SerendipiTea in Manhasset
73 Plandome Rd. Manhasset, NY 888-832-5433
You wouldn't know from driving by the little wood-frame structure that 73 Plandome Rd. houses a bustling, international tea concern. In fact, it is the corporate headquarters, factory and warehouse of SerendipiTea.
The quaint storefront sells the 200-odd teas and tissanes that SerendipiTea produces, along with teapots and other tea-related paraphernalia. Behind the showroom is a "cupping" room, equipped with kettles and cups, where proprietor Linda Villano and her staff assess their wares.
In the building's capacious basement, several thousand pounds of tea and other aromatics are stored and blended by hand. I watched employee Felix Perez prepare a batch of Cha Cha Chai, one of nine SerendipiTea chais. (A 4-ounce box is $12.) Perez glanced at the recipe, then scooped onto a scale the correct amounts of ginger, pepper, cloves, cardamom and cassia, full-leaf tea (for nuance) and broken-leaf tea (for flavor).
Villano and her late husband, Tomislav Podreka, started SerendipiTea in 1995. With his tea-drinking Croatian heritage, Podreka was a tea enthusiast, regularly barging into restaurant kitchens to conduct impromptu (and unrequested) tea lessons. The company started off selling to restaurants, but within a year it expanded to a mail-order retail business. Now sales are about 75 percent wholesale and 25 percent retail, with the Manhasset store acting mostly as a showroom for clients.
Villano's unabashed reverence for what she calls "the most labor-intensive agricultural product in the world" is contagious. Most of her customers can only experience it at serendipitea.com; Long Islanders can learn directly from the master. -- Erica Marcus
Linda Villano is the proprietor of SerendipiTea in Manhasset. (Newsday Photo, 2010 / Erica Marcus)