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Tea Shop: Harney & Sons
Harney & Sons, the Northeastern US-based supertea company's newest tasting room and retail shop in Soho, feels more like a museum store than a tea room. Or maybe a museum of tea: the spacious room is lined with tin after tin of high quality teas, complemented decoratively by a selection of tisanes and wares (and... dog paraphernalia?). It's a gentle place to begin a tea exploration, whether you're new to tea or you've come with a sheet of crib notes on what you want to try.
All guests are welcome to sample, for free, the tea of the day as well as one of their own selection—a treasure of an experience for anyone looking to expand their tea knowledge. As I'm often feeling green, I tried the Jin Shan, a very light and delicate high-grown Japanese green tea. Its round, ultralight flavors are wispily buttery—almost like whipped cream.
For the less subtle, dip into the shop's pu-erh vaults, and explore the dirt and earth notes of these caked, post-fermented teas. The 2003 pu-erh is like a showdown between dirt and sarsparilla, smoky and metallic—the shop's representative describes it as tasting like "the Meadowlands".
Though the staff are informative and friendly, you won't be encouraged to abuse the one sample per customer rule (nor do they make a policy of offering tasters a re-infusion of a tea). However, the adjacent tea lounge (replete with snacks) makes a fine and economical place to sample small or large pots of anything on the menu—it's a very civilized place to journey into tea.