NEW YORK — Tracy Stern is one of those women who embody the traditions of their grandmothers. She believes that high tea is the most civilized form of socializing, but she does it in orange tights and a fur stole.

Surrounded by soothing brown walls and a cool marble floor in her cloister-like tea salon, which opens in the City Club Hotel this week, Stern disdains highfalutin, fussy tea joints. “I brew it right,” she says. “I’ve been to all those fancy tearooms, and they do everything wrong.”

This story first appeared in the September 30, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Originally from Miami Beach, Stern, 35, already has a successful chamomile-based enterprise under her belt: the Royal Tea Room in Tampa. “It’s such a football city,” she laughs, “so people needed somewhere to have bridal showers and birthday parties.”

She found her calling while studying art history in Europe, where she avoided the usual itinerary of pub-crawling and stopped in every tea salon she passed. Out of these travels came International Teas in Florida, which she held at the Royal Tea Room once a month. Russian Tea featured a samovar full of loose tea with sour cherries. During the French Tea she wore a beret; the Scottish Tea called for kilts and Celtic music. She plans to continue the program in New York and will introduce tea leaf readings this November.

Stern is dedicated to drawing in the fashion crowd to the new setting, which she describes as serving “fashionable tea to fashionable people.” Her bid for those customers included the 2,000 tea bags she left on seats during Alvin Valley’s show at New York fashion week. Stern also designed the packaging for the teas she blends herself, which is toile laid over leopard print. She has named her original blends after the people she hopes to see in her salon: The Society Hostess, The Fashionable Dandy and The Romantic.

Tracy Stern SalonTea, as it’s simply called, is intimate, featuring only 12 seats, and it updates traditional salon equipment. Each table features a timer so that tea will steep for just so long. Stern also purchased glass tea pots which keep tea at a rolling boil. The pots have compressors, too, so the leaves don’t make the tea bitter.

For her part, Stern takes tea “steeped in purified water for three to five minutes with milk and French amber rock sugar crystals.” But she won’t admit to a favorite kind. “I couldn’t choose because I love them all differently,” she says, politically.

All the elements of the salon have been combined from Stern’s international tea travels. “I’ve been in every single tearoom in New York City, and now so has my husband,” Stern says. Adam Stern clearly shares his wife’s appreciation. They became engaged over tea at the Pierre five and a half years ago. Every year, the couple and their two children return to celebrate their anniversary because Stern knows the Rotunda in the Pierre has a child-friendly tea menu.

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