As a verified tea addict, I was excited to see Prince Tea House arrive on Steinway Street. On my afternoon visit to the new business, which had its soft opening on Sept. 21 — and plans to have its grand opening in November — I noticed that the rest of the neighborhood was intrigued by it, too. While I sipped on tea from a china tea set and munched on an assortment of photo-ready pastries, passersby paused as they walked down the busy sidewalk to peek inside the tea house’s windows, and sometimes take a snapshot of its bright, stylish interior.
The Astoria eatery at 31-47 Steinway St. is the third location of Prince Tea Shop: the first opened in Flushing three years ago, and the second opened in Brooklyn two years ago. Owner Manny Lee has plans to open an Upper East Side location in the future, and perhaps franchise the business.
“I always wanted to own something like [Prince Tea House] when I was little,” Lee said. “Not fancy but simple, cozy, something so people could enjoy their time.”
The Flushing resident was encouraged to open the Astoria location by some of his regulars at the Flushing shop who were Astoria residents. Lee became friends with these customers, and they told him, “You should come to Astoria.” Now, those Astoria residents are regulars at this location that’s closer to home.
“We have a lot of returning and loyal customers, and they give me a lot of confidence about this business,” Lee said.
Plus, Lee said that while Astoria had a lot of bars, it was “missing high-quality tea served in a nice china set. There was nothing like that here.”
The interior, like those of the other locations, has plush purple and gray booths and bright white walls, but the decorations — like the framed flowers, tiny green plants potted in mugs and cute art pieces — are unique to this tea house. It was designed by Lee’s wife, Kaiyi, an interior designer who has a flower shop on Northern Boulevard.
I settled into my tufted booth and tried two hot teas, my favorite of which was the Rose Lover milk tea. It was sweet (but not too sweet), and the creaminess of the milk was a comforting touch. Plus, its millennial pink color made the tea extra pretty in the floral china set.
The Rose Lover is Prince Tea House’s signature tea, Lee said, so if you’re looking for a sweet tea, that’s what he’d recommend to first-time customers.
“We get a lot of people who say, ‘I wish I could have it every day.’”
For those looking for a green tea, Lee would recommend thé des alizés, with flavors of white peach, kiwi, watermelon and flower petals.
I also tasted an iced rose tea served in a glass, topped with foam, Oreo crumbs and milk leaves. I’m not personally a fan of Oreos, so I was a bit apprehensive, but I found it unique and tasty. All of Prince Tea House’s teas — more than 100 selections — come from France.
The pastries are baked from scratch by one of Lee’s business partners in Williamsburg, and they did not disappoint. First, I tried the fruit toast, which was similar to a very thick piece of French toast topped with blueberries and kiwi, mango, strawberry and banana slices and a generous scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream. I tried too many pastries to finish everything, but I definitely polished this one off.
Next was the mille feuille, two airy pastries with a layer of cream and strawberry slices in the middle, surrounded by berries. This dessert was equally delicious, and the texture combo felt decadent.
The beautiful green tea mille crêpes cake, with too many layers of crêpes to count, is perfect for the green tea lover. It was our photographer’s favorite dish of the afternoon.
The trio combo also had a green tea treat, and it’s a great option if you’re looking for a variety of bite-sized samples.
The last dessert was a mini bowl made of chocolate with a sweet filling, topped with ice cream, blueberries, pirouette cookies and pocky biscuits. Served with berries on the side and a vibrant flower on top, it was a delectable and pretty treat.
There are also savory options like sandwiches, salads and appetizers, and wine will be offered after the grand opening.
Lee, who used to be an electrical engineer but quit to pursue his passion for business, works 12- or 13-hour days — and still visits his tea houses on his days off. He built the customer bases of his other locations primarily by word of mouth, and he foresees the same thing happening in Astoria. With some customers coming multiple times per day (after all, tea is perfect in the morning, for a midday break with coworkers, in the evening with family, after dinner or for a date night), the Astoria spot is already racking up regulars.
“Astoria is great: friendly people, friendly customers,” Lee said. “I love this area.”
And Astoria seems to love Prince Tea House, too. Those passersby I noticed stopping and taking pictures during my visit? Lee said that those curious locals tend to show up days later, ready for a real taste of the new business.