Home Institute visits Bellocq Tea Atelier to investigate their approach to the craft of tea.
Since it was first introduced to British culture in the 17th century, tea has come to play a central role in many of our social rituals. From banquet-like afternoon teas to simple tea breaks at work, the invigorating effect of tea stimulates conversation and creates opportunities for shared experiences. So it may come as a surprise to know that the majority of tea we consume in Britain is relatively low grade.
Clipped from the early shoots on tea plants whose leaves have not yet fully matured, the finely chopped leaves and fannings (tea dust) in your average 2-gram tea bag lacks the fullness and subtlety of flavour that tea plants have to offer. Due to the cumulative surface area of their finely chopped leaves, tea bags are quick to over-steep and release high levels of the bitter-tasting tannins that, when drunk black, create an unpleasant dry sensation in the mouth. Many of us mask this bitterness by adding milk or sugar, which begs the question, why aren’t we buying quality tea to start with?
Like most epiphanies, our conversion from builder’s tea to loose leaf came as the direct result of first hand discovery. It was over a cup of Jasmine Silver Needle tea in his King’s Road shop in London that Home Institute first met Bellocq Tea Atelier co-founder, Michael Shannon. Surrounded by library-like shelves of tea canisters, Michael took the time to serve each of his customers individually, allowing us to smell and taste the teas that took our fancy, sharing his extensive knowledge of tea along the way.
Every tea that we tasted, from the beautifully balanced Bellocq Breakfast Tea to the evocatively named Hindu Holiday Chai (a red bush tea blended with cardamom pods, cassia and ginger) smelled and tasted as attractive as it looked. Previously a product designer for Anthropologie and still a craftsman in his own right, Michael holds the visual aesthetic of tea in as high a regard as the aroma and taste, for its ability to enhance our overall experience. The addition of blue cornflowers to the Earl Grey accents the tea’s deep black Ceylon leaves and helps us anticipate the fresh citrus flavour of bergamot.
Michael has since returned to New York, relocating the Bellocq Tea Atelier to the post-industrial neighbourhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Along with fellow founders Heidi Johannsen Stewart and Scott Stewart, Michael uses the atelier as a base from which to source loose leaf teas from around the world, crafting them into blends that are distinctive in character and full in flavour. Bellocq’s artisan approach to tea sees them working with a number of small scale growers, many of whom are organic and biodynamic in their methods, to source tea leaves, herbs, spices and flowers for their blends in a process that is rooted in the prioritisation of quality over quantity.
The result is a range of teas that are so carefully considered, they cater to a wide variety of tastes, preferences and occasions. From Bellocq’s diverse selection of hand-blended teas, Home Institute have curated a range that includes black breakfast teas for when you need a caffeinated boost, delicately flavoured green teas from Japan and China, spicy chais, zingy herbal tisanes and the marmite of teas: a robust and smoky Lapsang Souchong.