Tea is a soothing, delicious beverage. Depending on the kind one consumes, it also has its health benefits. The green burns fat, the black protects lungs from being damaged by cigarette smoke, and the list with many positives about the brew is extensive. Enter Brooklyn-based tea atelier Bellocq. Bellocq Teas represents passion, poetry, and quality product. Heidi Johannsen Stewart, one-third of the founders, discussed with us how often travels are made to acquire new blends, the inspiration behind the company, and more.
A&H: Tell us about the back-story and inspiration for creating Bellocq Teas.
Heidi Johannsen Stewart: Bellocq, at its inception, was in fact two separate projects. Michael was interested in designing an incredible table top experience while I had a deep appreciation for extraordinary teas. I had originally intended to share my love of the poetic tea experience in the form of a book, however, after about nine months of consideration, Bellocq was the result of these two projects. Our common view is that Bellocq has a spirit of its own and while the essence of it doesn’t belong to anyone of us in particular, our ideas lead us closer to what Bellocq truly desires to be.
A&H: Why did you and the other two founders decide on Greenpoint, Brooklyn as the new location from England?
HJS: We had intended to open in N.Y.C. and were pursuing a location; however, Scott (our third partner) found the perfect space in London. So, off we went on a bit of an adventure. London is a great city, one of restrained romance, and a rich and layered culture. Bellocq has a rigor that was a great fit with the city. While in London we secured a second, larger raw space in Brooklyn that was suitable for a production facility. After a year in London, we lost our space and couldn’t spare the resources to reallocate and rebuild. We decided to regroup and concentrate our efforts in the States. Brooklyn, where we all reside, has an incredible entrepreneurial spirit. With the help of Scott’s design company, SAAW, we renovated the new space to include a showroom reminiscent of our London shop, which is now a retail store as well.
A&H: Explain to us the difference between the varieties of signature blends Bellocq offers.
HJS: Bellocq’s blended teas are inspired by two elements: our rich selection of pure teas and poetics. When we source teas, we only purchase teas of exceptional quality and depth of flavor. The flavor profiles of these pure teas often tell us what they want to become. At other times I’m driven to create blends inspired by the majestic conifer forests of the Pacific Northwest or a particularly memorable lunch at a market in Central Mexico, sipping from mugs of fresh lemongrass tea while eating smoky, handmade tortillas toasted over an open fire. The process is usually a purelycreative and sensual expression.
A&H: The origins of your tea options range from Yunnan Province, China to Cape Province, South Africa to Fujian Province, China. How does the team behind Bellocq decide what teas are complementary to the brand?
HJS: Taiwan, Sri Lanka, and India as well. Our lines of teas are exclusively full leaf, almost entirely organic, and sourced from high elevation gardens. Our selections are the result of rigorous sourcing and lengthy tastings. The unifying factor in our collection is exceptional quality and a beautiful flavor profile. It’s worth noting, that this does not ultimately equal expensive.
How often are travels made to select and source new organic teas?
HJS: We travel to Asia a few times each year and are in contact with sources year round.
A&H: How important is the idea of “knowing where ingredients originally come from” to Bellocq Teas?
HJS: We value the relationships with our sources and gardens and take a strong interest in the farming practices and production of our products. Tea is an agricultural product designated for consumption; a high degree of awareness is necessary.
A&H: Describe the process from finding the organic blend to packaging it to be shelved for purchase.
HJS: After sourcing our teas, this may be from a small Sri Lankan cooperative, a well known Indian Estate, or a small farm in Taiwan, they are shipped to the States. They are then sampled to assure quality. We create and hand-blend all of our teas at our production facility in Brooklyn. All of our products are created from only natural and organic botanicals—no synthetic flavors, which is very common in the industry. The teas are packaged in our caddies, yellow boxes, or kraft paper atelier bags and shipped off or sold directly to the client from the large yellow caddies that line the walls of our shop.
A&H: What is your idea of the perfect tea/delicacy pairing?
HJS: For me, perfect pairings are dependent upon the environment, the company, and the time of year; there are so many possibilities. However, this morning I had a cup of our Bellocq Breakfast with a wonderfully ripe peach—the kind that drips down your arm to your elbow. It was just about perfect.