Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: Cha-An, an NYC Tea Haven

For this post, we will be taking a quick breather from the tea family and will be doing our first review! I happened to come across pictures on my phone today and got flooded with memories, tastes, and experiences from a wonderful little tea house in NYC.

Cha-An was first discovered by Al when she went down to NYC with a few friends. Though her passion for tea was not fully developed at this time, she thought of me and ventured in. Needless to say, it left a lasting impression and I made sure to go and experience it first hand when we visited New York this past winter.

The Ten Rules of Tea to be expanded in a future post
New York is a bustling city, full of traffic, noise, crowds, and smells and so when a refuge is found amongst the chaos, it's hard to resist. Located at 230E 9th Street, Cha-An is no exception and immediately embraces you with a calming silence, comforting surroundings, and tantalizing aromas the moment you climb it's stairs. When you reach it's first landing, you are instantly transported out of New York and arrive to a quaint Japanese alleyway tea shop.

Cha-An Interior

Right away you notice the walls are lined with many selections of quality teas, the counters populated with steaming cups and tea pots, and smiles are resting every client's face. After a ten minute wait, we were shown to the one free table and handed nicely crafted, simple menus depicting the numerous choices of tea and tea related delicacies. Delicacies? Oh yes, delicacies. 

Al and I had trouble deciding and so we settled upon the chef's menu comprising of several incredible desserts accompanied by a tea of choice (in this case a Dong Ding oolong) to which Al added a mach latte with red bean. The food and drinks arrived quickly and Al quickly realized that her matcha latte was no laughing matter as it came in a bowl sized cup filled to the brim with foamy, green matcha. Though I do not usually have matcha, this one was too tantalizing to resist and proved to be a delightful mixture of sweet red bean and bitter green tea.

One thing that I immediately appreciated was the presentation of our oolong. Unlike some places that give you the tea pre-steeped (or currently steeping), Cha-An respectfully presented the tea and all it's required tools separately. Though this is not uncommon for a tea house, I was surprised that they included a 'smelling cup' which is a cup made to (obviously) smell the subtler and gentler aromas of freshly steeped leaves. Though I have used one before in several tea classes, this was the first time that I was given one when ordering tea.

Our Oolongs first arrival with the quickly disappearing treats in the background

(A future post will be reserved to explaining each item required for making tea 'traditionally' as well as the steps. For now, I will just skip over my compulsively executed steps and jump right to the tea….though I urge you not to forget that preparation is half the enjoyment!)

The dong ding oolong was very enjoyable, pleasant, and mouth watering. It had a full bodied taste and was almost sweet with very little after taste in a good way. You tasted it when you wanted to but it did not interfere with the pastries. In fact it's very light aftertaste complimented the selection of delicacies perfectly. After enjoying a few steepings, I examined the leaves to find that they were of good quality. No tears or discolouring, large & intact leaves, and very soft (chewable) leaves. 

The sweets, oh the sweets! What an incredible selection and variety, each relating to tea in some unique way. We were treated to the following:
  • Chocolate Oolong Cake
  • Black Sesame Creme Brûlée (ok..not related to tea, but damn good)
  • Caramel Icecream (…also not tea related…what was I thinking!)
  • Black sesame shortbread (was anything tea related?!)
  • Almond Earl grey Soft Moist Cake

The incredible desserts would merit a blog of their own, but as we are here to discuss tea, I'm going to let you imagine and drool over the pictures!

All in all, Cha-An was an amazing experience and I regret not having enough time to go back and try their wider selection of teas. I also learned that waiting 58 days to write a review is not the best idea, but if anything, this truly proves how memorable the experience truly was!

Next time, continuing and finishing the tea family introductions.

Steep and be happy!

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