Bellocq Tea Atelier, an inconspicuous jewel box tucked away into a quiet corner of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, has turned six years of sourcing and blending the finest teas and botanicals into a devoted and articulate history of tea connoisseurship. Behind the hidden storefront, single-estate teas are sold exclusively whole leaf, organic tea and herbal blends are still assembled by hand, and more recently, a collection of expertly-crafted, perfumed candles inspired by the company’s teas can be found against a backdrop of faded, aubergine walls. A serendipitous find for the earnest wanderer, this is a space that yields itself to the luxury of fine tea and an unwavering adherence to excellence.
Even before you take a sip, a cup of tea can transport you. The aroma of leaves opened and unraveled by heat can whisk you into a heady repose, olfactory memory taking you back to the lush, moss-carpeted woods of your childhood. Or perhaps the faint, briny whisper of your first sip swings you forward to a beloved seashore. Another cup, a blend of teas more exotic to you, and you find yourself someplace dizzyingly, delightfully new. It’s this sense of wonder and discovery, and the recognition of exquisite beauty in the ordinary rituals of life, that inspired the creation of Bellocq.
The founders of the renowned tea company met while working at a well-known lifestyle brand, Heidi Johannsen Stewart on the publishing side as a food editor and stylist and Michael Shannon as a product designer. “Before Bellocq we were often traveling around the world, buying tea and sharing it with each other," Michael explains. This delightful habit became ritual and, along with a passionate appreciation of traditional artisan work, ignited the idea for a business. When their third partner, interior craftsman Scott Stewart, discovered the perfect temporary space on Kings Road in London, the trio seized on the opportunity to reveal their first line of handcrafted tea blends. After their yearlong pop-up in London, Bellocq, by then a much-acclaimed if still fledgling company, returned to New York to continue growing its collection. It still operates out of Brooklyn today.
Bellocq’s carefully selected, single-origin offerings originate from the finest estates in China, Japan, India, Nepal, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Malawi and are exclusively full leaf, almost entirely organic, and sourced from high elevation gardens. “Our selections are the result of rigorous sourcing and lengthy tastings,” says co-founder Heidi. “The unifying factor is exceptional quality and a beautiful flavor profile.” Several months each year are still spent abroad revisiting estates, sourcing new teas, and ensuring the quality behind the tea’s cultivation and its processing. “Our range doesn't include a vast selection of Darjeelings or Ceylons,” Michael adds. “We only carry one or two of these teas – the best available.”
At Bellocq, the threads of imaginative nostalgia work alongside traditional tea blending to enliven today’s tea market. Just as the slow food movement continues to offer a welcome antidote to the mass markets that direct most of what we consume, so is Bellocq ushering in a new age for the conservative and mass-produced tea market. Bellocq’s teas offer an alternative of the finest quality, not only of the small-batch, artisanal food and craft varieties for which Brooklyn has served as a front-runner. Heidi argues, “In Western culture, tea so often falls prey to this drowsy, well-worn vision of a cup of black tea that’s fashioned more by antiquated imperialism than by exploration of the palate. That’s lovely in its own way, but why can’t tea be more exciting? You don’t even need to look at our blends or our more exotic herbals to get there – just take the tea. Tea by itself is already so invigorating, affecting – transformative. We want people to explore.”
True to its mission, Bellocq has expanded its original line of tea blends to include over 50 varieties of pure teas, an assortment of herbal selections, and a growing number of in-house blends. The pure teas range, at their very finest, from fragrant, delicate Anji Bai Cha to the earthy and robust 2007 Bulang Raw, Ancient Tree, a puerh sourced from deep within Yunnan Province. Meanwhile, blends like “Le Hammeau” draw out the winsome, summery warmth of the more familiar lemon verbena, freshly torn mint, chamomile, lavender, and sage. Hardly content sourcing and blending the teas for an interested public, Bellocq also offers extensive help in properly brewing, storing, and pairing each of their teas, for full effect. Bellocq’s teas are nuanced, evocative, and surprising, and they are steeped in tradition that dates back millennia, often originating from families that have cultivated tea for hundreds of generations. Tea’s enormous history, fostered by attentive sourcing and delicate cultivation, processing, and blending, has established for its drinkers the kind of connoisseurship to which wines, olive oils, beers, cured meats, cheeses, and the like have always been privy. “The tea world is so vast,” says co-founder Michael Shannon. “It can be floral, full of tropical fruit notes, roasted, exotic… It can hit so many of the same flavor notes as say, wine, which makes it intriguing, particularly to chefs.” For the founders of Bellocq, discovering and sharing the world of tea has been a delicious, and decidedly modern, adventure.
Tea has always been about ritual and the sense of well-being that accompanies it, and this luxury is what Bellocq strives to provide. “Not even so much the luxury of the finest goods, though quality is the strongest motivation behind our tea, but the luxury of time and space created in the meditative enjoyment of a cup of tea,” stresses Michael. “We want everyone to find that kind of untroubled comfort.” The personal sanctuaries we devise for ourselves when savoring a warm meal or steeping a Japanese green are the end goals of the company’s vision. Heidi muses, "I read that tea is, essentially, a journey of water. I feel that’s it’s a wonderfully poetic sentiment that here we are, first in London, now in New York, on this great journey with tea.”
Bellocq’s teas and candles can now be found in the finest shops, hotels, restaurants, and residences throughout the world. For press inquiries, imagery, credit information, please contact: Bellocq Tea Atelier or firstname.lastname@example.org.