A Crash Course in Tea -- and Where to Drink the Good Stuff in NYC
Perhaps you've noticed the slow but steady proliferation of tea shops and bars throughout NYC? If you haven't, you will now: The spread of the tea movement (not to be confused with the floundering Tea Party movement), the second most-consumed beverage in the world after water, is currently in its Stateside infancy; Americans lag far behind the rest of the world in consumption. However, strategic moves by major players show the drink is gaining purchase with U.S. consumers, and savvy companies are hoping to snag some of your morning caffeine share -- or at least expand your horizons beyond your daily cup of coffee.
And if you're thinking about dipping a toe in this ocean of possibility, take it from a beverage purist: Invest your time and money in the small boutiques selling high-quality teas.
If you tend to think tea is boring, tasteless, or downright dreadful, it might be due to lack of exposure and access to the good stuff. Lipton and other large commercial tea bag brands make for awful drinking -- basically the gas station coffee of the tea category, or Tea 1.0. Meanwhile, Tea 2.0 is being embarked upon by the original "Starbucks" of tea companies, Argo Tea. Not content to let another brand lead the category, however, Starbucks itself, the 19,000-café behemoth, acquired a brand of its own called Teavana, a chain of mall stores that sells tea and teaware. Yes, mall stores. That should say it all, but I'll carry on.
Starbucks recently opened the first Teavana tea bar on the Upper East Side on October 24, and it has plans for mega-expansion. Although these commercial tea bars sell loose tea and equipment -- and will certainly encourage tea consumption -- they also operate on the Starbucks principle, pushing fruity, sugar-laden concoctions that currently infest coffee-chain menus, only here those drinks are prepared with tea. Consider, for example, the horrific-sounding "Coco Caramel Sea Salt Latte."
Here's the thing: While the big brands expand their beverage menus with flavored, fruit tea blends, boutiques focused on educating consumers while procuring and selling premium loose teas have quietly spread throughout the city. These stores have ushered in the Tea 3.0 movement, and that's the one curious tea-drinkers should join.
Find out where next.