Relaxing in a cozy tearoom, sipping on fine Chinese tea, and enjoying a laid-back Sunday afternoon – that is definitely my idea of heaven. So, I decided to take my family out for some tea tasting last weekend.
Our place of choice was Floating Mountain on the Upper West Side. Tucked amid cafes, spas, and local businesses, this intimate tearoom has all the trappings of a well-kept secret. As expected of all guests here, we buzzed ourselves in, took our shoes off, and stepped into a quiet, wood-paneled room full of daylight, potted plants, and a decidedly Zen vibe. The minimal floor seating, soft natural colors, and elegant teaware made it clear that drinking tea here is a serious business.
Three Tea Tasting
Floating Mountain specializes in Chinese teas imported straight from the source. For someone new to Chinese tea drinking, the menu with all its strange-sounding names can seem a bit intimidating. But anyone who knows a thing or two about tea will be delighted to find all their favorite Oriental flavors in one tea shop.
Because the youngest member of our group was a 9-year-old, I decided to pick something sweet and easy to drink. And that’s how we got around to sampling three floral classics – Silver Needle White Tea, Big Red Robe, and Phoenix Honey Orchid Oolong.
The Silver Needle
The Silver Needle White Tea (Bai Hao Yin Zhen) sent our tea tasting session off to a great start. The tea leaves were clearly good quality, with thick, straight buds covered in fine white hairs. They announced their presence with a delightful floral fragrance – one that evolved into a beautiful mellow aroma once I brewed the tea. The infusion had a lovely yellow color, smooth texture, and fresh, delicate notes with gentle reminders of blueberries, melons, and even a bit of hay.
The Big Red Robe
We then moved on to the two oolongs. The Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao) Oolong was something I’d been looking forward to. And it didn’t disappoint. Distinctly stronger than the white tea we’d just had, it made a reddish-orange infusion with a toasty, woodsy aroma accompanied by complex notes of honey, nuts, and dried fruits. It was pretty much everything you’d expect from a good oolong.
The Honey Orchid
But it was the second oolong we tried – Phoenix Honey Orchid – that really took the cake.
The Phoenix Honey Orchid (Mi Lang Xiang, Phoenix Dan Cong) oolong turned out to be our favorite tea that afternoon. Floating Mountain’s menu called it one of the sweetest and most aromatic teas available, and it sure wasn’t exaggerating. Fragrant to the point of being ‘perfumy,’ the tea leaves were evenly sized, glossy, and a perfect shade of brown. The brewed tea was irresistibly sweet, with honey and orchid notes. We went through at least 6 infusions and could have easily gone on for more!
It’s safe to say that our off-beat Sunday outing was a success, even by my 9-year-old’s high standards. She was quite impressed by how sweet and delicious a ‘real’ tea can be; no sugar or flavorings needed. There’s a good chance she may join me on my next visit to Floating Mountain, which might not be too far off.
Isabelle is a freelance writer, self-taught tea nerd, and tea blending enthusiast. She is a herbalist with a strong interest in Ayurveda. Each year Isabelle travels extensively, returning with tea samples from around the world. She is a big fan of handmade teaware and Japanese green teas.