Day Nine • 12 Sips of Brooklyn
TAXONOMY, CLADISTICS, SYSTEMATICS, PHYLOGENETICS—so many ways to group and divide living things. Darwin famously sundered the world into “lumpers and splitters”: those who are happy with the general gist, and those who are obsessed with specifics.
The tea trade is one where splitters can run riot: green or black, white or yellow, oolong or pu-erh—all the varieties of Camellia sinensis that have descended through 3,000 years of recorded history. But even within those broad categories, there are nuances piled on subtleties, geography and climate, blends and additives, methods and styles of preparation. Japan and China have elaborate and precise rituals of preparing and serving tea that can last for hours. Even the pragmatic English have woven the drink into their culture and mythology.
Visit Bellocq in Greenpoint during their limited shop hours and you immediately recognize that here be tea splitters. The neat rows of silver containers with the bold yellow and white labels signal that tea is taken very seriously in these precincts. Yes, you think, this is what a tea shop should be. It is a transport to a quiet and calm that seems centuries and leagues away from the busy streets of North Brooklyn 2012.
It can be a bit daunting. I admit I remain a bit of a lumper and my knowledge of tea is an inch deep and an inch wide, but I stand in awe of the level of awareness and sophistication about the product that is evident at an emporium like Bellocq.
On the day we visited, co-owner Michael Shannon presided in an unhurried manner that was helpful and deeply informative. He brewed tea and explored the intricacies of sourcing teas to avoid the hucksters and scams that abound in that market. He methodically poured samples while revealing a refined sense of the aesthetics of his product. He cracked open canisters to appreciate the aromas while speaking in the same calm fashion about the frenzy the business endured when it was recently cited in O, The Oprah Magazine as one of Oprah’s favorite things. An hour at Bellocq is as warming and refreshing to the spirit as the product they sell.
PS Coffee Tea N Spices in Park Slope is a different cup of tea. This store might appeal more to the lumpers among us. Stacks of boxes, cans and jars filled with teas and tisanes and infusions jostle for attention with spices and coffees. Here you feel awed less by the depth of tea esoterica and more by the breadth of stock in a little space. When asked how many teas the store carries, the manager responds, “Two hundred”, which I suspect is a conservative guesstimate. This is a diverse collection, with the old-fashioned packaging of Ty-phoo hard by the elegant boxes of Republic of Tea. I am certain you can find your heart’s desire, a tea for every condition of the spirit. But I like it because most of the time I remain a lumper: “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”
Bellocq Tea Atelier
104 West Street, Greenpoint
PS Coffee Tea N Spices
368 5th Avenue, Park Slope
Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Rockwell, by Morris Fuller Benton and Frank Pierpont, Monotype, 1934.