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Besfren Cafe 1 Tea Shops Cafes Gluten Free Dessert Tenderloin Koreatown Chelsea

Besfren Cafe

Besfren’s official motto is “Hopping into a pastry fairy tale,” and that is exactly what it feels like to wander into this hip dessert café. Truffles, macarons, caneles, and delicate slices of cake are displayed in shining glass cases, while customers sip on tea and chat at low tables along the wall. But Besfren and its partner company, Korean Red Ginseng, also have an unofficial motto – “traditional with a modern twist” – that perfectly captures the café’s Korean-American roots.On my first visit to the café, I had the pleasure of speaking with Min Ree, who co-founded Besfren in 2012 with his friend, Paul Park. Though neither of them had any culinary experience – Min had studied accounting, while Paul was a student of fine arts – they were determined to bring traditional Korean rice cake desserts to an American audience. After more than a year of experimental baking, Min and Paul felt that they had perfected their catering menu and their signature dessert, the chaps pie.The next step, Min explained, was to contact event coordinators and catering companies. “We brought our desserts to the meetings,” he said with a smile, “and it went really well.” Soon, Besfren was catering for the likes of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vogue, the Grammys, and the United Nations. Most of the guests at these exclusive events had never tried anything like the chaps pie, an oven-baked, gluten-free rice cake, but Min said that “they could not get enough.” It quickly became apparent that Besfren had transformed the traditional Korean chapssaltteok, and now they needed to make it accessible to a larger New York audience.It did not take long for Besfren’s modern twist on Korean desserts to appeal to the managers of Café G, owned by Korean Red Ginseng. Hoping to expand their business and bring ginseng extract teas, powders and roots to a larger audience, they approached Besfren about a collaboration.Min and Paul agreed, and after a series of renovations, Besfren x Korean Red Ginseng opened in May of 2015. One side of the café is still devoted to red ginseng extracts and powders, whose health benefits include memory enhancement, increased energy, and anti-aging functions. But the main entrance opens onto the shining Besfren dessert counter, where customers can buy pastries, Toby’s Estate coffee, and fruity ginseng drinks. The floor-to-ceiling windows and simple interior design create a sense of space inside, and the café’s location on the corner of 32nd Street and Fifth Avenue makes it perfect for people-watching. The café is bustling at all hours of the day, but the smiling employees make sure to devote special care and attention to every customer who walks in.Sitting down with Min, the Manhattan Sideways team sipped on the fizzy Korean black raspberry chia cooler, the pink grapefruit yuza, a delicious balance of bitter and sweet, the ginger lemon tea, which was strong and spicy, and the refreshing ginseng latte. Before finishing our drinks, we were presented with a beautiful tray of desserts: The chewy, dense texture of the chaps pies delighted us, and while Nina was partial to the maple multigrain variety, Flannery said she would come back just for the black raspberry. Next, we dug into the triple cheesecake, which was made with cheese mousse, a layer of New York cheesecake, a graham cracker crust, and raw cream cheese on top. The hint of lemon in each delicious bite brought me back to my childhood, when I would sneak into the fridge and steal a taste of my mom’s cheesecake before her dinner parties. The honey earl grey cake was pleasantly light, especially after the rich cheesecake, and we all enjoyed the green tea jasmine roll cake, which was moist and flavorful. Even though we were stuffed, we each took a bite of a delicate canele, savoring the sweet, caramelized crust and the soft custard center.While we ate, I asked Min about the Besfren logo, which I had noticed scattered about the café, and even on his bolo tie. According to Korean legend, he explained, there is a rabbit who lives on the moon and pounds ingredients for rice cakes. Paul and Min decided to adapt that idea for Besfren, and their logo features two rabbit “best friends” who pound rice cakes together.With a constant flow of customers, particularly because of their close proximity to the nearby Empire State Building, there is always a buzz at the café. It seems that word has spread enough so that Min mentioned that they are scoping out locations for a second cafe in Manhattan. In the meantime Min, Paul, and their team of bakers are always developing new recipes to add to their fairytale menu of sweets.

