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Best Tea Service

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Heartbeat
149 East 49th Street
212-407-2900

Four Seasons Hotel
57 East 57th Street
212-758-5700

The Pierre Hotel
2 East 61st street
212-838-8000

Gone are the days when a request for tea got you a metal cup full of tepid water, a bag, and a tired-looking lemon wedge on the side. With the advent of "tea sommelier" James Labe at Heartbeat (in the W New York hotel), the tea ritual has reached new heights. He and chef Michel Nischan have collaborated on two four-course afternoon tea-tasting menus -- one for black, the other for green and oolong. There's nothing familiar about this afternoon tea. Nischan has designed intensely flavored mini-dishes like grill-cured salmon with caramelized cauliflower, with which Labe has paired a rich, malty, gold-tipped Assam; the pan-roasted bison with Russian cherry sauce and rutabaga mash goes with a smooth green Taiwan oolong Tung Ting, fragrant with lilac. Labe offers eleven loose-leaf teas, each steeped in a small porcelain pot according to the character of the tea, then decanted into a fresh pot, avoiding that stewed brew. If you're looking for something more traditional to accompany your cuppa tea, chef Susan Weaver at the Four Seasons Hotel offers a tempting assortment of sandwiches, freshly baked scones with Devonshire cream, and dainty pastries served in the multi-terraced, luxurious lobby designed by I.M. Pei. And the Pierre continues to serve a traditional tea every afternoon.

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