By Candice Sabatini
Don’t know your Shincha from your Sencha? Not to worry, all will be tea-lightfully explained to you when you visit Ito-En, the tranquil and lovely tea and gift shop on Madison Ave at 69th Street.
The airy, modern, stylish Japanese store has shelves filled with the prettiest and most precious Japanese tea cups, teapots and accessories. Edgy, modern sculptural spoons sit happily next to traditional bamboo tea whisks and both look equally elegant and important in their task to complement the special, but simple, ritual of making green tea. Best Tip: Never pour boiling hot water onto tea, it makes it bitter. Ito-En sells exotic boxes to store tea in, as well as handmade porcelain vases, sake sets, chopstick rests and other cool finds. If you come here to buy a gift for someone, you’ll likely walk away with one for yourself as well.
The star of the store is the tea itself and Ito-En, the world’s leading supplier of green tea leaves and beverages, has dozens to choose from, all displayed in glass jars so they can be seen and sniffed. The staff here really knows their stuff! Shiho, the gracious and elegant store manager, explained green tea’s various properties, what makes teas taste differently from one another, what constitutes highest quality and why green tea lovers anxiously await Shincha. The top baby leaves have the most delicate taste. These most precious leaves sprout just once a year and are available only during spring in a similar spirit likened to France’s fall celebration of its Beaujolais Nouveau. There’s actually a waiting list for shipments of this years crop!
Iced tea lovers, don’t despair…
Ito-En was the first to bring us ready-to-drink iced green tea, and even developed a bottle that prevents the tea from oxidizing, The Ito-En Teas’ Tea brand uses a fresh brew method, not concentrate, to make their many varieties – pure green, jasmine, mint, lemongrass, as well as some infused with fruits such as mango, blueberry, peach, and orange. So even if you’re the type that can’t boil water, you can always go to the ‘fridge at Ito-En and grab a cold one.
822 Madison Avenue (at 69th Street)