Looks Can Be Deceiving: Milk Oolong at Physical Graffi-Tea

On St Marks Place is a tea shop called Physical Graffi-Tea. It opened early this summer, right off 1st Avenue, a few doors from Jane’s Sweet Buns. I’ve walked pass the shop on numerous occasions but never went inside because it looked dirty. An unsanitary sort of dirty. That same East Village space housed a vintage clothing shop for 16 years. Back then it was called Physical Graffiti, but now it’s Physical Graffi-Tea, heheh. A touch cheesy and potentially confusing for those unfamiliar with the location’s history.

But yesterday Lisa and I were caught in the rain with no umbrella. Physical Graffi-Tea was our only hope. The tea shop is slightly below ground, so watch those steps. Inside? A delightful surprise. Dark but clean with rows of silver tea tins lining the left wall, low tables and a homage to Beatles [thanks Smita!] and Led Zeppelin against the right wall.

There must have been nearly a hundred loose leaf tea selection on offer, a few iced teas which change daily, and a glass jar of fresh madelines. Prices are fair, $5 a pot brewed to order. Add $1 to share with a friend and another $1.50 for “premium” teas. We split the Milk Oolong tea, which was $7.50 to share.

It’s order at the counter, seat yourself, and linger as long as you desire. The best table is the round corner seat near the window. Perfect for a day of dark skies and pouring rain. And don’t forget to watch the tea timer! 5-7 minutes for the Milk Oolong.

Here are the leaves after the first steep. Have you tried Milk Oolong? Alexis got me obsessed with this oolong at the World Tea Expo, and it’s all I’ve wanted to drink since.

As the name suggests, the brewed tea is unusually buttery and milky fragrant with flavors reminding me of White Rabbit candy. You can steep it over and over again, the whole rolled leaves unfurl just a little more after each sip, the liquid a golden caramel colour, seriously beautiful. Count me a convert, to think I’ve missed out all summer. No worries, it’ll be even better in the fall, cool weather, cozy sweaters and a knitted scarf.

Physical Graffi-Tea
96 St Marks Place
New York, NY 10009
(212) 477-7334

  • anonymous
    September 16, 2011

    Oolong tea with milk… wouldn't that destroy the flavor of the tea itself? Or overpowering it?I can recall a similar situation where people I've seen in the orient mix red wine with fruits and soda to make a cocktail.

  • Kathy YL Chan
    September 16, 2011

    Hi Bob! It's not oolong tea with milk, it's just called 'Milk Oolong' because those particular tea leaves, when brewed, taste a touch creamy, and is naturally milky in flavor. Unlike any other oolong I've tried before, and totally in love with it!!

  • anonymous
    September 18, 2011

    I was looking for this tea online and it's so confusing. Apparently one must be careful not to get the scented kind but look for the natural kind. Do you have a recommendation for where to buy a good quality milk oolong? Any online shops that you like?

  • Chubbypanda
    September 18, 2011

    @Kathy I'm a total slut for Oolong. Do you know what the Chinese characters for that Milk Oolong are?@Bob That sounded pretty racist. Particularly since the British are the kings of milk teas and the red wine + fruit drink came from Spain (Sangria).

  • Kathy YL Chan
    September 18, 2011

    Hi Michele! Yes! Definitely make sure to go with natural not scented (so tricky). For an online (natural!) source go with the American Tea Room -> http://www.americantearoom.com/milk-oolong.html . Enjoy! :)Hi Chubby Panda! Me too! heheh. I know it's called "Jian Xuan Oolong" in Chinese, but don't know the characters. Hope this is helpful :)

  • physical graffitea
    October 11, 2011

    Thank you so much for your beautiful photographs and sweet review of my tea shop. I am always looking for feedback to make the tea-drinking experience perfect for all my guests. Tea not only heals the body but the heart and soul. And Milk Oolong, beside being delicious and tasting like milk has been used traditionally as a meditative tool. I'm delighted that you tried it! Next time you come in, please introduce yourself. I love nothing better than introducing people to my favorite teas.

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