Expand into the moment the way loose tea leaves expand in boiling water. Slow down for a quiet cup.
17 East 13th Street
Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Wood-framed windows let light onto eight wooden tables at this unpretentious upstairs haven, a white stucco and warm wood room. The only color comes from flowers on each table—tulips in April, lilacs in May. For $3 to $4.50 a pot, choose from over 30 French teas, but don’t ask for lemon or honey. “They destroy the flavor of the tea,” says owner Yukihito Yahagi. “I am a purist.” With tea, try the crème brûlée, fruit tarts, or, for $1.50, robust financiers: deceptively simple almond tea cakes.
Tea and Sympathy
108 Greenwich Avenue
Serves tea weekdays 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., weekends from 2 p.m. “until the scones run out around 7”
“What could be more comforting, for $7.95, than tea, scones, jam, and clotted cream in a snug parlor on an endless British afternoon? A menagerie of teapots lines the walls, along with clippings of the Queen and other British memorabilia; my favorite’s a framed, hand-scrawled poem lamenting the sad state of American tea-drinking. Smokers welcome.
17 East 71st Street
Serves tea Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
After a restorative walk through Central Park, go east one block—14 time zones in your mind—to this chic Ginza-style tea room. Enjoy the taut contradiction of bracing, brilliant green matcha (powdered tea, $3) and sweet, dense bean paste wagashi ($4). The earnest charm of these pastel confections, changed monthly to reflect the season, belies the severe leather-and-marble decor.
The Tea Box at Takashimaya
693 Fifth Avenue
Tea room open Monday through Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Offering a kinder, gentler minimalism than Toraya, as well as a wide selection of black teas, this elegant, gray-and-silver/gold-and-khaki salon in the basement of a Japanese department store offers a series of subtle marvels, from the handmade pottery to the bento lunch creations ($15) to the delicate, vegetable-printed cookies (served with a pot of tea, $6.50).
90 East 10th Street
Afternoon tea Friday and Saturday at 4 p.m.
Reservations are required for the rich and ample afternoon tea service ($18 each for up to six people; $28 for seven or more) at this French country nook, but you can order tea anytime. The exposed brick and heaped fruit are easy on the eyes, and the nut breads are extraordinary. For $3.50 I got a pot so big I felt justified asking the waitress for an empty one to strain the steeped tea into. Her heroic good nature saved my second and third cups from the tannic, bitter consequences of leaving the leaves in too long.
Wild Lily Tea Room
511 West 22nd Street
Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
An impossibly tall bathroom mirror on which the text of the “Employees must wash hands . . .” notice is vertically stenciled embodies the whimsical, voluptuous, lapsed-Zen sensibility of this West Chelsea temple of tea. The pervasive attention to beauty, wide tea selection, and pricey, exquisite “Tea Party” ($21.50)—a selection of sandwiches and sweets—make the Wild Lily a dreamy birthday retreat. Reservations recommended.
Saint’s Alp Teahouse
51 Mott Street
Daily 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Drinking an unrushed cup of tea amidst the otherworldly frenzy of this brightly lit Taiwanese café is as meditative as watching the commuters from above in Grand Central Station. The friendly, frantic staff measure milk, sugar, ice, and tea into cocktail shakers, strap them into throbbing electric agitators, and pour the frothy results over mugs of gummy black tapioca pearls, which you slurp through a straw as thick as a finger while listening to Tori Amos dubbed into Chinese. Snacks served with these addictive tea and juice concoctions ($2.45 to $3.85) include Taiwan’s take on scones and cream: toast with sweetened condensed milk ($1.50).
Urasenke Chanoyu Center
153 East 69th Street
Not a restaurant, this nest of tatami-floored tea rooms clustered around a garden is dedicated to the stringent and lovely art of Chado, the Japanese Way of Tea. Ensconced in the old carriage house that served as Mark Rothko’s studio in the ’60s, Urasenke offers a monthly lecture, tour, and tea ceremony demonstration for $15—reservations required—as well as eight classes weekly. Getting in can be daunting: I waited five months.
Once Upon a Tart
135 Sullivan Street
Weekdays 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Although the tea selection here is nothing special, those in search of lost time can make a pot at home and relive Marcel Proust’s epiphany with perfect madeleines—little scalloped cakes—from this beautiful urban bakery. Golden on the outside, spongy on the inside, the madeleines (75 cents) resemble Twinkies as much as Proust’s childhood resembled mine.
Teatime: 30 Irresistible and Delicious Afternoon Treats
by Clare Gordon-Smith with photography by Philip Webb
(May 2000, Time-Life Books, $15.95)
If the tea hideaways above seem pricey, or if you love your own china and want to brew, sip, cook, and snack in your very own kitchen, this pretty book (the type is big enough to make it a good gift for a senior citizen or an Anglophile nine-year-old) by two English foodies is an option. After an introductory explanation of the tradition and tea, it provides recipes for and pictures of tiny sandwiches and savory tarts, scones, and muffins, as well as classic sweets. Atkins Diet devotees should steer clear.