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.