Lost Gem
Alice's Tea Cup Chapter II 1 Breakfast Brunch American Tea Shops Uptown East Lenox Hill Upper East Side

Alice's Tea Cup Chapter II

Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was in a state of fevered anticipation when she realized we were inching closer to 64th Street, where the southernmost Alice's Tea Cup is located. The whimsical tea shop has three different "Chapters," and this is the second in the series. Unlike the original location, which sits on the ground floor, this chapter has two floors, decorated with Wonderland characters and Lewis Carroll's cryptic text.The tearoom is owned by Lauren and Haley Fox, sisters who have loved tea for as long as they can remember. And, they have always been passionate about everything Alice in Wonderland: they grew up on the Upper West Side, just a short distance from the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park, and both adored Lewis Carroll's books. It made perfect sense, therefore, to open an Alice in Wonderland-themed teahouse in 2001. The eatery has become an enormous success, and has attracted many different groups of people: like the book, the tea house, though full of curlicues, bright purple hues, and fairy dust, is not geared towards children. Children are frequent and enthusiastic visitors, but it is just as likely that one might see a business meeting between two creative types, an exuberant reunion between friends, or a solitary adult diner nursing a pot of tea.The tea list is extensive and scrumptious. "List" is a misnomer – it is more of a booklet. Olivia has tried at least fifteen of their teas so far and has not made even a dent in their selection. Each tea is brought out in a personal pastel pot, to be poured into one of the eclectic mismatched cups and saucers that decorate the repurposed sewing machine tables. The tea also makes its way into the food menu: Olivia raves about the smoky Lapsang Souchong chicken breast, made using a Chinese black tea that smells and tastes like a bonfire.Despite the brilliant concept, the adorable decor and the excellent selection of teas, it is the afternoon tea service that steals the show. Diners can choose between "The Nibble," "The Mad Hatter," and "The Jabberwocky," depending on how hungry they are, and servers will bring them a heavenly three-tiered stand layered with finger sandwiches, desserts, and scones - without a doubt, the most popular being the pumpkin scone, drizzled with caramel syrup.So as to have the full Alice in Wonderland experience, there is a mini shop up front where Haley and Lauren's cookbook, Alice's Tea Cup, is on display alongside many other trinkets such as fairy wings, picture books, and anything one might need to reproduce their own magical tea party at home.

Lost Gem
Te Company 1 Tea Shops Tapas and Small Plates West Village

Te Company

Soft blues music greeted me as I entered this remarkable hidden gem on West 10th Street. I found the current New York Times hanging on a rack and a case filled with bags and tins of tea. Before settling into a cozy corner with Tom, the photographer from Manhattan Sideways, I met the extraordinary couple who own the store, ready to guide me through a tea adventure. I immediately thought to myself, this might be the best kept secret in the Village, but I am sure it will not be for long.Federico Ribeiro and Elena Liao met at Highlands, just a short distance away, in 2009 while both were having a drink at the bar. Elena already had a deep passion for Taiwanese tea and wanted to bring the product, along with her knowledge, to Manhattan. Elena moved to the States from Taiwan when she was thirteen but she loves returning "home," and has a good connection with the farmers. "I drank tea all my life; it is the national beverage in Taiwan." Whenever her parents had company, tea was served. Federico enjoyed cooking; he had worked in several top restaurants, including Per Se, but was eager to learn about the history of oolong tea. Thus, the two began traveling together, visiting Elena's parents in Taiwan and spending time with tea farmers. With their strong education and sense of aesthetics, the two decided to open their own charming space.Elena had a tea company for four years prior to opening Te. She had been selling to restaurants, attempting to offer a more intensive program, but she recognized that she was not reaching enough of an audience. She had increasingly felt that in the States, there was a great awareness and appreciation for coffee and wine, but not so much for tea. She became determined to change this by giving people a more "sensitive experience." The city lacked places to find oolong tea. "There was a real void, and in a city where you can find just about anything, I felt that one should also be able to find my tea." In 2016, the couple opened their magical shop with a focus on Taiwanese tea.Te has about twenty different types of Taiwanese tea. They all come from the same plant, but differences in processing result in distinct categories: oolong, black, green, macha or white tea. The level of oxidation determines the tea's color and how strong it will be. Elena told me that she chose to focus solely on the tea from her homeland - "otherwise it would become overwhelming." She went on to share that she "read and read and read - I educated myself." By meeting with the farmers, however, and returning every year in May (the harvest season), she is able to taste the leaves as they are first picked and can control what they are receiving back in Manhattan. "I am always learning so that I can be certain that I am providing my customers with the best possible product."Everything about Te is well thought out and Elena and Federico work quietly and professionally to be sure that each patron has the exact experience that fits his or her needs. When we sat down and ordered a pot of tea, we were told that whenever we needed more hot water, we simply had to tilt the cover to the side, and that would signal that we needed our pot filled. There was no need to disrupt our conversation. For the customer who wants to settle in at one of the few small tables and work undisturbed on their computer, they are welcome, as is the person who would like to sit and have an elaborate tasting with Elena.For Tom and me, we were eager to hear the couple's stories and to become a bit more educated about tea. Elena sat down and happily described every aspect of the world of tea, clearly demonstrating her passion and knowledge. Presenting us with a small soft leather book that contained the tea menu, Elena flipped through the pages, describing some of her favorites. When I spoke with them, Federico and Elena had only been open for a couple months, and they were very pleased to be able to say that they already had regulars. "People love to come in and sit down and chat about tea." I do not think that Elena could ask for anything better than that.Although they feel that they are constantly trying to "reinvent" themselves, depending on the needs and desires of their audience, I believe that Elena and Federico have already found a fantastic formula. Oh, but I did not mention the food! The menu is tiny, as Federico prepares each dish by hand, but the few items could not be any more perfect. I had a simple red leaf salad with a light olive oil dressing, toasted almonds and freshly grated parmesan. I savored every bite. Tom had never tasted anything quite like what he ordered - Tortilla de Patata. Federico said that it was just potatoes, onions and egg. I chimed in, saying, "kind of like a quiche without the crust," but Tom insisted that it was nothing of the sort. All he could mutter was "out of this world." Even the sourdough Portuguese bread served alongside my salad was outstanding, but that, we learned, is because Federico makes it himself.

Lost Gem
Tisane Pharmacy 1 Pharmacies Tea Shops Cafes Yorkville Upper East Side

Tisane Pharmacy

When people think of neighborhood hangouts, they probably think of cafes, bars, and perhaps barbershops. Denizens of 86th Street, however, have a friendly watering hole that also happens to be a pharmacy.Inna Shafir and Yelena Yosse are both from St. Petersburg. They met at pharmaceutical school in Russia and then both happened to move to New York within a year of each other to "try a different life." After Inna and Yelena had been living in New York for several decades and had opened their own pharmacies in New Jersey and Washington Heights respectively, they began to imagine a pharmacy that would be completely different from anything else in New York. Though their idea was unique, it was not entirely "new." They planned to open a place with a counter where people could get snacks and beverages, just like in the mid-twentieth century when drug stores also functioned as soda fountains. Tisane, a combination of a 1950s American shop and a modern European-style pharmacy, opened in 2011.I spoke with Yelena, who admitted that the two women had no cafe experience. All they knew is that they both loved tea and wanted a diverse selection of medicinal herbal teas (tisanes). They were not alone in their lack of knowledge: the person who was building the space had designed many pharmacies, but never a beverage shop. They spent a lot of time getting the counter just right and then stocked it with an expansive collection of tea and coffee. They get most of the teas from an organic company in California. Some of the more popular flavors are Cranberry Orange, Ginger Peach, and Immortalitea, a mixture of green tea and rose petals. While sipping the Crimson Berry, I admired the colorful tubes filled with syrups for the organic sodas.As for the pharmacy side of things, Yelena asserted, "We have a personal touch that you definitely can't get at Duane Reade across the street." The independent pharmacy offers other perks, especially for those without insurance. Yelena says that she is able to give uninsured customers medication for thirty percent cheaper than chain pharmacies, since she does not have to deal with a middleman and knows exactly how much it will cost her. Yelena always tries to listen to her customers and help them when she can, which includes their recommendations for Tisane. For example, the pharmacy only began selling toys after a customer urged the two women to add products for children.When I visited in 2016, a New York law was about to come into effect that would require all prescriptions to be filled online. I asked if Yelena was worried that the law would hurt her business, since fewer people would be coming in with paper slips and grabbing a cup of tea while waiting for the prescription to be filled. She did not seem concerned. She gestured to a woman who was sitting by the window, explaining that she came in every day with her book for a drink and a pastry. Parents and kids also drop by from the school across the street. Tisane clearly has a devoted following, and has even been featured in the book 111 Shops in New York That You Must Not Miss.

