Isn’t it a little weird that there’s a National Iced Tea Day, but no national hot tea day? You’ve got to put a little ice in your tea to celebrate a national holiday! Not that I’m complaining on this day, however–the middle of June is the perfect weather to sit outside, on your balcony or at a sidewalk cafe, and sip a cool, tall glass of freshly brewed iced tea. Iced tea is an American staple in the summer, in whatever region of the country you’re from. My best friend from Virginia loves a big glass of sweet tea (which, when I have it down by her, is way too sweet for my taste!), while my boyfriend can drink unsweetened iced tea by the gallon. It can be brewed just like hot tea, then chilled to maintain the flavor, or cold-brewed and left to brew in the sun (aptly called “sun tea”). You can even make the tea into ice cubes and use those instead of water cubes, which will dilute the tea. You can have it sweetened or not, with milk or not, in whatever tea variations and flavors your mind can think of. You can even have an iced tea with liquor in it, or an “iced tea” with no tea in it at all. There are just so many ways to enjoy National Iced Tea Day!
I had a hard time choosing the restaurants and teahouses to highlight for National Iced Tea Day, considering there are just so many places in New York that serve great tea. Considering that so many cultures around the world drink and revere tea, from the American South to England, India, and the Far East, it wasn’t an easy decision! And usually it’s not about the restaurant itself, but where they get their tea, how they serve it, and how they treat the process. (Needless to say you won’t be finding the sweet tea at McDonald’s on this list.) You’ll find a great respect for the humble tea leaf at Radiance Tea House, a restaurant and tea house originally from China that has locations in both Midtown and Flushing. Whatever variety of tea you’re looking for, Radiance Tea House probably has it: they have over 100 house brews from all over the world. They offer group tastings where you can learn how to brew a proper cup of tea at home, or go all-out with an hour-long traditional Chinese tea ceremony–which, at only $35 a pop, is a great way to learn about a unique facet of Chinese culture. They offer any of their teas as iced, as well as mixes of tea and espresso dessert drinks, like the Earl ‘n Jo–Earl Grey tea mixed with Italian espresso, milk, and sugar. I want to try their signature house blend on ice: if a place takes tea as seriously as this restaurant does, the tea they’ve blended specifically for their patrons must be the cream of the crop.
Radiance Tea House
158 W 55th St (between Avenue Of The Americas & 7th Ave)
“The tea menu is mindboggling, in the sheer number of options available on a daily basis and the quality of those options. I indulge in the more serious teas on afternoon and weekend visits when tea, and not lunch, is my focus. But during lunch, it’s the causal, lighthearted drinks I head for. Those include Iced Tea Lattes ($5.50) in options like Taro, Matcha, and Earl Grey, or sweet drinks that combine tea and espresso, such as the Mint Rendezvous ($7), a blend of Moroccan mint tea with espresso, milk, and sugar.”–Serious Eats
“Radiance also offers an iced-drinks menu with classics such as a house blend of Indian and Chinese black teas, as well as more exotic tea-espresso dessert drinks—Earl ’n Jo (Earl Grey tea and Italian espresso with milk and sugar) and Sweet ’n Smoky (Lapsang Souchong tea and Italian hot cocoa with milk and sugar). The Chinese have a long history of drinking beverages with bark, berries, flowers, licorice, ginseng roots, and herbs combined with tea. They believe such wellness and herbal teas strengthen the body and calm the mind. Ask your friendly server about these choices, too.”–Tea Time Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I can safely say that there are over 60 different types of tea on their menu. As for ice teas, many of the hot teas are available in ice, and there are other latte drinks available. I’ve had the Purple Yam ice latte and Mango Sunrise ice tea which were both very good. The wellness/herbal tea menu has a variety of teas that mention a variety of benefits, such as an immune system boost and help you cope with a variety of sicknesses.”–Nobel B.
“Wonderful tea selection and flavors! Biggest iced tea menu I have seen. I had the rosebud tea last time and there were real rose buds in my tea pot, which was clear glass so I could see them while I drank the tea out of my little cup. (I think it’s so much more enjoyable to drink tea out of small cups.)”–Stephanie R.
