Say what you will about other places, but McNulty's Specialty Teas and
Coffee, at 109 Christopher Street in New York City is as close to a real
time machine as one can get. At least a time machine absent any selector dial
— this time machine takes one back a hundred years give or take ten; no more.
New York is a paradise for those who, like this writer, delectate in fine
experiences for the senses of smell and taste. Whether the best cigars,
smoked salmon, caviar, wine, or even farm-fresh produce the year around,
the "Big Apple" has it. It's a wonder, then, that after many years having lived
in the city it was only a few weeks ago I ventured into this amazing emporium of
all things brewed: McNulty's. We've visited several times since then, and wonder
each time we leave why we just don't try to buy the whole damned place
(or at least its contents).
Suffice it to say that your local gourmet store cannot approach the variety
nor quality of the precious beans found here; even the really fussy places
who've treated themselves to a Probst coffee roaster (one of the world's finest
bulk roasting machines for coffee beans). As for tea, they've got the whole city
beat by a mile. And this wonderful selection and sublime sensual experience can
be had at a fair price; nothing in the regular catalog exceeds $25 per
"quarter;" a quarter pound; the preferred measure for purchasing a week's worth
of good tea for two.
The whole experience is best summed up by quoting from their 2008 catalog:
A visit to our store is like a journey into another age. Located in
the heart of New York's Greenwich Village, the aura of a century long gone
is timelessly preserved. Immediately upon entering the shop, one's senses
are delighted by the many aromas of coffees and teas from around the world.
Sacks of coffee and chests of tea with obscure marking from far away lands
are visible everywhere. Even the bins, chests, and scales, with which these
products are stored and handled, date back to the previous century.
They're very, very nice, too!
On our first visit, we admitted to the gentleman who walked over and offered
assistance that we were probably novices compared to the usual customers of the
store. That's when this lovely gentleman nearly literally took me by the hand
and showed us around the store. He then asked specifics. This first time was
going to be a tea-purchasing adventure only; as we'd recently set ourselves back
beaucoup bucks on whole-bean coffee and a home grinder. Our money had enriched
the shareholders of the house of Krups.
How courteous that when I inquired about Peppermint tea the sales clerk
warned that there was Oolong mixed in and that it contained caffeine. This
marked the beginning of a wonderful relationship. I told him that caffeine was
one of the few vices I allow myself any longer and if it's there, so be it. My
first "quarter" bought! Upon hearing that he became even more passionate about
his product. We asked about a fine Earl Grey; they insinuate the bergamot
oil themselves, into the finest Oolong. My second "quarter." At this point I
realized that I'd have enough tea for a Texas debutantes' society Sunday
afternoon soiree, so I slowed down.
Behind the counter was another sales clerk (now, I don't know if these
individuals were employees or owner/employees). Obviously Chinese, I tried my
poor Mandarin. His response was gracious, indicating that Cantonese was the
language of his heritage. So English was what we used to converse about the
different Chinese teas that I inquired about.
The Question: What Don't They Carry?
A special on Pu-Erh in bricks from China enticed me. Again, our helpful
salesman offered advice that we already knew: "You have to break it up, you
know." These concentrated bricks are to tea what hashish is to marijuana.
Oily with resinous flavor, all I can tell you is that this Pu-Erh was fabulous
with dried Chrisanthemum blossoms purchased at the Chinese apothecary. This
combination of an intense, aromatic black tea with the calming, lovely taste of
the dried flowers is de rigueur for serving with the Chinese dim sum
luncheon or breakfast.
One can find a Chemex coffee brewer; the world's best for bringing out flavor
(but a lot of work). No fancy electrical gadgets here; if you want espresso
you're going to have to brew it in one of their stovetop devices. Very good
coffee press devices are available. I found it queer that they had very little
to offer in the way of tea balls; this because true connoisseurs of the steeped
liquor of the tea leaf love having a few leaves occasionally land in the
bottom of their cups; unless it's filtered out by an attachment inside one's
It's worth a trip westward to tread down the street where e.e. cummings
lived (closer to 6th Avenue) just to experience this wonderful place. It's a
testimony that fine quality at a fair price equals value; perhaps this is
the key to their longevity. The overall charm of the place doesn't hurt,
McNulty's Tea and Coffee, Inc.
109 Christopher Street
New York, NY 10014
Store hours: Mon.-Sat 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Sunday 1:00 p.m. to
Telephone orders and inquiries may be made between 10:00 a.m. and
5:00 p.m. Mondays to Fridays at: 800-356-5200; in New York State (or