Lost Gem
Physical Graffitea 1 Tea Shops Cafes East Village

Physical Graffitea

Few things are more relaxing than sitting in a cozy cafe, sipping a mug of tea. With art from local artists, Diane and David Green, hanging on the walls, a plethora of delicious herbal smells hanging in the air, and the soothing conversation of the owner, Ilana, Physical Graffitea is the perfect spot to do just that.Ilana told some of us from Manhattan Sideways that she used to own a vintage clothing store, but always wanted to open a tea shop. In 2011, she swapped out her vintage clothing for jars of loose tea and Physical Graffitea was born. The store is named after the Led Zeppelin album Physical Graffiti and is located in the building featured on that famous cover. In 2012, Ilana and her daughter took a picture with Robert Plant when he came by to check out the store. Ilana explained with a big grin how her daughter called to the customers in the shop, “Come out, Led Zeppelin is here!”The menus are lovingly made with pressed oolong and lavender flowers. In addition to the teas, there are homemade cookies and kombucha on tap. Ilana has over 200 kinds of tea by the cup or pot, as well as a full online store. While teaching us about the origin and uses of her teas and herbs, she made us a cup of her super strong matcha. We could smell it from our table as she blended the ground green tea powder with soy milk and honey. She explained that there are different kinds of matcha and that she only uses the premium grade. A cup of this strong green tea, which comes both iced and hot, clears the mind and leaves one alert and calm. If matcha gives the brain energy, maca, a Peruvian superfood, gives the body energy. Ilana told us that the bartenders on St. Marks come to her to get matcha with some added maca right before their shifts so that they are ready for the night ahead of them.Ilana has gained her extensive knowledge of teas through constant reading. She explained that herbs quickly lose their medicinal power, and “you can tell that herbs are fresh when they’re more bitter.” It has to do with the oil that is present on the leaves themselves. She informed us that flowers and leaves dry out in six months and roots and bark in three.All the teas are carefully sourced for flavor and freshness. The chamomile is from Egypt, the lavender from Tibet, and the hibiscus from Mexico. We learned so many interesting facts from Ilana: The Sweet Oblivion tea has been known to wean people off sleeping pills, nettle leaf is good for pregnant women, and Pu-erh is a tea that is purposefully aged, passed down from father to son. There are teas for allergies, hangovers, fertility, pregnancy, menstruation, digestion, and the list goes on and on. Ilana was excited to tell us that doctors have started to refer their patients to her, since they have found the medical teas so effective. Whether for taste, energy, or medicinal purposes, Ilana has clearly demonstrated that she has the knowledge to choose the right tea for the right customer.

Lost Gem
Jin Yun Fu Tea Shop 1 Tea Shops Tenderloin Flatiron

Jin Yun Fu Tea Shop

Olivia is a woman who, admittedly, likes to take risks. Fresh out of school where she studied to become a dentist, she instead felt called to selling tea. At the time, there wasn’t a great market for tea in China; when Olivia approached her neighbor - the only person she knew involved in the tea business - for advice, she was met with warnings rather than information. However, Olivia is also a persistent woman, and with some “nagging” her neighbor finally agreed to teach her about tea manufacturing. Additionally, Olivia spent time in the mountains where tea is grown, observing farmers and enriching her tea education. After spending a month tediously picking a storefront, she opened her first store in her hometown of Fuzhou in 1995, and found herself an "immediate success." Just three months later, she was able to open her second storefront in Shanghai, and then finally a third in Guangzhou. Olivia describes this twenty-year journey, and her subsequent move to America, as a “strange kind of fate.”Jin Yun Fu represents gold, tea’s aroma, and fortune. Her logo captures a red circle representative of the sun and a swirl representing a cloud. This swirl’s open endedness will keep fortune coming to the shop forever as the cloud will continually rise. And though her move to New York was not entirely smooth, she feels strongly about her choice of location and fortunate in the continued success of her Chinese shop. In New York, Olivia wanted a location that was central, which would allow her to interact with people of all denominations, and she feels she found that on West 25th where she is located upstairs in the Showplace Antiques Center. A large percent of her customers are Americans, as she has discovered a budding interest in tea culture of younger generations of Americans. She boasts that she has never encountered a rude customer, though she was unsure whether to ascribe this to either the culture of tea itself or the calming properties of drinking tea. Olivia’s passion for her work shines through, continually emphasizing the importance that her customers learn the mental and physical healing benefits of drinking tea. She feels that despite tea’s Chinese origins, it is a “worldly gift from nature.” Though she endorses the benefits and specialities of each type of tea, when pushed for her favorite she lists Wuyi Yan tea - a type of Oolong tea - for its texture and special “mouth feel.” Every thing she does in her shop is infused with a care for disseminating the knowledge she has amassed in the years since opening her first shop in the 1990s. When you step into Jin Yun Fu, Olivia’s claim that she’s never encountered a rude customer becomes less shocking. It’s organized atmosphere, equipped with mini statuettes, beautiful tea kettles, and, of course, lines of loose-leaf tea bags would calm even the busiest of New Yorkers.

