As recently as a few months ago you'd be hard pressed to find more than a couple decent tea shops anywhere in town. You know, the kind of place you could discover all sorts of exotic loose leaves, guided by a knowledgeable staff, where you can smell and/or sample lots of different varieties of anything you wanted. And now, within a few blocks of each other on the Upper West Side, there are suddenly two such spots!
It's almost like, remember when the American Northwest would sneer at NYC because we didn't have any good (fancy, fussy) coffee? And how now we're the best in the country in that department, too, as in everything else? Same thing could happen with high-end tea! But no matter what the future brings, the new Le Palais des Thés on Columbus, and the even more new Teavana on Broadway are guaranteed to delight tea aficionados with their large assortment of exotic leaves, right now, today.
Le Palais des Thés Tea
First, and perhaps most exciting for serious tea drinkers, is Le Palais des Thes. Although these Parisian tea importers have been around since the late 1980s, with nearly thirty such boutiques across Europe, the Middle East, and Japan, the Columbus Avenue shop was the first to open in this part of the planet (they've since added a second location, in Soho). The tea shop is small, but it is packed to the roof (but in a clean, nicely-designed way) with some 85 teas from estates all over Asia. Almost every variety is sold as loose leaves, priced by the ounce, or available in hand-packed tea-bags, in boxes of 24. We're not going to pretend to know anything about tea, but that's what's so great about Palais des Thes: not only is there a pot of tea from which to taste a rotating selection of samples, and the shelving is cleverly embedded with little covered bowls, so you can savor (or not) the aroma of every variety, but also the staff here seems to really know their stuff, patiently answering all of our questions, steering us to a black-tea selection that turned out to be perfect.
And then there's Teavana, which opened last week on Broadway, and, since this Atlanta-based chain of tea shops was recently acquired by none other than Starbucks, it's likely we'll be seeing a great many more of them popping up all over everywhere in the coming months. Teavana don't sell any of their tea in bags, and there seems to be more ornate tea pots and other sorts of equipment for sale than the leaves themselves, but there are two things about this place that appeal: there are LOTS of samples to be had here, maybe just as a opening-week gambit, but we tried probably a half dozen different varieties while browsing; and Teavana sells to-go cups of brewed tea (a la Starbucks). A word of possible warning: there have been reports that Teavana uses double the recommended amount of both tea leaves and sugar in their in-store samples and to-go cups, so once you splurge on, say, a $24 tin for four ounces of Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls Green Tea, your results at home, if you follow their directions, may disappoint.
Le Palais des Thes and Teavana details
Le Palais des Thes is located on Columbus Avenue between 68th and 69th Streets, and is open on Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. For more info, including a look at all of the Palais des Thes varieties, please see the company's website, here.
Teavana is located on Broadway near 81st Street, and is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. For more info about everything Teavana, please see their website, here.