It’s a scorching day when I arrive at Bellocq Tea Atelier’s brick storefront – or at least, what I think is their storefront. Surrounded by stark warehouses and sporting a heavy metal front door, I’m unsure whether I’ll be walking into a Tea Atelier or the headquarters of some illicit cartel.
Thankfully, my instincts couldn’t be further from the truth. I step into a small, cool, dim lobby and am instantly overwhelmed by two things: the beauty of the shop, and the scent of freshly brewed tea. The windows that seemed so suspiciously covered from the outside actually light the room with a pale turquoise hue. Tea is everywhere; in beautiful little jars, in boxes, and poured into ceramic white dishes. I am greeted by what seems to be a fairy, but turns out to be the world’s most helpful and knowledgeable tea concierge (she was wearing sequins and my eyes were adjusting!).
After poking around and staring in wonder at the many tea instruments (Bellocq has everything you need to make tea), Michael, a co-founder of Bellocq Tea Atelier, comes out and sits down for a chat. It turns out he is a former Martha Stewart designer, and his partner, Heidi, was a chef before they teamed up to produce this magical tea haven. Though the business has moved around a bit, it’s finally settled in New York City, and you can feel it in the store. This place makes me want to stay a while, drink buckets of tea, take a nap, read a book… their couches are certainly comfortable enough.
The genesis of the concept was simple: Both Michael and Heidi loved tea and were disappointed by the lack of artisan tea available. They wanted to know where the leaves came from, how they were grown, and how they were processed. Instead of wondering, they took matters into their own hands, and created teas worth drinking.
Let me assure you: the tea is, indeed, worth drinking. Each season Bellocq tastes batches of tea from over thirty different crops in order to find the tea leaves they want to work with. Then they start processing the raw tea leaves into over a hundred different blends, from delicate oolong to a deep black breakfast. Everything is made in house, and all the tea is organic. Well, that’s not quite right. They carry some tea that is beyond organic, since it was harvested in the wild.
At this point, I’m wild to try some for myself. Luckily for me (and everyone else), Bellocq always has a few glass pots of tea gently steeping over tea lights, so I sample a white jasmine, a silver needle oolong, and a Taiwanese green tea. They are exquisite. As the daughter of an Asian tea snob (who has been completely unimpressed by my many tea-related gifts over the years), I know good tea. This is better. The first thing I notice is the absolute absence of bitterness. The second is that the flavors are both intense and subtle. The last is the layers and layers of flavor. I want to drown in the Jasmine tea, amidst a sea of sweet, fragrant, floral notes.
I leave only because I have another appointment, and even though I’ve been mooning around this little teashop for close to two hours, it’s still too soon to leave. I buy a small bag of the jasmine and a small bag of the oolong (for myself), after hemming and hawing over about 20 different teas that make my olfactory nerves sing.
Fast forward to a few weeks later when I’m visiting with my family. I bring out the tea and my mother is bored. Tea? She knows tea. I tell her to cool her heels, and prepare the tea just the way I was taught at Bellocq. I boil the water, let it sit uncovered for 4 minutes, and then gently steep a teaspoon of the leaves for a brief two minutes. A curl of aroma drifts up, and I can’t help smiling giddily.
My mother is getting impatient. Finally, I set the cups down on our kitchen table, and we each take a sip. My mother’s eyes widen, “Amy, you didn’t get enough of this.”
If you live in New York City, it’s time to give Bellocq Tea Atelier a visit. If you don’t, treat yourself (or a tea-lover) to an elegant, healthy, and conscious treat. I suggest the Afghani Chai for the holidays – its warming blend of black tea, poppy flowers, cardamom, and cloves is perfect with or without a dash of creamy milk.
You can buy the Chai (and more) in the Shop today!
Photos taken and styled by Amy Feiereisel.
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