Lost Gem
Naturopathica 1 Facials Spas Massage Tea Shops Cafes Coffee Shops Juice Bars Skin Care and Makeup Chelsea Tenderloin Flower District


Naturopathica is a one-stop shop for healing and wellness. The modern, uncluttered storefront on 26th Street contains a vitality bar where customers can purchase tonics, elixirs, tinctures, teas, and cold-pressed juices – as well as simple coffee and specialty hot drinks including spiced hot chocolate, matcha lattes, and coconut kava lattes. Each blend serves a purpose, whether it is to aid with healthy, clear skin, balance natural immunity, or ease stress or joint pain. And there is a lot of room for customization: for instance, kombucha, coconut water, and any juice can be combined with a herbal tincture and a vitality shot.On the other side of the store, there are shelves of Naturopathica’s various skin care products and remedies. The back wall, the “Remedy Bar,” has jars of loose tea for visitors who wish to continue their road to wellness at home. As Heather Neufeld, the spa director of the Chelsea location, pointed out, Naturopathica has a “360 degree approach to wellness.”As we were walking through the space, Heather shared a bit of background on Barbara Close, the founder and CEO. After being trained in aromatherapy, Barbara decided to create skincare and herbal remedies to reduce inflammation in the body and skin. She got her start in the mid-1990s and has since gained a reputation in the wellness and lifestyle world, thanks in part to attention from celebrities, notably Martha Stewart. Her methods involve products that work with the body’s natural processes rather than against them. She opened her first Healing Arts Center in East Hampton and has had her products carried in over 450 renowned resort and day spas in North America. Heather spoke about the East Hampton center, mentioning that it “speaks to the heritage of the brand.” Enter the Manhattan store, which opened in December 2015: the new, twenty-first century base for Naturopathica.The Vitality Bar is one of their new features, and Heather says that it has been a wonder for introducing people to the brand. “There’s a discovery point for everyone, no matter where you are on your wellness journey.” Even those who just come in for a coffee and decide to try dandelion root tea instead have been aided by Naturopathica. After all, “Your gut has so much to do with your overall health.” What many people do not realize upon their initial visit, myself included, is that Naturopathica is much larger than it appears. Walking through a door in the back, I discovered numerous treatment rooms. Each one was decorated with their signature blue, with some rooms containing "seperatory funnels" filled with colorful oils. In addition to the six rooms, there is a consultation area where therapists can have private conversations and share their thoughtful cards that give clients a step-by-step list of instructions. Around the corner, a calming meditation center was situated, with a peaceful projection of a night sky in the woods. The projected photography evolves, but the softly glowing candles and variety of mats and low seats remain constant.As Heather led me back to the front, she assured me, “We practice what we preach.” Her enthusiasm for the culture that Barbara has created was apparent. “Everything is mindfully created.”

Lost Gem
Alice's Tea Cup 1 Breakfast Tea Shops Brunch American Upper West Side

Alice's Tea Cup

Across the park and nine streets north from the 64th Street location, Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was still visibly excited to be sitting down to breakfast at Alice's Tea Cup. Though she loves each of the teahouse's three "chapters," the 73rd Street cafe is the original - and the first one she visited as a young teen. She shared stories with me of coming here and marveling at the tiered Afternoon Teas that would arrive at her table, filled with scones, finger sandwiches and sweets. She questioned whether or not she might have been a bit too old at fifteen to celebrate her birthday here and then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around New York blowing sparkle-filled bubbles, dressed in a pair of shimmering fairy wings acquired from the tea shop's front room, which is filled with whimsical retail items.On our visit to Alice's, Olivia, now a mature twenty-five, had her usual - a pumpkin scone with a personal pot of tea - while Tom, our photographer, ordered "the biggest coffee" they had. It arrived in a mug "the size of Tom's face." Olivia pointed out all the Alice in Wonderland themed decorations that she remembered from previous visits, including a quote from the character of the Duchess written in fun purple font along the walls and an angry painting of the red queen in the bathroom, telling employees to wash their hands or "Off with your head!" Her favorite little decorative touch, however, was on the swinging door into the kitchen. There is a giant keyhole window, suggesting that maybe, like Alice, the diners had shrunk to the size of mice, and would be swept away into a magical land, scones and teacups in hand.

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