A Bookish Tea Tour of New York City

The tea and bookstores you don’t want to miss

Harmony Birch
Nov 8 · 6 min read

The Big Apple is known for Broadway, Wallstreet and the best thin slice but hidden behind the metropolitan wonders are a plethora of small and innovative businesses for the romantic wanderer to rejoice in. A few weekends ago, I took it upon myself to visit some of Manhattan’s most delightful bookstores and teashops. Below are some affordable options for the book-loving tea enthusiast.

Tea & Sympathy

Photo By Harmony Birch

The first stop on my tour was Tea & Sympathy. I was inspired by The Witches of New York by Ami Mckay which features a tea shop in 1800s Manhattan named Tea & Sympathy. While you couldn’t buy herb blends at this cafe — and there’s no Eleanor St. Clair, no fortune teller, or raven familiar — it did not disappoint. We ordered a proper English breakfast and the Rosalie Tea. The staff was kind, the food was delicious and, next door, they sell teacups, teas and British paraphernalia for all your anglophile needs.

Photo by Harmony Birch

Three Lives & Company

Photo by Harmony Birch

I found this delightful bookstore by accident. Snuggled in the West Village, Three Lives is a sanctuary for book lovers. The quaint appearing shop has a surprisingly large collection and, according to The New Yorker, is a favorite of literary greats Patti Smith and Zadie Smith. Despite the abundant collection and a very helpful employee, I did not find the books I was looking for. Still, I left with The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker and On Beauty by the above mentioned Zadie Smith.

Radiance Tea House and Books

Photo by Harmony Birch Fruit and Flower Tea

Never have I ever tasted something so sweet and fragrant before trying the Fruit and Flower Tea at Radiance Tea House and Books. The serene tea house is dedicated to promoting Chinese tea and philosophy.

Photo by Harmony Birch Books at Radiance Tea House and Books

While waiting for our tea, I strolled through the books section of the tea house. Many were spiritual and philosophical but there were also books on travel, Chinese culture, and how to prepare your own teas.

Photo by Harmony Birch Lemon Grass Tea

At first, we were accidentally given the Lemon Grass tea and happily drank it. When the server discovered her error, she retrieved the tea and we were disappointed until she presented us with the Fruit and Flower Tea we ordered. The tea is brewed with a sweetener that helps bring out its flavor. It also made both me and my partner feel more relaxed and the effect was more noticeable than in other teas we drank that day.

Alice’s Tea Cup, Chapter 2

Photo by Harmony Birch

Did you know there’s a slice of Wonderland here in New York City? Book lovers will rejoice in Alice’s Tea Cup, a playful tribute to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The cafe and teashop is so popular that it even has two locations, one on the Upper West Side and one in Lenox Hill. I went to the second chapter in Lenox Hill. All of the menu items were delightfully themed and I ordered a tea that had the words ‘sparkle’ (or something similar in the name). One of the most exciting spots in the restaurant was its bathroom, which had a beautiful mural and a poem about inclusivity.

The food was hearty and delicious and the atmosphere was joyous and whimsical.

Photo by Harmony Birch

Flower Power Herbs & Roots

Photo by Harmony Birch

Now, this is the sort of business Eleanor St. Claire could get behind. This witchy haven features an abundance of sustainably sourced herbs for all your homemade teas and concoctions.

I entered the store after getting into an argument with my partner (we had packed a lot into the day and were starting to get cranky.) As if on cue, a woman began cleansing the space as we entered and each of us calmed down, dropping our shoulders, and quieting in wonder.

Photo by Harmony Birch Check out this magical window display!

The store smelled sweet and earthy. It felt a little bit like we were in a fairy realm as New York hustled and bustled outside the shop.

Photo by Harmony Birch

It’s hard not to get lost browsing the shop’s herbs, tonics, and tinctures. Staff was present to answer any and all of our questions and I left with a decent-sized haul.

Some of the goodies I found at Flower Power

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks

Full disclosure, I’ve been trying to get into Bonnie Slotnick’s cookbook store for awhile. I have the impression that it’s a one-woman show and the hours never worked with my schedule. This time I lucked out and got to go inside the famed cook book store, but was too intimidated to ask whether pictures were acceptable.

The store is stacked high with unique and antique cookbooks from all over the world. Behind a desk stood who I assumed was Bonnie herself. She offered advice to another patron and I was free to browse the sections uninterrupted. I developed a new respect for the idea of women’s work flipping through 50s era housekeeping books.

I’ve already tried some of the delicious recipes found in these books.

Bluestockings Bookstore, Cafe & Activist Center

Photo by Harmony Birch

I don’t think I’m physically capable of going on a bookstore tour (or to the Lower East Side) without visiting my favorite bookstore ever, Bluestockings. This feminist bookstore has been around since the 90s. It’s completely volunteer-run and, in addition to its wide collection of feminist texts, it has the best free feminist forums and talks.

LOOK AT IT! Are you in love yet?

I always feel at home in Bluestockings — even though much of the volunteer staff is notably more well-read and learned in feminism. This bookstore is always a welcome and nurturing environment and I always find new and exciting ideas to devour here.

Look, there’s even a witch section!

It has fiction, Syfy, comic books, queer lit, and really anything that explores gender and sex that you can imagine. My partner once picked up a book called Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in the Syrian Kurdistan by Michael Knapp, Anja Flach, Ercan Ayboga. Seriously, it has everything.

My book haul

These are just a few of the quirky and unique book and tea shops in Manhattan. Comment below with your favorite book or tea shop and tell us where it’s at.

Rebel Girls Book Club

Are you tired of reading the same angsty hero narrative over and over again? So are we. That’s why we’re examining stories that feature rebellious heroines through an intersectional feminist lens.

Harmony Birch

Written by

Journalist living in New York, New York. Writing about class, politics and sexism. Cohost of the podcast Rebel Girls Book Club. Hire me https://www.fiverr.com/s

Rebel Girls Book Club

Are you tired of reading the same angsty hero narrative over and over again? So are we. That’s why we’re examining stories that feature rebellious heroines through an intersectional feminist lens.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade