Updated: Jul 15, 2021
In New York City, Summer comes early. As the sun comes out on early May mornings so do tourists, swarming the streets of Manhattan like flies on an apple core. Sunlight floods the streets from East to West and the concrete radiates like a grill. Sticky bodies fill the hazy streets, darting around cars and garbage piles, and the city becomes infectious with dripping hot-tempered New Yorkers pushing through crowds to get inside to a crisp air conditioned room somewhere. One particularly sweltering May afternoon, I found myself in Brooklyn. After several meetings and some wrong turns in unfamiliar territory, I felt a feverish rage come over me. I hate the heat and on this particular day it was 91 degrees. My day felt unnecessarily uncomfortable and long. I was overcome by mangled exhaustion. I hail from Alpine ancestry, you see, and my DNA screamed for cold fresh air. My pale complexion seemed to demand shelter from sunlight. So I did what I always do in times of stress, discomfort, or unhappiness—I had tea.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why would anyone have hot tea in 90 degree weather? My reader should be aware that I have an extreme affinity for tea. I myself am not sure where or why my tea obsession began or how it grew to become such a paramount mode of existence. In times of crisis, I find myself brooding over a cup of tea. Somehow the ritual of preparing and enjoying the steaming substance places me in a somewhat zen state. And after 20 minutes, I feel enlightened, refreshed, and capable again. So, flushed and looking for shelter, I surveyed Google Maps for the nearest tea place in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Pu-erh Brooklyn Teashop sits at the corner of Grand Street and Bedford Avenue in the midst of eclectic pubs with colorful names. Walking through Williamsburg, one would find every cuisine with every sort of breakthrough restaurant trend. It is a whirl of creativity and earthy organic individuals and it’s no wonder such a naturalistic place would thrive here. Stepping into the tea shop, I was at once met with calm. The floaty atmosphere is enhanced with soft meditative sounds and soft-spoken employees who seem uncharacteristically detached from the whizzing urban setting just outside. With walls of assorted teas, plants, and with cold clean air, I realized immediately that I’d come to the right place.
After looking through the menu of aged pu-erh teas, I settled down with one fermented 20 years. Here, the owner asks that shoes are removed and phones are silenced. One sits on the floor and undergoes a religious-like experience with tea leaves plucked from the Yunnan region of China, which are then blanched, rolled, dried and fermented for years. I spent 45 minutes sipping a smooth, dark blend, allowing my mind to wander loosely through thoughts and felt myself untangle from the demands of Western Civilization…
Sometimes called “Dark Tea,” pu-erh originated thousands of years ago in Pu’er City, China. It is known for a smooth, rich flavor similar to cacao or mushrooms with a somewhat smoky undertone. I first discovered this tea when I meandered onto a health blog to read about the top 100 healthiest foods and beverages. On this particular list pu-erh tea made top billing in the number one spot. An avid tea drinker, I was surprised I had never heard of the tea. And with the detoxing, calming, and slimming effects this blog proclaimed, I was determined to try it and add it to my daily routine.
Undergoing a fermentation process which can last anywhere from 1 to 20+ years, pu-erh tea is known for its blood cleansing effects. The Chinese believe it to open the meridians, or the stomach and spleen regions of the body. In Western culture it is often declared a diet tea, as it speeds the metabolism and cleanses the liver. Ultimately, it will not cause a person to shed weight, but it may induce feelings of overall healthfulness and mindfulness—a great start to shifting one’s mindset to a healthier lifestyle. Sometimes pu-erh tea undergoes a wet-piling method of fermentation, which speeds up the process to about a year and allows the leaves to fully oxidize for enzymatic benefits. In other words, this tea is great for digestive and metabolic purposes. It has even been suggested that it helps detox after a hang-over. While I cannot attest to this particular claim, I have experienced the balancing and cleansing effects of this liquid on days I’ve had too much sugar or too much stress. It is widely acclaimed that the antioxidants in this tea will enhance a person’s mood and boost the immune system. In some cases, it has been said to produce a tea-drunkenness, or an almost euphoric state of bliss. I, however, attribute such an effect to the caffeine, which it has in abundance, making it a healthier alternative to coffee. In lieu of the acidic nature of a typical American diet, the effects of this tea will balance the body to an alkaline state. Simply put, it will help calm inflammation in the body.
After tea samples and random tea shop ventures, I’ve found this to be my favorite type of tea. It has settled into my daily routine alongside breakfast, before checking emails or scanning my phone. I prefer it black, enjoying its rich, dark flavor on its own. And while the flavor and steam play with my sensory experience, I find myself being transported to a place of calm and a feeling of intentionality. With all the emails, phone calls, and the constant grind of American life, I often find myself longing for the meditative state of a place like Pu-erh Brooklyn and have found myself back there many times. It will interest my reader to know that a pot of pu-erh can be anywhere from $10 to $100 or more. Pu-erh comes in so many variations. It is often packed together to form a solid tea cake, which will loosen in hot water. It can be enjoyed casually or treated like an expensive scotch, only savored on occasion by someone enthusiastic like me.
After my time in Puerh Brooklyn Teashop on that May afternoon, I realized how much in my life was still uncultivated. While tea leaves settled to the bottom of my cup, I contemplated the deeper aspects of my life that I’d been ignoring. Dreams, regrets, fears, and adventures danced whimsically with the steam. I sunk into a tea-drunken state and perhaps shed a tear or two. I realized that this was what I’d needed—not just tea, but to be transported to a world of naturalistic health and tranquility. I needed peace and this was the place.
For a well-made, inexpensive pu-erh, try the Jinglong Tea Factory here:
For someone more ambitious I recommend Tea Dealers, which offers a wide variety of fine pu-erh at this link: