Afternoon tea in New York City: Slowly but surely changing

For as long as I’ve lived in New York City, I’ve never really enjoyed the afternoon tea scene here. It’s massively overpriced for what it is — a glorified dry, crusty sandwich spread with subpar fillings, overhyped British style desserts that are also boring and dry, with a mediocre pot of tea. And it usually has a $100/head sticker price simply because the ambiance and decor of the place appear to have an exterior poshness, and the ceramics that the tea and tiny bites are all served in are supposedly fine or bone china. Regardless, since I did it with a visiting friend in 2022, I’ve decided: no more, never again, and not in this city. I would happily do afternoon tea in Asia, the UK, or Australia, where the afternoon tea spreads are still pricey, but sumptuous and incredible in both the amount and quality of food you get. New York City is just not a city for afternoon tea as hard as it may try.

So I was intrigued when I saw a new Thai dessert place called Sarisa Cafe open in Midtown East that was supposed to be “Thai afternoon tea.” The spread on the tiered dessert tray was fully desserts, but with a pot of blooming tea, it would be $65 for two people, which seemed like a bargain price in the city. So my friend and I went, and while it certainly wasn’t a lot of food (we had eaten lunch before coming here for dessert), the quality of the desserts was top-notch: they have an open kitchen where you can see the workers hand forming and making each individual dessert. The tea spot is tucked away on the second floor of a building and even has an outdoor patio that they plan to open in the summer time. It felt like a tranquil oasis far away from the concrete jungle we were in the middle of. I love the way they decorated the place, and the service was excellent.

So, maybe I will just avoid the “traditional” afternoon tea places, but I am more than happy to try spots like this that are a bit different and add variety to the New York City food scene. This city definitely doesn’t appreciate Thai desserts enough and needs more of an education on this topic, perhaps by spots like Sarisa Cafe.

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