Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cooking with Tea - Gourmet Tea Recipes

It’s always fun to find new ways to use our favorite product – tea! This slideshow from Sunset.com features 10 great food recipes that feature tea as a primary ingredient to add flavor and fragrance to the dish.

Highlights include:
Smoked Duck utilizing the smoky, rich flavors of Lapsang Souchong instead of a traditional smoker

Darjeeling Dashi – make this traditional Japanese dashi (soup stock) with Darjeeling tea as a featured ingredient

Black Tea Sorbet – This recipe calls for using Black tea to add flavor to a fruit sorbet. Our Raspberry Black tea is great for a fruity dessert like this

Jasmine Chicken Soup with Green Tea Soba – Green tea is used in the making of the Soba for this soup. Our Gunpowder Green would be a great, gentle tea to use in this recipe

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

125 Years of SD Bell's in Belfast

Thanks to the good people over at Tea Magazine for writing a review of the S.D. Bell commemorative book, Creating A Stir. This book chronicles the 125-year history of S.D. Bell & Co., from its humble Belfast beginnings in 1887 through wars, rationing, good times and bad to the thriving business and cafe today!

Best International Tea helped S.D. Bell expand in 2010 when it began importing the company's premium tea, coffee and chocolate, making them available for the first time in North America.

Please check out the Tea Magazine review, written by Dan Bolton, by clicking this link.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Is Your Morning Coffee the Best in Can Be?

I've always been lousy at making my own pot of coffee and wasn't sure how to improve - until now. Enter this handy ABC news interview with Major Cohen of Starbucks, who has more than 18 years of experience in the business.Cohen says for the ideal morning coffee, one does need to take it seriously and measure both coffee and water carefully.

Here are the five most common mistakes to avoid when making coffee and a bit on how to fix them. Check out the full article for more details on each of them.

1. Using unfiltered/tap water: A cup of coffee is 98% water - if your tap water tastes bad from the faucet, so will your coffee. Also consider temperature settings on your coffee maker if possible If coffee is not brewed at a high enough temperature it won't taste too good either.

2.Storing beans in the freezer: Coffee should be stored in a cool, dry place and definitely not exposed to the moisture in the freezer. Think about how the moisture condenses on the beans as you take them in and out of such an extreme cold environment.

3. Not using enough coffee per cup: Chances are you aren't using nearly enough coffee in your filter. The general rule should be two rounded tablespoons per six ounce cup of brewed coffee.If you like a weaker cup, brew it at full strength and dilute after with more hot water.

4. Using too much coffee: Conversely, using extra coffee isn't the solution to make a powerful cup or wake you up faster. While extra coffee does make a stronger cup it also makes a much more bitter an unbalanced cup. No good!

5. Using the wrong grind: Various brewing methods from the French press to espresso machine to your standard Mr. Coffee, all require different grinds. Follow the instructions on your device and grind your beans to the recommended texture.

And of course for the absolute best morning cup we recommend our SD Bell & Co. premium imported coffee! Try a bag today.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Health Benefits of Coffee vs. Tea

As purveyors of both fine tea and coffee, we see the merits in each of the beverages and partake in both regularly. We also love a good infographic so when we found this one detailing the relative benefits of coffee versus tea, we were pretty excited. This particular chart is great because it doesn't so much pit the two beverages against each other, but rather is extols the virtues and limited drawbacks of each. It offers fun facts, health benefits and caffeine content in various forms and brewing methods of both tea and coffee.
We think there's room for both drinks in a healthy diet, but if you currently have a health condition or are trying to ward one off, this chart also helps you see which of the two might be better for you.

For credit, we found the infographic here on Lifehacker. They grabbed it from Killer Infographics.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Coffee Terminology Trivia

Since Best International Tea has announced our line of premium coffees, I thought I'd keep with the coffee trend and share some "trivia" that will make for good conversation at your next dinner party or trip to the coffeehouse. Thanks to our friends at SD Bell for this great section of their book, "Creating a Stir,"  here's the backstor that you may not have known on some common terminology and brewing techniques:

Percolator: This describes a brewing method in which water is repeatedly boiled through a perforated chamber within a large pot, invented in 1865. Contrary to common misuse, it does not refer to the processes of filtering or plunging.

The Coffee Filter: In 1908, Melitta Bentz invented the coffee filter in Germany. She experimented using her son's school blotting paper to separate the coffee solids (grounds) from the liquid, ultimately inventing the method most of us use on a daily basis ... that is until the Keurig came around!

