One of the first things Elena Liao of Té Company will show you at her tiny tearoom on West 10th Street is a yellowed map of Taiwan. She’ll point out a few of the lesser-known tea-producing regions and have you pull up a chair to taste some oolongs. Sometimes, she’ll even share pictures of the growers and their farms and throw in a bit of Bond-like intrigue about stolen cultivars. The map hangs next to a corner reading nook in tribute to Bonnie Slotnick, whose legendary cookbook shop once occupied the space. When Té moved in, Liao and husband Frederico Ribeiro, a former sous-chef at Per Se, invited Slotnick and her old neighbors over for a potluck. Village locals stop in regularly, including a florist who showers Té with a few blooms on his weekly rounds.
Té is far from tea and scones at the Plaza. The small menu features European-inspired snacks like anchovy- and mustard-coated watermelon radish prepared by Ribeiro, a Portuguese native who makes his own sourdough bread daily. Every few weeks, Liao and Ribeiro turn their laid-back tearoom into a nightspot for “Dinner at Bonnie’s”—a sophisticated, multi-course feast for eight diners per night (nine tops) that includes several tea pairings chosen by Liao.
This quiet, unassuming pair ranks among a relatively small enclave of independent New York tea companies that have developed deep, direct relationships with farmers in targeted regions around the world. You might even say they’re on a mission to bring harder-to-find premium teas and centuries-old traditions to the Big Apple in a way that feels fresh, easy-going and modern. —Rachel Safko