This was my second trip to New York City with a theme of tea in mind. My 2011 visit was a leisurely ramble seeking out tea experiences in museums and other non-tea venues. That trip was a great adventure full of visual surprises. This most recent trip could not be characterised as restful, since it was made for the purpose of launching The Tea Book at two shops at opposite ends of Manhattan Island, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday afternoons. It was however, very sociable. I met dozens of people who are keenly interested in tea. Everyone was warm and relaxed – perhaps because it was the weekend. I like to think it is because they are tea people…
Friday was my only non-book free day. It began with a visit to Sebastian Beckwith’s studio in Union Square. Sebastian and his partner Ana Dane own In Pursuit of Tea.
Tea consultant to some of New York’s finest dining establishments, Sebastian has been in the tea world professionally for over 20 years. My introduction to him was by way of Kevin Gascoyne (Camellia Sinensis Tea House), who I have written about in previous posts.
On my way to his tea studio, I passed through Union Square farmer’s market, where, on this bright fall morning, sun illuminated bushels of apples and late harvest vegetables. Apple sniffing and bakery purchases would have to wait…
As I entered his studio, I was aware of how comfortable I felt with Sebastian’s arrangement of tea equipment. Familiar tea ware and the still light that came through his city windows had a similar feel to the studio I’ve been creating in Toronto. He has a vast selection of direct-sourced tea which he acquires on regular visits to northern India, Sri lanka, Nepal, Sikkim and other countries of origin. At a small table, he prepared tea after tea seamlessly so that I was hardly aware of the end of one and the beginning of the next. We started with Darjeeling 2nd flush (Namring), then Yellow from Anhui, on to a rather rare and unusual Ceylon and ending with an Assam which did much to disarm my bias towards what I’d always considered a relatively one dimensional leaf. It was sweet and plummy, made by a passionate farmer who also works in construction in the Assam valley.
We discussed the state of the tea industry; the frustrations of Sri Lankan growers unable to export experimental small batch teas because of restrictions of an auction/broker system that thwarts their creativity; the challenges of bringing good tea to the fine dining experience and how tea business differs between Canada and the U.S. It was equal parts philosophical and practical.
I left with some lovely teas and a sense that the weekend was starting well. I met up with my husband, bought some Winesap apples, whole grain rolls and admired bee-laden lavender. We walked The High Line from 15th to 34th. I love this urban park. It’s a wonderful way to walk the lower west side easily and slowly all the while taking in the sights below. It marks the former elevated rail that serviced the factories and warehouses of the old lower westside Manhattan.
My friend and colleague, Jo Johnson of A Gift of Tea and blogger at Scandalous Tea, kindly arranged for me to do 2 book signings while in New York. Saturday’s signing was at Monkey Cup in Harlem – a long cab ride up to Hamilton Heights – wish I’d had more time to explore. Sunday afternoon was spent at T Shop in Soho – a vibrant sunny day that brought many tea friends and was light hearted, warm and delicious.
A Tea Shop in Soho