Rushing down the street battling the wind and zig-zag walkers, I sigh in relief seeing the unmistakable ‘S’ sign a few feet ahead. Stepping through the door, I get the same feeling as if I were stepping into a sanctuary. The street and the wind are way above the frequency of the hushed tones and background music inside. With the door closing behind me, I notice that I too am on a higher frequency and need to come down. There are chairs to my left, chairs and tables to my right, and low counter seating ahead, all of which are filled by people who seem to issue a silent welcome. The natural lighting, the dark brown of the wood and walls coupled with the Black and White tiles, gives this place a warm and old school charm like only Harlem can. Floating on in, there are wall to wall shelves filled with canisters of—you guessed it—Tea. I can’t help but take slow steps to read the names on each group of differently decorated and colored metal cylinders. “Tanzanian Usambara Breakfast Tea” “Nairobi Street Chai” “Masai Hibiscus Berry Fruit tea” “Tanzanian Dragon Claw Black Tea Rose Blend”. The two Men behind the counter—yes, Men—have a certain agility about their movements that you know they know exactly what they are doing. One even has on a shirt that says ‘I love my job’ and I can’t help but think ‘I love your job too’. Opening the menu handed to me I cannot believe how many teas are on each page and how many pages there actually are. As an avid, almost fanatic, tea drinker, I am beside myself with excitement; that is until I realize that I have to pick just ONE. Decisions decisions; fine, okay, I want Chai (My Defaultea—get it?). I love Chai tea; there is just something to the spice and full body of the flavor that encompasses my soul. Anyhow, even having narrowed it down to a category, I am left with multiple choices that I simply cannot handle; time to ask the experts. Waiting at the counter, I do not want to interrupt the craftsman (you have to see it for yourself), but before I can build up the nerve, he lifts his head and comes to my rescue. What can I get for you?” I wish I knew. I panic and ask him for the Spiciest Chai they have, and he asks me if I want milk. Of course! Would I like it sweet? Of Course! Is there any other way to drink Chai? With a chuckle and a retort, he is back to the far end of the counter to concoct my potion. It is now a few minutes after my arrival and having played hop-scotch with the women walking to the bathroom and Mr. “I Love My Job” carrying full pots of tea to tables across the room, I decide to take a seat. I am in the far left corner of the space, which seems to give the best view in totality. I almost feel tucked away, as if someone saved me this spot, next to the glass jars of curry powder and Cocoa for sale. The door opens a few more times, and with each entrant, their bustling is adjusted by the calm and ambiance of the Teas. The couple off to my left, seated at the ‘bar’ below the large clear vats filled with bright iced teas with lemons, is deep in conversation over their pot to share. Those sitting at the two-person tables across the room seem to have found space for privacy while still remaining a part of the over-all feel. Continuing my gaze back toward the counter in what seems to be perfect timing, my cup is ready. One of the best things about tea is often the smell, and with one full inhalation through my lid, I know I am in for a treat. First sip: Heaven. I asked for Spice and got more than I imagined. Second Sip: Heaven and a scolded tongue. I think I will wait; I did order a tea to go, right? Payment is made and Thank you’s are given, of course there is a ‘come again’. “I live in Brooklyn; you all are going to have me traveling to Harlem for tea!” And with a light laugh, I am back onto the street, in the wind and stream of people. I grasp my cup of tea holding on to my bit of peace (an unexpected gift from Serengeti) and stride toward the train station; I will definitely be back soon.
Written by Lauren “Lola Valentine” Jones about a windy day in late April of 2015 at www.serengetiteasandspices.com.