Like a little more kitsch with your cuppa? Instead of going the traditional Eastern tea route, try something a bit more modern….like tea inside cooled tapioca bubbles 😉 You must have seen bubble tea houses all over the city by now, most concentrated in the boroughs’ Chinatowns, populated by Asian schoolgirls commiserating over pastel-colored drinks and large, wide straws. Bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s and became a big hit here, the sweet mix of black tea with sugar, condensed milk, flavorings, and tapioca pearls which give the tea its “bubble” moniker. You can scoop up the pearls with a spoon, or drink them through super-wide straws. In my opinion, they’re sweet, delicious, and super fun to drink 🙂 And what better place to get a bubble tea than Ten Ren Tea, a bubble tea chain originating right in Taiwan, that has over 130 stores around the world. Head to Flushing, the center of Queens’ Asian population, for bubble tea that uses real tea–unlike a lot of other lesser chains, who use powdered tea mixes along with their flavorings. If you can get it when it’s in stock, try the super popular Plum Tea flavor, or just get a freshly brewed, strong green tea to mix in with your fun bubbles 🙂
Ten Ren Tea & Ginseng
13518 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing
“At Ten Ren, 135-18 Roosevelt Ave., part of a Taiwan-based chain with more than 130 stores around the world, you can try trendy bubble tea, hot or cold, with bouncing pearls of tapioca. “It’s chewable, like a Gummi bear,” said company vice president Ellen Lii. “Young people love it.””–USA Today
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Ten Ren serves the best bubble tea anywhere, hands down! I never had a complaint about their tapioca balls, which are the right amount of soft and chewy and actually sweet, as opposed to most other places where they taste like rubber. Their drinks are also not overly sweet and you can still taste and smell the tea you’re drinking. My favorite flavors are black tea with milk, lychee green tea, and passion fruit green tea. My friends also love the honey dew and taro flavors.”–Siu N.
“Ten Ren, is by far my favorite bubble tea place in flushing! Their bubble tea is consistently amazing every time. You really get that tea flavor in your drink, which I love. Other bubble tea places use some artificial garbage that loses the tea flavor in the drink. Also, their tapioca is incredibly chewy. nom nom nom. (: I’ve tried a lot of flavors and they were awesome. my go to drink has to be taro milk tea or kumquat, which is really refreshing. Get your bubble tea here and you won’t be disappointed.”–Julianne M.
While bubble tea was the fun tea drink of my high school years, recently it’s taken a big backseat to another East Asian tea phenomenon–Thai iced tea. Thai iced tea isn’t all that different from other iced teas: made from super-strong brewed black tea, it’s then sweetened with sugar and condensed milk to balance out the bitterness of the tea. It’s become hugely popular with the rise of Thai cuisine, and you’d be hard-pressed not to find this beverage being served at every Thai restaurant in town. But you’ll find a most interesting version of Thai iced tea at Pinto in the West Village. Here, when you order the popular drink, you get a whole platter: the ingredients are offered to you separately, decomposed, so you can mix the milk, tea, and sugar to your own liking. They even have made their tea into actual ice cubes, so the ice you use in your iced tea won’t water down the beverage. Now that is what I call forward thinking! The food here, by all accounts, is delicious, but as far as patron response goes, everyone leaves Pinto talking about their tea.
118 Christopher St (between Bleecker St & Bedford St)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I love their pad thai AND the fact that if you come in before 6, you get an appetizer, entree, and drink for $15. Pretty hard to find in the West Village. Also – their Pinto Iced Tea is the best thai iced tea I’ve ever had. It comes out on a tray and is all served separately – the tea, milk, and liquid sugar. The ice cubes are actually frozen tea, so it doesn’t get watered down as it melts (and the spoon is a straw…which is just kind of cool).”–Malia M.
“Ordered some Thai Iced tea just for the heck of it, and now I’m hooked. It was presented as separate pieces which you could combine. That in and of itself would’ve been a gimmick, but with the lighting, the quality of the drink and watching the milk and tea blend added to the total experience of drinking the tea. No need for the extra sweetener but it’s nice that it was available. Almost wished I didn’t order the iced tea here b/c now I can’t bring myself to order it anywhere else out of fear of disappointment.”–Joe G.
