This is a 3.5 star review. While I’m not fanatic about Harney and Sons’ teas, I do believe they are doing a “tea-rific” job of demystifying tea to the masses. I enjoyed reading Michael Harney’s “Guide to Tea” book and my work actually sells H&S teas. That being said, I do hope to find a tea that will really “wow” me enough to warrant a repeat purchase. This review is based solely on the Tea Lounge.
The Tea Lounge is located in the back of the SoHo shop and seats about 25 guests. The seating arrangements are more suited to parties of 2-4 guests, and solo sippers are encouraged to sit at the counter. This is a high volume area due to a variety of reasons:
1. The restroom is located in the back of the Tea Lounge, so guests of the Tea Lounge as well as paying and non-paying customers make their way back their to use the facilities. It’s a single toilet for both sexes. It was fairly clean when I used it myself, but I also lower my standards when it comes to restrooms in NYC restaurants. This is a clean, serviceable restroom, by NYC standards.
2. A sign instructs guests to wait to be seated, but half of the time, people view this sign as “TL;DR” and barge in to claim an empty table, only to be told by an employee that it’s not first-come, first-serve, and makes them vacate the table.
3. For guests who are waiting for a table, their name is written on a list. While they are waiting for their name to be called, they mill near the entrance of the Tea Lounge, creating bottleneck traffic. Rinse, rather, and repeat 1-3.
On top of this, they only have two employees running the lounge…for 25 guests. Now it could be that they normally schedule four employees, because we were seated there for nearly an hour and when we were ready to leave, two other employees came out to help bus tables and take orders. So it could be entirely possible that they were either on break or they were coming in for their shift.
When we arrived, there were three tables or 9 seats available, not including a couple of counter seats. I gave my name to one of the tea lounge employees and we waited about 10-15 minutes before he found us and we got seated. The tea menu, of course, took up multiple pages, while the food offerings was limited to a single page. For food offerings, it was divided into savory items, nuts, and sweet items. As tea is the main draw, the food accompanies the tea. Don’t expect to get a full meal at the Tea Lounge. But if you want a cup of tea and a snack, then this would be a good option.
Tea is offered in two sizes: small ($6) or large ($8) teapot, with a $1 surcharge for premium tea. If you want the staff to reserve your tea leaves for a second steeping, that will be an additional $3. (I think this price gouging is to discourage people from lingering longer than necessary.) The small teapot is supposed to serve one, but I was able to enjoy 4 large mugfuls of my tea, so I think a small pot is enough for two people, but most people tend to order a single teapot for themselves.
We ordered the vanilla scones, ham and guyere scones, and two small pots of tea. I wanted the Nahorhabi Full Leaf but it was unavailable, so I ordered “Hao Ya ‘B’”, which is a China black tea with some honey/molasses notes that I thought would pair well with our sweet and savory scones. My friend selected a Wenshan Baozhong oolong. The scones were small but not supersized, like the ones at Alice’s Tea Cup. They were flaky and buttery. The ham and guyere was a surprise standout. It had small cubes of ham that balanced well with the Guyere. If you enjoy cheddar biscuits, you’ll like this. You didn’t even need the mustard. The vanilla scones come with proper clotted cream and strawberry jam. Pro-tip: always spread the clotted cream first, as it allows its rich deliciousness to enter the nooks and crannies of the scone, plus it serves as a base for the jam.
While I thought my tea tasted a wee bit over steeped, I don’t have much to complain about the product. But as mentioned earlier, with two employees for 25 guests on a busy Sunday afternoon, service was slooow. A party of four was seated next to us and got up and left because no one came to take their order. As we it was our last day in NY before heading back to DC, I decided to take initiative and go up to the counter myself to close our bill, otherwise we would have been there for longer than an hour. Overall, I was glad we tried out the Tea Lounge, but I’m not anxious to experience it again the next time I visit NY.