Most Chinese tea marketed in this country as the very finest really isn't, complains foodlovergeneral, a Chowhound whose years-long quest for the best has usually led to disappointment. A remarkable exception has been what he's sampled from The Mandarin's Tea Room in SoHo, a speakeasy of sorts for lovers of select teas. It's run by Tim Hsu, a passionate connoisseur who bypasses agents and other middlemen and goes to the source: tea masters and artisanal farmers.
His specialties include complex fermented pu-erh teas—he's even commissioned private batches from 400-year-old trees on Yunnan's Yiwu Mountain—and the pricey, labor-intensive Jin Jun Mai, a robust red tea that can require 70,000 buds to produce a pound. While Hsu's teas are "unmatched in the city," foodlovergeneral adds, you shouldn't expect a vast selection: "Tea culture is about drinking just a few teas, not hundreds." You can buy Hsu's wares online or at his tea room, where he also conducts tastings in impeccable gongfu style with careful attention to temperature and teaware. They're offered by appointment only starting at $50 per person.
For foodlovergeneral, the only other go-to spot in Manhattan for great tea is Kajitsu, a Japanese restaurant esteemed by 'hounds for its multicourse dinners of refined, temple-style vegetarian food. At the end of the meal, diners are served high-quality matcha, the finely powdered green tea, prepared in traditional style. Kajitsu, now closed for a long-planned move from the East Village to Murray Hill, is scheduled to reopen March 12, and more than its address is changing: It plans to add lunch service and expand the menu to include seafood and eggs.
The Mandarin's Tea Room [SoHo]
21 Howard Street (between Lafayette and Crosby streets), Manhattan
Kajitsu [Murray Hill]
Reopening March 12 at 125 E. 39th Street (between Park and Lexington avenues), Manhattan
Discuss: GREAT AUTHENTIC TEA IN MANHATTAN
Photo from The Mandarin's Tea Room