Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Goods & Grocery | Bellocq Tea Atelier

This past weekend was the first one where I didn't have to work this year, so I took the opportunity to sweep Marcus away for the day, crossing the Hudson for some quality time in Brooklyn. Our first stop? Greenpoint!

We took the East River Ferry run by NY Waterway from the terminal in the Financial District all the way to India Street at Greenpoint. Unfortunately, the ferry runs every half hour on the weekends from Wall Street, so we made sure we wouldn't miss it.

A couple blocks away from the ferry terminal was Bellocq Tea Atelier, a tea company and purveyor of fine artisan tea blends. After seeing Alice's snaps from there, I had to hop on over there pronto! I am a lover of tea, so I've actually been on the lookout for some quality tea leaves here in the city. So with Bellocq on the brain, I was impatiently waiting for a Saturday to free up from my bean counting life (the Atelier is open twice a week on Fridays and Saturdays from 12-7 PM), and this weekend was it.

So just a fair warning, the entrance to Bellocq on West Street is pretty non-descript -- there was only this tiny square sign on a heavy metal door. It took Marcus and I a good five minutes to walk back and forth to figure out where it was.

Relocating from its original location on Kings Road in London, Bellocq has found its new home in Greenpoint, continuing to "curate an inspiring selection of the organic full leaf teas." Founders Heidi Johannsen Stewart, Michael Shannon, and Scott Stewart had decided to come together with their "creative forces with a desire to collaborate on a shared aesthetic vision that captures their appreciation of traditional artisan work and a love of fine tea." In fact, Bellocq's award-winning handcrafted blends aim to "unite the finest traditional teas with a modern, adventurous spirit." I think Ms. Johannsen Stewart, a former Martha Stewart Living editor, stylist, and columnist, says it best: "Tea is an affordable, everyday luxury. Bellocq’s sophisticated approach to flavor and fragrance is tailored to an educated, stylish, and sophisticated customer. Our teas suit the needs and desires of the modern well traveled client. We use all of our resources to create extraordinary teas and cultivate genuine relationships with our clients.”

Together with the design backgrounds of Mr. Shannon (product designer who has worked with companies such as Martha Stewart Omnimedia and Anthropologie) and Mr. Stewart (co-owner and founder of fabrication firm, SAAW, Inc. with clients such as Anthropologie and Barney's New York), these three creative individuals sought to create and start up Bellocq, the name inspired by a region in France.

The sitting room off to the side of the Atelier shop space, as Bellocq Tea Atelier is a tasting and design studio -- "a place to inspire and realize new and ever-evolving ideas."

Bellocq's tea are stored (and can be bought in) these hand-crafted metal canisters, which the Atelier refers to as "traveler caddies," in multiple sizes. Uncap the lid and you will find a loosely attached cover on the inside which ensures additional freshness of the tea leaves.

Boxes of Bellocq Breakfast tea with a brass tea strainer and other trinkets.

Behind the Atelier's counter are these large "traveler caddies" in which tea leaves are stored for retail service, one for each distinct offering of full tea leaves. You'll notice that each blend/tea has a "No." (i.e, numero sign) associated with it -- makes it easier to keep track! The Atelier counter offers tea "cupping" services on site, which give clients an opportunity to learn more about its tea selection through "a full-sensory experience." We were very fortunate to have met Mr. Shannon during our visit -- he was super knowledgeable and very welcoming.

This "full-sensory experience" is reiterated with the table opposite the Atelier counter, which displays nearly all of its tea offerings (pure/blended/black/green/white/herbal/oolong/etc.) in traveler caddies as well as a little dish filled with a few spoonfuls of loose tea leaves from each. This gives visitors a change to observe the vibrant colors of the tea leaves as well as smell the aromas exuded, however delicately or boldly, by each. Marcus and I went a little crazy -- we took in the scent of pretty much all of the teas. It took me some time to narrow down to which teas with which I wanted to leave the Atelier. With the "cupping" services offered by the shop (we asked to have a taste of No. 45, The White Wolf), I was able to reach my decision a little easier, though my wishlist was happily growing longer with every minute we occupied the shop.

I brought home a grand total of 10 ounces in tea leaves -- love the "custom-like" labeling that's adhered onto the packages of tea! Along with a brass tea strainer (couldn't resist!), here's a peek at the loot:
{1} No. 35, The Earl Grey
Per Bellocq, "the gentleman of the tea world" is comprised of Ceylon black tea scented with natural Sicilian bergamot and accented with blue cornflowers.

{2} No. 45, The White Wolf
One of Bellocq's signature blends, this is a blend of organic white peony, cedar, juniper, and mint -- also wonderful iced.

{3} No. 5, Ali Shan
This is a super aromatic oolong (dark-colored Asian tea made by fermenting the withered leaves to about half the degree usual for black teas) from the central highlands of Taiwan.

{4} No. 52, Etoile de L'inde
A tropical blend of organic green tea, passion- fruit, rose, and marigold, this blend is comprised of organic Dragon Well (a Chinese green tea, flat (pan-)fried by hand in large woks one small batch at a time), organic jasmine silver needles, organic flower petals, and natural essences.
Findings: I found our experience at Bellocq Tea Atelier to be very enlightening and fun. Michael Shannon and the other gentleman working the counter that day provided stellar customer service as well as gracious hospitality -- the personal interactions at Bellocq undoubtedly make it a one of a kind shop in the New York City area. We got to experience Bellocq's selection of teas first hand, becoming quite intimate with their natural perfumes and aromatics. This certainly took tea shopping to a whole other level for me. The experience was also interactive for both the client and the purveyor. The "cupping" service was probably one of my favorite things about Bellocq, permitting its clients to try the teas before impulsively buying something that you may or may not enjoy. Additionally, since the teas are packaged to order (the teas remain in their respective connoisseur caddies, i.e., the hefty dandelion-colored canisters) as any specialty tea shop should, you will undoubtedly receive unbelievably fresh, full leaves of tea that await its initial brew when arriving back home.

All in all, I'd say a deliberate trip over to Greenpoint for Bellocq is a must! Plus, Williamsburg is about a 10-15 minute walk from there! :) I am already checking my schedule to see when I can squeeze in my next trek to Bellocq -- after all, those traveler caddies are calling my name!

Price point: varying prices for different teas/blends -- please visit for further details.

--March 3, 2012

Bellocq Tea Atelier
104 West Street
Brooklyn, NY 11222

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