Monday, October 10, 2011

Cups & Chairs Tea Shop, Philadelphia

This post is about a tea shop in Philadelphia, Cups and Chairs. I recently learned about this shop because one of my friends started working at it. This photo shows the interior of the shop:

I wanted to take a picture of the storefront too, but it started to rain when I was there, and I didn't get a picture of the outside. The store was very cute, and the inside very clean, new, sleek, and well-kept, yet while still being cozy and comfortable. The storefront had a bright, open feel, located on a corner, and with big windows looking out on the street.

The shop is located on 5th street, just south of Bainbridge (which is just south of South Street). This neighborhood is somewhat's very near the busy commercial district on South Street, and in a relatively high-density area, but enough off the beaten path that I can see many people overlooking this shop.

What does this shop have to offer?

This shop sells loose-leaf tea, sells a small selection of teaware (pictured below), and sells some food, in a pleasant, casual, sit-down cafe type atmosphere. This shop is very much like a typical "coffee shop", except that it focuses on tea and not coffee.

The first two pictures do not show that there is a whole second room with a much bigger seating area. This shop has quite a lot of seating, and has both tables and chairs, as well as a sizeable cozy nook with cushiony sofas in the back:

Because of the layout, and the fact that it started raining so I was unable to take a picture from outside looking in, it was hard for me to capture the size and extent of this shop, but I will say it was very large, easily enough to accommodate 25 or so people sitting down and enjoying tea. The shop features free wireless internet; I did not have my laptop, however, so I was not able to test its reliability. But I can see this being a very pleasant place to work from.

Further thoughts:

I ordered a cup of kabusecha, and it was decent, although I'm not particularly knowledgeable about this type of tea (a shaded tea which is shaded for a shorter period than gyokuro). I don't think I would regularly buy my tea here, however. Although there was a good selection, there wasn't anything in the selection that really jumped out at me as being an amazing buy in terms of value or quality. For example, I regularly buy black teas from Upton Tea Imports, and I think they set the gold standard in terms of value...because I can buy high-quality single-estate teas for $7 for 125 grams, sometimes even less, the bar is set pretty high for me to buy something in a local tea shop. I also am drawn in by something truly unusual -- and will often pay a price premium for such teas -- but there wasn't anything in this shop that jumped out at me as truly unusual, such as teas from regions I have never tried before, or unusual styles or varieties of tea.

I also wasn't crazy about the glass jars with samples of tea (for smelling). Glass is not a good way to store tea, especially in a bright store like this one, because light causes the tea to break down. Needless to say, the samples did not smell particularly fresh. I will point out, however, that Cups & Chairs stores its actual tea, the tea that is for sale or used to brew the tea you order, in opaque metal tins, pictured here:

I would be more likely to come back because of the ambiance or atmosphere...this place is just really nice on the inside. It strikes a balance between modern and old, between cozy and professional, and between quiet and active. Unfortunately, its location doesn't correspond well with places I tend to go in the course of my daily life in Philadelphia, so I probably won't be here particularly frequently, but I would like to recommend it especially to anyone who lives nearby and wants a cafe to hang out in that offers a change of pace from the coffee-centered coffee shops that dominate most of the cafe scene in most American cities.


  1. thanks for including the photos! I *do* live close by, and will have to check this out -- much prefer tea options to coffee on some days...

  2. It is a lovely tea shop where I enjoyed several Chinese green teas.