Michael Shannon and Heidi Johannsen Stewart want one thing to be very clear when you step into Bellocq Tea Atelier (104 West St), you’ll be welcomed with open arms and no judgment even if all you’ve ever steeped is a bag of Lipton. Instead, a visit to the atelier is an “opportunity to learn about tea,” according to Michael. The cozy space, originally planned as their showroom, now serves as their only brick-and-mortar shop despite the brand’s growing popularity. Their tea can be found at numerous restaurants around the city, has made Oprah’s Favorite Things list for the second year in a row, and is now featured prominently at Tiffany & Co.’s new Blue Box Cafe. And tomorrow, they’re opening their doors for a little holiday fun and the whole neighborhood is invited to stop by!
All of the growth for Bellocq has definitely been organic. When the shop first opened to the public, located in front of their 9,000 sq ft production space, it was more just a space for buyers to smell and sample their teas. But the gradual regular stream of people stopping in necessitated being open five days a week and bringing in a few more tea-adjacent products. What makes Bellocq’s tea so special is the time and care the team has for their final product. Even with a line of 120 teas, they have been careful to only choose the highest-quality sources and have really formed a community with their producers. They’ve visited the farms, they know the names of their producers and what makes any particular tea special. It’s not strange to pop in and find a casual Japanese tea ceremony being performed by a master, or for a fan to quickly stop by before flying home 12 hours away.
When you visit, the employees encourage “exploring through the senses,” as Heidi puts it. Customers can take their time opening the cans, trying to find a tea that strikes all the right notes with them or brings back a certain cherished memory. But if you need help, it’s definitely there for you. “Teas have personalities,” says Michael, and they’ll try to match yours to a certain tea. If you’ve only ever made Twinings or the British staple, PG Tips, this will at least give them something to work with. Or maybe you’re planning a binge-watching session of The Crown over winter break, then they might steer you to the black Ceylon-based The Queen’s Guard or possibly Darjeeling-based Bellocq Christmas.
For tomorrow, though, it’s time to celebrate the holidays, especially for the staff (all of this fame and good fortune does create an “all hands on deck” situation for hand-packing the teas). The shop will be open with tea-inspired cocktails and plenty of tea tasting for all, plus 10% off everything in the shop. For those of you who may be waiting until the last minute (they will be open on the 23rd too!), stop by for a gift or two.
Bellocq Tea Atelier is located at 104 West Street. They’re open Wednesday & Thursday, 12p – 6p; Friday & Saturday, 12p – 7p; and Sunday, 12p – 5p.