The repeated charm of a reliable and affordable tea room.
High tea is not a NYC forte — after quite a number of high tea experiences in NYC, we have yet to come across a venue that offers the lavish dessert spreads seen in the former English colonies in Asia and Australia, or the cultivated creativity of desserts seen in London. Simpler tea rooms on the other hand, are more strongly consistent in NYC. One such example is Prince Tea House. We first encountered it while day-tripping to the outer fringes of the city, a train ride out to Flushing. Prince Tea House is housed in a decidedly, girly place, painted in pastel colours, and iced over with chandeliers, velvet chairs, and floral porcelain ware. The food reflects an East Asian philosophy to the afternoon tea tradition. By that we mean that the quality of tea is as important, if not more so, than the desserts. And of the latter, the desserts are “lighter” in density and flavour tones than your ordinary French or Italian-influenced pastries.
The tea menu at Prince Tea House runs several pages long – quite unlike the various high teas that we have had at the hotel and other heritage venues in NYC. You will find many different types of green tea, black tea, oolong tea, pu erh and white teas. Over several visits, we recommend: the “7 citrus Russian blend” (a black tea variety), “The des songes” (white tea) and any of the tea mixes such as the “Jardin Tropical” (mango, pineapple, papaya, peach) or the “Lemongrass, ginger, carrot.” Prince Tea House also has a long list of cold beverages, including milk teas and iced teas.
From the regular dessert menu, we loved the “Mango Mille Crepe” and the “Mixed Fruite Mille Crepe” cakes. Less creamy than your Lady M cake, both incorporate slivers of fruit embedded within their layers. There are also alternate-flavoured mille crepe cakes, including caramel and matcha. The “New York Style Cheesecake” is made in the dense New York-style, not the fluffier Japanese-style.
For your first visit at Prince Tea House, do consider Prince Tea House’s afternoon tea menu. In terms of value – for $27pp (before tax/tip) – such price is unbeatable in NYC. You are entitled to one tea flavour, with unlimited refills, and a tiered-plate service of savoury sandwiches, scones, and three sweet nibbles. The scones are crafted in the typical American fashion — overly crumbly, misshapen nuggets. Certainly not the dreamy pillow fluffs that one sees in the U.K. As for the desserts, you get a small triangle of the signature mille crepe in the matcha flavour, a creme puff and a fruit tart. Good things certainly do sometimes, present themselves in small packages.
Prince Tea House doesn’t seek to reinvent the afternoon tea tradition. Indeed, there’s nothing particularly unique about its food offerings. What it does offer though is reliability — you know exactly what you will get when you order, i.e. a properly-steeped and infused pot of tea (no tea bags, the horror!) accompanied by a generous slice of cake or other sweet thing. Perhaps more significantly, it is an affordable spot for something a little posher than your usual cafe, a spot that one has no hesitation to revisit more than once in a city where revisits are most rare.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Prince Tea House (multiple locations, including Soho/Nolita, Astoria and Flushing). The above review was of our high tea experience at the recently-shuttered Upper East Side location.
- ☑ Budget: $$ ($27 pp, plus tip/tax,).
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: High Tea.
- ☑ Must-eat: The mille crepe cakes.
- ☑ The short and sweet story: The repeated charm of a reliable and affordable tea room.