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I never cease to be amazed and impressed by the many and varied ways in which tea businesses style their shops and tearooms and by the inspirational connections that tea makes to so many different aspects of our lives. Yesterday I went on a journey of discovery to a new store in one of the most fashionable parts of London - the King’s Road in Chelsea - and found a little touch of magic mingled with some amazing teas. Opened in March this year, Bellocq’s new London boutique is the first of the company’s planned ‘tea atelier’s’. I discovered, chatting to Michael Shannon (pictured above in the shop) who was in sole command of the shop when I called in, that Bellocq is a New York based housewares and tea company, and that Michael and one of his co-founders, Heidi Johannsen Stewart, both worked for Martha Stewart - Michael as product designer and Heidi as editor, stylist and columnist at Stewart’s Living magazine. Scott Stewart, the third member of the team is also a designer and, in the past, has created for such prestigious companies as Anthropologie and Barneys in New York.
The group’s sense of style, colour, harmony and balance is wonderfully and immediately evident as soon as you step through the door from the noisy, busy street into this calm space – so rich in links to plants, gardens, rituals and relaxation. For the theme here is simplicity, a closeness to the charm and appeal of nature’s gifts, and the loveliness of favourite flowers and plants.
Bellocq’s watchword is ‘quality over quantity’ and a desire to preserve traditional craft techniques. They are aware of and wish to honour the relationship between the grower and the customer, between nature and the enjoyment it offers, and every aspect of their product, style, packaging and presentation speaks of the care with which they have brought this new concept to London.
In the press release that accompanied the launch earlier this year, Michael explained that these three friends are “loving every minute of it and feeling inspired by the wonderful people we’ve met along the way. We’ve been fortunate to be part of an exceptional creative community and wish to share our knowledge and inspiration with each and every customer.” I watched as he served a visitor yesterday and the atmosphere here is all absolutely about that sharing, about friendly companionable chats, about becoming excited together about the appearance of the very pretty tea leaves and the fragrances that waft headily from the generous, bright yellow tins that hold the different blends.
The blends have been created by Heidi and Ravi Kroeser and, as Michel explained to me, “The process by which they select the pure teas and create the blends is very involved and incredibly passionate. It takes a very long time and the tasting of hundreds of teas to edit down to what we think is a well-curated selection. The shop is ever evolving. Heidi is refining a new selection of blends as we speak’.
The flavoured teas mingle unusual flowers and herbs with high quality leaves and the menu is fascinating, seductive and enticing. Noble Savage mixes strong Indian and Chinese teas with juniper berries, douglas fir tips and wild flowers (pictured nearer the top of the page); Afghani Chai (my breakfast tea this morning and here left in the photo) is a visual delight and a taste bud treat made up of Indian black tea with cardamoms, cloves, black pepper, ginger, star anise, red poppy flowers and marigold petals; The White Duke adds a twist to Earl Grey by balancing a beautiful Silver Needle white tea with natural oil of bergamot grown in Sicily; and Kikuya flavours organic Japanese Sencha with Bulgarian rose and strews rose petals amongst the tea.
And then there are all the more classic teas - Bellocq Breakfast is a ‘toasty full-bodied blend of organic India, Chinese and Ceylon black teas’; Royal Golden Yunnan breathes honey and sweet forest richness; Dragonwell has a wonderful chestnut mellowness; Ali Shan oolong, a tightly rolled balled oolong yields all the orchid and honey notes one anticipates from these gorgeous high mountain Taiwanese teas; and various puerhs – both loose and compressed – will satisfy customers who have recently developed a taste for these special Yunnan aged teas. Large-leafed herbal infusions include Le Hammeau - a beautiful and heady blend of lemongrass, camomile, mint, sage and roses - Yerba Mate, Mulberry leaf and Rooibos
This evening, Bellocq are holding an event that strengthens the connection between these beautiful teas and special gardens and the flowers that grow in them. In Sussex in the south of England stands a house called Charleston - once the home of artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell and a meeting place for the painters, writers, poets and intellectuals that made up the Bloomsbury Group.
The garden is a favourite haunt for visitors who love the gentle beauty of this country home and through the different seasons it is filled with spring daffodils and narcissus, summer poppies, aquilegias, the berried branches of autumn trees, elegant statuary, ponds and benches on which to rest. When I lived nearby in Sussex in the 1970s, I admired the harmony and peace of the setting and the house - although it wasn’t open to the public in those days. The event today at Potterton Books is to launch a new book of photographs of the Charleston garden by Sue Snell, and the Bellocq team has created a special Charleston Blend (of Ceylon tea, camomile, linden flowers, rose geranium, lavender and poppies) in honour of the house and of its famous past residents and visitors. I am delighted to have been invited!
Thursday evening - The book launch was a great success - the bookshop was packed and Vanessa Bell’s granddaughter Henrietta talked of her memories of the house and garden. Here are a couple of photos
- Jane Pettigrew for WorldTeaNews.com