Someday she plans to visit the tea estates of Darjeeling, but for now, Kristine Henderson says, "I travel through a teacup."
The owner of Infuse Tea Bar says she can taste China in a cup of Tai Ping Hou Kui green tea, grown at the foot of the Huangshan Mountains, where the individual leaves are pressed between layers of cloth. "Look closely, and you can see the impression of the weave on the leaves," she says.
There are about 300 loose-leaf varieties at Infuse. All are available to be sniffed (from small spice jars) or, better yet, sipped at the shop's wide bamboo bar. Henderson maintains three kettles of hot water, one at 175 degrees (for the optimal brewing of green, white and yellow teas), one at 195 degrees (for oolong) and one at 208 degrees (for black teas and herbs). A cup of tea at the bar costs around $3 (depending on the variety), and while you sip, you can snack on macarons ($3.50 each), Madeleine cookies (four for $3), pink "Champagne" biscuits (four for $3) or fresh-baked scones $3.25.
Bags of teas range from $4 to $35 an ounce, but most are in the $4 to $6 range. (The $35 tea is Ceylon Gold Tips white tea from Sri Lanka, of which only 1,200 pounds are produced each year.)
Henderson is an evangelist for loose-leaf tea, explaining to her customers that no tea bag can produce a brew with as much flavor and nuance — not to mention that buying tea loose is much more economical.
She sells every tool and accoutrement you might need to enhance your experience, from dainty floral porcelain teapots to severe Japanese cast-iron ones, teacups, tea balls, cotton filters, disposable paper filters and books.
Infuse Tea Bar
106 Main St., West Sayville, 631-567-4832, pleasuresoftea.com