20 June 2008

Brooklyn Iced Tea Crawl: Busted

I didn't want it to come to this.

But in the interest of closing out Iced Tea Week, I needed to do multiple tastings in a short amount of time. So I set off on an Iced Tea Crawl around Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill this afternoon.

And the results? Pathetique. Horrible. I cannot believe how sorry the state of iced tea is in the myriad cafes and bakeshops in this part of Brooklyn. I'm thinking I may have to open an iced-tea-only shop to ameliorate this beverage blight.

Seriously, the taste in my mouth is so bad right now that I'm wishing I didn't finish the bag of Doritos I had for breakfast this morning. I need a palate cleanser, stat. And despite not wanting to take the trip to Negative Town, as a friend of mine says, I need to ensure no one else has to suffer through what I just did. So here's the bitter breakdown.

The first stop was Sweet Melissa (267 Court St.), where I started with a black iced tea ($2.50), left, straight up. I decided to keep things simple, and not sweeten any brew I came across.

The only other options were green or herbal, and I spotted boxes of Twinings tea behind the counter- not a good sign. Arming myself with a pistachio madeleine ($1.50) for company, I headed to my favorite hidden little neighborhood park and got to work.

Unremarkable. I know I can't legitimately say that, seeing how I'm carrying on, but this iced tea was so bland, so boring, so obviously bagged, I could only manage a few sips. And the madeleine? Well, Proust would find nothing to write home about with this petite confection. It can be summed up in a mere two letters and a barely perceptible shrug of the shoulders (anything else would be a waste of effort): eh. It was madeleine-shaped, and sweet. But beyond that, blah.

I want to like this place. OK, maybe that's a little inaccurate, but I have had some very memorable things at Sweet Melissa, namely the vanilla chai and the baked cherry brioche bread. But with most of its offerings this mediocre, I just don't understand why this place remains so popular, or how it can dare to offer an afternoon tea.

Still, I pressed on. It had to get better, right?

Not really. My next stop was Tazza (311 Henry St.), a gleaming coffeeshop, bakery and wine bar. I knew from a prior visit that the tea selection was paltry- although the coffee options do seem much more intriguing, if you swing that way- but I was optimistic. Maybe they'd have improved with the iced tea offerings. Nien, fraulein. The only choice was the iced English Breakfast tea ($2.50), above, (and at least the employees actually knew what kind of tea it was), which while better than Sweet Melissa's, was still just boring.

Admittedly, I wasn't adding any sweeteners or other flavors, but in almost every place I went, the only option would have been stirring in packets of Domino. And as we all know, sugar does not dissolve well in cold liquids. Plus, if the tea is good enough, it is good enough to stand on its own.

I headed back down Atlantic Avenue toward Boerum Hill, bravely still sucking on the straw. But after a half glass, it started tasting vaguely dirtlike (overbrewed alert) and I had to surrender it to a fly-infested trashcan.

My next perpetrator (trust me, you'll feel like a victim too once you're at the end of this) came in the form of a bright, perky new bakery called Betty (448 Atlantic Ave.). The sign on the sidewalk beckoned with homemade iced fruit tea, and so I went in and ordered one ($2.50) and a few sesame cookies ($.20 each), above, for good luck.

I should have known it was going to turn sour when I asked the employee what kind of tea was used to make it. "Fruit!" she brightly answered. When I asked what type, and whether any real tea was in the mix, she countered with, "The tea is called fruit tea on the box. We make it here!" I took it and the cookies over to the counter, steeled myself and ventured a sip.

Remember when you were a kid, and when you got really bored on a hot summer day, you'd mix together all the fruit juices and soda in the fridge and dare your siblings to drink it?

Well, that childish concoction tasted better than this. It was like Kool-Aid, Sunny D and Lipton all went out to karaoke, and immediately started snorting NutraSweet and trying to outdo each other on the mic. Full disclosure: I did request some simple syrup in this one- it was unswallowable plain. Ugh. Even the cookies didn't help: While they had a lovely, full sesame flavor due to a copious sprinkling of black and white seeds throughout, they were sweet enough to give any dentist a hard-on. The combination was enough to wish yourself diabetic, just to make it all stop.

