22 July 2012

Tableside Tea

I have an old friend who I only get to see every few years. It's more his fault than mine, because he lives in Berlin.

But when we do get to spend time together, we quickly get down to business: how many meals can we squeeze into a day? Besides the obvious benefit of eating well, it's always reassuring that gluttony extends well beyond American borders.
Smoked apple tea with thyme
Humans like to indulge. It's genetic. Sure, so is hunting down and devouring a mastodon- but try to tell me you can't imagine some caveperson carving the discarded tusk and charging 15 rocks for an aromatherapy back scratch. The preponderance of fleas alone would make it worth the price.

So dropping $100 for lunch at Eleven Madison Park (11 Madison Park), on a Monday isn't even a choice. It's a requirement.

The food was beyond description; I'm not even going to touch the meal other than to say it's arguably the finest restaurant in Manhattan. Go, then you can fight me about it.

What truly floored me was the tableside tea service. I have to disclose that I work with Eleven Madison to provide the teas, so I'm hardly an unbiased drinker. But the level that they've taken it to is unlike any other restaurant in the country: the tea menu is extensive, but thoughtfully balanced, and more importantly, you can have it prepared with a gaiwan, through multiple infusions.

I know and adore all the teas offered, but I went with one I rarely get to taste- the 1994 Orange Stamp Bingcha- a sheng, or green, pu-erh.

Yes, it was so good that I asked if I could take the leaves home with me (and I unabashedly did). But what stayed with me far longer has been the thought that this level of tea service is possible in the West.

But people need to demand it. Just imagine how incredible your tea tastes at home, when you're focusing on those little leaves and how to treat them as well as you can so that they relinquish every last bit of fragrance and flavor that the tea producer has painstakingly preserved. Why can't every high-end restaurant pay the same amount of attention? It's done with each ingredient, the wines, the coffee- it's time it happened with the tea.


Nicole Martin said...

Their tea service sounds amazing. I really wish more places payed that kind of attention.

Sara S. said...

I dined there this year and had an unbelievable experience. We had a lengthy dinner (which actually had many tea elements to it) so i wasn't as focused on the tea at the end of the meal (crazy I know). Your tea service looks wonderful, and it's exactly what I'd expect from that restaurant.


Marilyn said...

It looks and sounds amazing. That first picture fascinated me. I have never seen tea leaves being held in the water like that. I would love to know more about that.

Anna said...

Oh wow, very cool that you're working with EMP on their teas! At the restaurants I work for we have a standard selection of Harney & Sons sachets - not bad at all but nothing special. Glad to see you picked up blogging again, too, I haven't checked anyone's blog practically since I started at the restaurant and I was excited to see a comment from you! I am planning to stay indefinitely and I'm engaged to a native Brooklyn boy so I'm staying in the borough as well ;)

ana dane said...

Anna- I will definitely come visit you soon (and bring you some decent tea)!

Sara, isn't the food amazing? Nicole, you have to check it out sometime, it's completely worth it, even if it's not a special occasion.

Marilyn, the first photo is not a true tea- it's a tisane made of apple juice that has been smoked (I can't remember what that process entailed, but it seemed time-consuming), with a small bundle of fresh thyme floating in it. The heat of the liquid sets off the herb's aromatics so beautifully- it's a great method to try at home with any of your favorite herbs or whole spices.