New Neighbor: Press Tea at 168 Ludlow Street

Kenny Shyu and Gary Ye at their newly opened Press Tea.

You won’t find coffee on the menu at Press Tea, the new café that’s currently enjoying a soft opening at 168 Ludlow Street between Stanton and Houston. That silver steam machine behind the bar isn’t for espresso. It’s a specialized tea press, used to concoct the meticulously designed blends of partners Kenny Shyu, Gary Ye and Chris Chang, culinary veterans with no interest in serving what everyone else is brewing. They belong to a rare breed of café owners: those who don’t drink coffee.

“For the three of us, it’s like if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. Don’t sell what you don’t try yourself. So I don’t think we could have sold coffee at all,” said Shyu recently. “We wouldn’t be able to be perfecting our recipes. Not to mention there’s a lot of competition around the area.” He named the host of specialty coffee shops that have sprung up on the Lower East Side, where he was born and raised. But it’s safe to say none of them offer Iced Lattes brewed with Matcha Green Tea, one the creations Shyu and his partners worked for more than two years to perfect before settling on their Ludlow storefront.

Shyu’s relationship with tea wasn’t always so passionate. “It’s a transformation actually,” said Shyu. “When I went to culinary school, my horizons kind of broadened. You’re willing to try more things, because now that you’re cooking with ingredients you want to try everything. But when I was a kid, and I’d go to dim sum with my family, I didn’t like the tea. It wasn’t too good to me.”

Needless to say, he’s since developed a discriminating sense of taste. “I don’t know how many times I’ve ordered a tea from Starbucks, or a latte, and said, ‘This is just milk with tea water,’” Shyu said. “There’s a difference between tea water and tea.”

Press Tea offers the latter, in more than 15 unique varieties. So far, customers have raved about the Iced Green Tea, especially when it’s paired with an infusion of pineapple juice, and the Rooibos Iced Latte, a tasty spin on a brilliant red tea traditionally brewed in South Africa. While tea is the only thing the café serves at the moment, the menu will soon include pastries.