I shuddered as I tossed the tea in the closest trash outside and turned to head back home, but I needed redemption. What about that allegedly Creole restaurant, Stan's Place (411 Atlantic Ave.) across the street? From my experience, those Cajuns know their sweet iced tea, or at the very least, how to have a good time.

Not in New York they don't. The cup of black iced tea ($2.00), above, was, as a close friend in college described after once coming out of his bathroom, one of those things that makes you go "Hmm." It was sweet- fine. I'd expect that for Southern-style iced tea. But what was that bizzare, medicinal overtone? I asked the waitress what type of tea they used. "Is homemade," she muttered in a thick, Eastern European accent. Right- but out of what tea? "Our tea," she continued. Well, that's good to know, because at least I won't be running into this strange brew anywhere else.

When I took a second sip, it hit me: it had chicory in it. Now, chicory in coffee is a delightful New Orleans-type of experience, but in tea? Geaux on. Like a trust-fund baby all grown up, it just doesn't work.

Fourth cup almost full of iced tea, in the trash.

I hate to be so wasteful, and for that matter, such a player-hater on my local businesses. And I did keep in mind that none of these places promoted themselves as iced-tea havens. But still: Did they all have to be so subpar?

Marty Markowitz, where are you? Brooklyn clearly needs help.

Or maybe I should just set up an iced-tea stand on the sidewalk this weekend.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's my attraction to rants, but I have this to say: BEST POST EVER.

Not surprising, either. No offense, Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

Your own stand (or "spot") sound good. What would you need to get it up and running?

lisav said...

I know, I know- At least I don't feel as stupid when I buy an ice tea, pay $2.50 take two sips and drop it in the nearest garbage. The ice tea at Ozzie's taste like it spent time in a plastic container that formally housed coffee. yech. I was at Fairway in Red Hook, bought an ice tea- turns out it is all pre-made in very weird fruit flavors. I tried really I did, I was parched but again straight into the can. sigh.

ana dane said...

lisav, i was considering checking out fairway (i shop there occasionally, but haven't sat and tried any of the in-house food there. thanks for the warning, though. i really was shocked at how bad most of these places were- i usually just make it myself, and now i see my instincts were good.

anonymous, i've been thinking about that all weekend. my original plan was a tea-dessert shop, but why not an iced-tea (and summer-only) stand in addition? NYC certainly has seen a rise in upscale seasonal offerings (the shake and burger shack come to mind)- so why not an iced-tea purveyor? i'm envisioning the lemonade and iced tea table my neighbors and i set out in the summers, but more modern and mature for cosmopolitan customers.

Bonbon Oiseau said...

i may have some ice-tea/lemonade inspiration for you today...

avra romanowitz said...

the redesign is spectacular. i'm catching up on older posts. this one had me laughing out loud (for reals) and actually picturing kids also creating concoctions at the drink fountain at fast food joints (or QSRs as they call them in the "industry." Quick Service Restaurants...) by moving the cup underneath each spigot and pumping a little of each soft drink into their cups. ugh.

one more thing, i think you know that iced tea is not on my list of favorite things...very much the opposite, in fact. but now i'm realizing that it seems like almost everywhere it's made, they're doing it wrong. perhaps i do like iced tea, but nowhere have i been able to find something that isn't a bastardization of its true goodness?

ana dane said...

actually, av-av, i do recall your dislike of iced tea (right up there with ketchup, i believe).

the best is how i found out about it, though. i made a huge pitcher of it (blackberry sage) when you were coming to visit for a few summer days- now, this was probably in 1998 (TEN years ago? scary)- and i proudly presented it to you at your arrival. but you wanted none of it.

sniff. i should have mixed in some dr. p. i know that would have enticed you.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so maybe iced tea isn't on the top of the list in February, but over at Naidre's in park slope (384 7th Ave) and carroll gardens (502 Henry), we're still brewing it fresh everyday. Organic, biodynamic, loose leaf, fresh brewed iced tea! Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Mango Green and Raspberry Herbal. We hope to see you when the weather warms up! Oh yeah.... organic fair trade iced coffee too!

Also saw your blog entry about our organic (too) hot teas and we're working on correcting that. Many thanks from the owner and staff of Naidre's Cafe!