But let’s stop with all the cutesy stuff here. We’re all adults (well, at least I think we are!) and the additive to iced tea that we care about isn’t milk or tapioca pearls. If you’re looking for a tea that’s got some kick to it–and we don’t mean ginseng–the best place to go is Fort Defiance in Red Hook. This old-fashioned bar in the unassuming Brooklyn neighborhood serves lots of stiff drinks and classic cocktails. Their signature drink is the King Bee, a completely different spin on the Arnold Palmer craze. Using honey-distilled vodka, the bar infuses the drink with the taste of darjeeling tea and lemon, before adding a bit of prosecco. It makes for a wonderful combination of flavors: bitter from the lemon, sweet from the honey vodka, and rich and robust from the darjeeling tea. Add in the prosecco’s fizziness and you’ve got the perfect boozy drink to celebrate National Iced Tea Day, and you didn’t even have to head for the sweet tea vodka to do it.
365 Van Brunt St (between Sullivan St & Wolcott St), Red Hook
“In Brooklyn, Fort Defiance focuses on old-fashioned drinks and a welcoming atmosphere. This spring, Fort Defiance’s bar will debut the King Bee, a vodka based drink that involves a little lemon juice, Benedictine, bitters, and prosecco. With the base spirit, Comb vodka, getting its flowery aroma from Darjeeling-tea, the King Bee is just right for warmer spring days.”–Marcus Samuelsson
“My favorite of the fruit-centric concoctions was The King Bee from Red Hook’s own Fort Defiance (above). The cocktail is built around Comb, a honey distilled vodka, that had been infused with darjeeling tea and lemon. It is then finished with just a dash of bitters and a splash of prosecco. The result was a tart, fizzy cocktail with honeycombs on the nose and a subtle earthy finish.”–Edible Manhattan
“Proprietor St. John Frizell calls this brisk tea-and-lemon tipple a “boozy Arnold Palmer.” He steeps In Pursuit of Tea Darjeeling in viscous, honey-distilled Comb vodka. The resulting tannic tincture is mixed with lemon juice, herbal Bndictine and Angostura bitters, and topped with a splash of prosecco.”–Time Out New York
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“oh my god, the king bee cocktail. second best cocktail i’ve ever had (first was at library bar at the roosevelt hotel in LA)– combines my favorite liquor and my favorite sparkling wine, and isn’t too sweet. the darjeeling tea really undercuts the sweetness of the honeycomb. perfect.”–Julie M.
“My party was in the mood for burgers and beer however the menu was limited.
Not knowing what to order they all settled for some broccoli side dish and King Bee cocktails. I had a simple but delicious fish stew and a hearty oatmeal beer. Some how all my party’s grumblings about filling their stomachs with comfort food disappeared with one sip of their cocktails and one bite of the broccoli.”–Carter K.
And finally, I feel like it would be a sin to talk about National Iced Tea Day and not bring up that alcoholic iced tea from our New Yorker neighbors to the east of Queens. Although the Long Island Iced Tea doesn’t have any actual tea in it, it’s what most people think about when you first hear “boozy iced tea drinks,” for good reason. What Long Islands lack in actual iced tea, they make up for in liquor, liquor, liquor. The traditional L.I.I.T. is made from vodka, tequila, white rum, and gin, and then lemon juice, triple sec, and soda are added. All those drinks mixed together somehow make the cocktail taste surprisingly like sweetened iced tea, and so the Long Island got its name. (The history of the drink is murky at best, and while some have tried to link its origins to Long Island, it’s most probable that it didn’t come from New York. Alas.) You don’t have to go all the way to Long Island to get a good Iced Tea today if you’re looking: just head to the nearest dive bar. Or, the Dive Bar, the chain of successful taverns in the city that thrive upon cheap drinks and delightfully cheap atmosphere. Go to the Upper West Side’s Dive 75 for the best Long Island Iced Teas from the pack. You may not be having real tea when you drink one, but hey, after a few of them, you probably won’t care what the hell is in them anymore! 😛
101 W 75th St (between Columbus Ave & Amsterdam Ave)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Bartender was friendly, and somewhat patient as I didnt know what I wanted right away…but after 5 minutes of deliberation, I chose an old favorite, a L.I. Iced-tea. And it was probably one of the best ones I have ever had! I think it was like $12 for that, and my boyfriend got a redbull and ciroc which was $10. So…not too bad, but hey its Manhattan.”–Shana J.
“This is a fantastic find. There is plenty of space, friendly service, good beer selection, and they make a mean Long Island iced tea. The atmosphere is light and welcoming. The fish tank is great.”–Brad P.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!