Radiance Tea House & Books
158 West 55th Street
New York, New York
Tucked between Sixth and Seventh avenues in bustling midtown Manhattan is an oasis of serenity called Radiance Tea House & Books. In China, where Radiance has its origins, tea is more than a beverage. It is a national treasure interwoven with the spirit and culture of the people. Teahouses are as old as the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). They were, and still are, enjoyed as places of refreshment and entertainment. Chinese opera, for example, has been described as “art irrigated by tea.” Come to Radiance to be introduced to the Chinese- and Taiwanese-style tea ceremonies or simply to enjoy a beautifully prepared, relaxing tea in the city. The teahouse promises visitors a “journey that will calm your mind and enlighten your spirit.”
Open the door, and the sound of water spilling from a giant teapot fountain muffles the sound of the street. Climb one short flight of stairs to a large bright room, furnished in part with Chinese-style high-back wooden chairs and square tables. On the left side is a shop stocked with an assortment of contemporary and traditional Asian-style tea wares, clothing, books in both Chinese and English, and more than 50 loose-leaf teas, including white, green, oolong, black, scented, and blended, all labeled with country of origin. You may place an order for tea-to-go at the counter in the center of the tearoom or sit to be served. Radiance offers lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner daily.
In addition to the teas mentioned above, the menu offers a rare and premium-reserve tea list, featuring a Jasmine Silver Needle white tea, two types of yellow tea, eight types of green tea, seven oolongs (one of which has been aged for 20 years), four black teas, and some very limited, special, seasonal teas. 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.
More than 100 menu selections feature traditional Chinese dishes, small plates, and desserts, many of which are tea based. Afternoon tea begins with a pot of tea brewed tableside, Chinese style, followed by a selection of savory and sweet dishes served family style. Traditional tea choices include Genmaicha, Mind Mounain, Pao Chong, Tie Guan Yin, Lapsang Souchong, Keemun, and vintage Pu-Er. Scented and blended teas include Ginger-Peach Black, Vanilla Black, Osmanthus Oolong, and Jasmine Green, as well as infusions such as Apricot Honeybush and Caramel-Honey Rooibus, among others. Popular savories include Salmon Summer Rolls, Green-Tea Soba (buckwheat) Noodles, Enoki (East-Asian mushrooms) and Celery Salad, and Homemade Chicken and Shrimp Meatballs, to name a few. Vegetarian options are available and should be requested when making a reservation. The dessert menu features homemade ice cream, freshly baked cookies made with tea, agar (also known as Japanese gelatin), and tofu treats, among others.
Radiance’s Afternoon Tea Tasting is based on the Chinese tea ceremony. Guests select three different teas brewed in the traditional style in a small red clay or porcelain pot and served on a bamboo tea tray. The sweet and savory menus are the same as those for afternoon tea, but the teas sampled include, depending upon the day, Golden Lily, White Peony, and Raw Pu-Er.
If you are not yet steeped in tea culture, Radiance also offers a series of tea classes that teach tea etiquette, as well as brewing and tasting tea, from Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian schools of thought. You’ll learn how to integrate tea into your diet to reap health and longevity as the ancient Chinese did and thus to experience a calmer, brighter spirit.
Editor's Note: At the time of publication, the information listed above was correct. However, please be sure to verify this information before making plans to visit to ensure it has not changed.