it’s more fun if the food is interesting and even adventuresome. I love English afternoon style tea with tea sandwiches (please not all white bread), scones, and small tidbit desserts but to me, it’s even more delightful to find something different to savor with my hot tea. Alice’s Tea Cup in NYC does a wonderful job of serving hearty sandwiches and soups as well as the traditional 3-tier services. I visit the one on West 73rd Street when in town. It has a wonderful rambling feel with folks stopping in for lunch, snacks, traditional English tea, etc. If you want a hearty dessert to share or to hoard, their cakes are beyond wonderful. Yes it is a trendy place but the overall quality is well worth it. For those of us who cannot get enough of a good thing, their cookbook is a delight – a great gift for a tea loving friend.
Harney & Sons has two wonderful tea rooms, one in Soho and one in Millerton, NY, about a 2 hour drive north of New York City. While I love the Soho venue, the Millerton shop is so warm, intimate, and delightful. I had the great pleasure of having tea and lunch with a childhood friend, my brother, and his wife at the Millerton tea room earlier this year. It was my childhood friend’s Mom who introduced my family to Jackson of Piccadilly Earl Grey tea that started my long love affair with tea, making this an even more appropriate place to meet. We talked for several hours, savoring the tea, the food, and the company.
The food at this shop is wonderful, I particularly like the smoked salmon with capers and cucumbers on baguette. But more than that, it has everything I like, a tea shop to sample and buy tea, a tea bar to sit and savor, wonderful tea products and tea accoutrements to browse and buy, fabulous food, and a warm inviting staff.
Both of these shops represent the best characteristics of a good tea room for my taste – warm, comfortable, interesting food, great tea, good shopping and the freedom to relax and savor the moment.