Tea for two and two for tea

Spot of tea, anyone?

I used to hate drinking tea. Growing up, being sick always meant getting a hot cup of chamomile from my mom. As a kid with easily triggered motion sickness, I drank A LOT of the grassy-smelling brew. And hence, for a very long time I equated tea with puking and all-around malaise.

But being a when-in-Rome-do-as-the-Romans type of traveler (especially when it comes to local grub), I was forced to confront my tea feelings during a visit to London, where my boyfriend was studying at the time. After bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, and the requisite fish and chips, it was time for the iconic hot English drink.

So I went to Sainsbury’s (side note: British supermarkets? SO much better than Italian ones) and scoured the tea isle, looking for something that would make me feel local without requiring barf bags. Although I started with the fruity stuff that tastes almost like hot Kool-Aid, I gradually worked my way up to green tea (also first with fruit and then without), and then finally took the plunge into Earl Gray, English Breakfast, chai and other tea standards. I still, however, refuse to drink chamomile. Sick or not, just can’t do it.

Now that I’m in New York, by and large a city fueled by coffee, I was intrigued when I read about a little East Village teahouse called Podunk. If for no other reason than to see how it might work in such a frenetic city, I decided to check it out.

On a recent, cold and gray Sunday afternoon, the beau and I set off in search of Podunk. We found it tucked away on a quiet street, looking more like something out of downtown Gainesville than the funky, artsy East Village. The décor was a cutesy hodgepodge of mismatched furniture and grandma’s house- style knick-knacks. At the front counter (a wooden table topped with assorted teapots in glass display cases) we found gingham-covered menus and a sweet woman whose soft voice and flowered apron reminded me of Mrs.Claus.

“Tea’s proper use is to amuse the idle, and relax the studious, and dilute the full meals of those who cannot use exercise, and will not use abstinence.” Samuel Johnson

I ordered toasted coconut vanilla white tea while my sweet-disdaining boyfriend got sage black tea, both of which came on a wooden tray with different colored and shaped metal teapots, teacups and saucers, milk and sugar. Let me tell you, on crap-weather days in a city like this one, tea at Podunk is the way to go. Warm and soothing, the tea was delicious (at least mine was, can’t speak for the sage drink) and comforting. Add the tranquil setting, and you could almost forget that you’re in one of the noisiest, most hectic cities in the world.

To really win my heart, Mrs.Claus behind the counter offered us each a freshly baked butter cookie on the way out. Left to my own devices, I could have polished off two dozen of those simple, sweet, buttery cookies.

I’ll gladly go back to Podunk, especially on dreary winter days, but I know this much, I’ll never ask to try their chamomile.


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