Monday, March 11, 2013

Where's the tea love New Jersey?

I proudly call the state of New Jersey home. It’s the land of Bon Jovi, Springsteen and 24 hour diners. Much to my chagrin, the one thing that we do not have a lot of is tea. I live a short train ride from NYC and the difference in tea cultures is astounding. The Big Apple is experiencing a veritable tea renaissance, unlike anything that I have seen. The two places are very different but I’m still left wondering, where’s the tea love New Jersey? The closest local tea purveyors to me that do not require a Hudson River crossing are a bubble tea place and a coffee shop with a collection of dusty, stale tea in glass jars. Finding good tea is next to impossible, especially without a means of travel beyond NJ Transit.

For years, Whole Foods and Wegmans were the only places where I was able to purchase halfway decent tea. Can you believe that I’ve only ever eaten at two restaurants in New Jersey that served loose leaf? I am surrounded by decadent Italian eateries and yet when I ask for tea, I’m brought a piping hot carafe of water and their very best Lipton tea bags. I’ve taken to carrying loose leaf sachets in my purse at all times. Even our local Asian restaurants serve tea bag made green tea. While I’m weekend brunching at my favorite local spot, I can’t help but wish and dream of a Harney & Son’s SoHo style cafe where I can sip a good cup of tea and nibble on a scone or two.

There have been two outstanding tea establishments that I watched slowly fail and eventually close, Janam in Jersey City and Cha Ma Gu Dao in Montclair. I believe that both businesses were before their time and perhaps a little too niche. Janam specialized in Indian teas and if at all possible, they were too geeky before tea became the new coffee. Cha Ma Gu Dao was a serene and somewhat austere Chinese tea specialist whose business model made the Starbucks crowd uncomfortable. They actually had Yelp reviews complaining that there was no music playing!

Is the Garden State too unrefined to support a high end tea retailer? No, I very much believe that tea can succeed here. We don’t need the pushy sales tactics of the usual shopping mall retailer and we don’t need snobbery. What we need is a place that can present tea in a fun, approachable way. I don’t have the resources or time to be that tea savior but I’m writing this in the hopes that I can plant a seed in the mind of someone else who does.

Do you have a favorite tea place in New Jersey? Perhaps there is a hidden gem I have yet to uncover. Let me know about it in the comments!