New York City, NY – By taking a step back toward an ancient form of serving tea, Tea Drunk of New York’s East Village is actually on the vanguard of the increasing trend toward offering artisanal, high-end teas.
A step back to Shunnan Teng’s Chinese roots turns out to be a step forward in today’s Third Wave of tea. In the progression from tea-as-commodity to curated collections of single-origin artisanal teas, Teng’s 400-square-foot tea shop in New York’s East Village compactly offers seating for 30 at tables and a tea bar. The decor is simplistic. There is no food served. On a Sunday evening, most of the seats are full of people talking and savoring tea. They’re not looking at their mobile devices. They are relaxing, studying, and listening; listening to conversation, listening to what their tea is telling them.
Instead of the dizzying variety of teas on a wall seen at some modern tea shops, Teng opted for a more limited selection of traditional teas she sources annually while backpacking through regions of China. No bubble teas or blends here, but neophytes and connoisseurs alike come to praise treasured teas with obscure names, like “Tie Luo Han True Cliff” and “Ya Shi Xiang” (which translates as “Duck Feces Aroma”). These teas may be unheard of in most of North America, but enjoy much stronger reputations back in their home country. Multiple grades of some of these teas allow customers to affordably try teas before ascending the price scale.
Don’t expect to have a teapot either. Tea is served the old-fashioned Chinese way – in a gaiwan. “It takes some people a little while to grasp the concept of a gaiwan,” says Nicole Martin, manager of Tea Drunk. Given that Tea Drunk has been growing in popularity as an ideal date destination, cooperation with a dating website led to challenges in describing the teapot-less tea service. “We kept having to explain the difference between brewing one pot of tea, and the relaxed-but-nuanced continuity of multiple re-steeps of a gaiwan of tea.”
This straightforward approach to tea service offers several advantages. There isn’t a lot of complicated equipment; mainly gaiwans and kettles for heating water. Shunan and her staff move among the tables and tea bar adding water for the next steep, so there are frequent opportunities to interact and ask questions. Customers discover how quality loose leaf can reveal a story with each successive steeping.
The people who come are looking for a richer tea experience. As conversation floats around the room, it is obvious some customers have strong connections to Asian culture. For some of them, this form of tea is familiar. Others have no such ties; they come for the opportunity to slow down. There are also newcomers who need to be guided through the menu. In each case, they have come to commit time to the process of enjoying tea. With a gaiwan of tea ranging anywhere from $8 – $42, there is a point of entry for tea drinkers of any level.
123 East 7th Street
New York, NY 10009