Afternoon Tea at Janam’s

One woman is trying to make afternoon Indian tea happen. Can she avoid the colonial comparisons?

Shabnaj Chowdhury

July 17, 2019

Afternoon Tea at Janam’s
At Janam, guests are served a pot of tea and a three-tier tray of savories and sweets, including traditional foods like scones and egg salad. (Janam Tea)

The first thing you notice when you enter Janam Tea, an Indian tea house that moonlights as a speakeasy in the Lower East Side, is the regal decor. Velvet chairs, old portraits, antique mirrors — the place looks stuck in time. This is apt given that it continues a dated tradition of British afternoon tea, a social event once reserved for aristocrats that consisted of teas from two of its colonies, India and Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, as well as tea from China.

Today, founder Amy Dubin continues the tradition of bougie affluent tea with many of the same tropes: sourcing tea from India, requiring specific etiquette, and providing delicious treats. Yet, unlike her predecessors, Dubin treats afternoon tea more like a science to be learned than a social event reserved for the upper echelons of society. 

Janam Tea serves single-origin teas from tea gardens and export houses in Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri. Indian tea is special to Dubin because of its diversity — white, green, Indian oolong, and black tea, all of which she serves in their purest forms: without milk or sugar. “I don’t blend the tea,” she said. “It’s farm to table. I don’t fuss with it. I don’t add anything to it. I don’t destroy the craftsmanship.”