Monday, November 1, 2010

Argo Tea Cafe

Word on the street is there's a new joint in town that's jockeying to get a hand in the New York caffeination business (as if the industry weren't more than completely saturated enough already). I decided to check it out and see what new innovation there could possibly be in the world of brewed beverages. I was actually, pleasantly surprised. 

Argo Tea has a few locations throughout the city (Union Square, NYU, Flatiron), but on a recent sunny day, I decided to visit the Columbus Circle shop before a stroll through Central Park. I strolled into the cozy and clean air-conditioned shop and stood, transfixed, by the digital menus that flashed up beverage after beverage for my consumption. Chocolate mint tea, green tea ginger twist, white tea acai squeeze, tea sangria, bubble tea, hibiscus steamers, teappuccinos, Carolina honey, Earl Grey vanilla cream, red velvet tea, hot, iced, skim, soy. I, actually, was reminded of the first time I walked into Starbucks many moons ago, and was overwhelmed by their many different variations of coffee beverages (before I became the menu-memorizing-skinny-vanilla-latte-guzzling lemming that I am). And now, right in front of me, was Starbucks' tea equivalent. Was there a place for such a specific store to thrive when people are already Jamba Juicing, Dunkin' Donuts-ing, McDonald's smoothie-ing, and generally drinking all of their calories en route to their busy lives? I looked around at the tables full of customers around me. Apparently, there was. 

I followed my friend's lead and ordered an iced Mate Latte. Skim (Duh). Fabulously creamy, sweet, and refreshing. World changing? No. But it was a tasty and well-packaged treat. I surveyed the room and realized everything was astonishingly well-packaged. Now, I will fully admit that I am a sucker for something that looks good and in this tea shop, everything was adorable. Loose leaf teas were dispensed out of colorful containers lined along the wall, vibrant tea paraphernalia was artfully displayed next to it, and snacks were perfectly packaged into snack-appropriate-sized containers, labeled with nutritional information, and lined in a cooler beside the cash register. The entire store had been so obviously designed to evoke maximum buying potential from customers . . . and I hated myself for loving it. 

Then, I saw a pamphlet next to the perfectly lined sweetenter bins. I grabbed the "About Us" tri-fold paper and read while I sipped. Turns out, Argo is a sustainable business that works with local tea and food growers and actually seems to contribute back to the community. Every month, they pick a new charity to partner with and donate 10% of net proceeds from their "ChariTea" sales to that nonprofit partner. This month's NYC ChariTea partner was SHARE, a charity that supports women (and their families) that have experienced breast and ovarian cancer. Argo Tea employees participate in numerous volunteer community enrichment programs, and a program called CreativiTEA supports local Chicago artists (that's where they're based) by producing their original cup, tee shirt, and poster designs. Okay. I was feeling a little better about my $4 cup of tea. 

Not that I plan to spend all of my money on brewed beverages, but when I'm in the area, I will definitely visit Argo again. It's nice to know that a little of my beverage budget is going to a good cause.

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