Cowboy Pot: This was the method of brewing for wild west cowboys in the late 1800s - Pour a good amount of coarsely ground coffee in a tin pot, fill with water and heat over the campfire until simmering.

Instant Coffee: The first instant coffee was invented by Japanese-American chemist Satori Kato in Chicago in 1901. It was later improved upon by English chemist George Constant Washington in 1906 using dried coffee left in his carafe. Instant coffee as we know it today was created in 1938 when American troops in Europe called for caffeine during World War II.

Cafe Americano: This is another coffee that has its origins in World War II. When American GI's were making their way through Italy, they found the traditional Italian straight espresso to be too strong. Baristas helped them out - and also teased them - by adding boiling water to their espresso and naming it an Americano.

Cafetiere: Often known as the plunger part of a French Press, which creates a popular cup of coffee. This method allows the coffee gronds to infuse in hot water before being separated by the plunging down of a gauze disk.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Best International Tea Headed to SCAA Show

With a name like Best International Tea - we're obviously a tea company! We're the exclusive North American importers of S.D. Bell & Co teas from Belfast, N. Ireland. But you may not know that we also import several of S.D. Bell's premium coffees.

Just as they carefully select and hand-blend their premium teas, the Bell family also roasts a wide variety of coffee. Coffee roasting takes place on a daily basis at S.D. Bell, usually using the old, traditional roaster from generations past. The aroma of freshly roasted beans has been known to awaken the inhabitants of their Knock neighborhood each morning.

We are formally introducing this part of our line at the Specialty Coffee Association's annual event, the SCAA Expo this April 11-14 in Boston. This is a major coffee event, celebrating its 25th anniversary, and we are thrilled to be a part of it. In addition to the many exhibitors, the expo features barista competitions, classes and more. There's still time to register here.

We will be at booth 695 and look forward to meeting our fellow exhibitors and attendees!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Coffee for Longevity

As the name suggests, Best International Tea specializes in S.D. Bell & Co premium teas. However, we also import coffee from our friends in Belfast so we were particularly interested in this article about the Greek Island of Ikaria, where a special method of coffee-brewing may be the secret to a long life.

One percent of the inhabitants of Ikaria live well into their 90's (compared with .01 percent for the rest of Europe) and remain healthy, lively and sharp.There were several reasons that pointed to why Ikarians live so long: lack of pollution, a diet heavy in fruits and vegetables, moderate consumption of wine, and, interestingly, coffee brewed by a method of boiling.

Coffee consumption has previously been linked with several health benefits including protection against diabetes, Parkinson's disease and liver disease so researchers from the University of Athens decided to see if the boiled coffee could be linked to Ikaraians' longevity.

It turns out the Ikarian boiled Green coffee is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants and contains less caffeine than your typical brew. The study measured the endothelial function of Ikarians over age 65, compared to the amount of coffee they consumed. The endothelium is the layer of cells that surround blood cells, protecting them from cardiovascular disease.

The study found that subjects who consumed a moderate amount of boiled Greek coffee had better endothelial function than those who drank coffee brewed by other methods.

There's no guarantees, but it's certainly a unique look at our friend the coffee bean. While S.D. Bell's lays no claim to improved health with its coffee, we do know it will perk up your mood and energy!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

S.D. Bell's is Jamming on Sundays

Just the other day a fan of S.D. Bell’s from Belfast wrote the following on our Facebook wall:
“Going to enjoy a cup of tea at S D Bells, nearly 13 years to the day I moved to Northern Ireland with my family. Feeling a little nervous and excited, as soon as I walked into S D Bells, for the first time I felt this could be my home.”

I think that’s about as bottom line a statement you can make about a place. She was feeling alone in a strange new place but the warmth of S.D. Bell’s café provided real comfort. It’s something we here often about the place – it’s a Belfast institution with many regulars. While none of us at Best International Tea has been there, we all look forward to a visit someday.

Many in Belfast find S.D. Bell to be a source of great comfort, as it remains a constant – yet Robert and his team have found ways to embrace new ideas without sacrificing history. One of these new ideas came about in September 2009 when Robert introduced the Java Jive Jazz Brunch on Sunday’s at the Leaf & Berry Bar. Of course opening the store on Sundays would have been unheard of in Samuel David’s day, but Robert felt if he had a good reason to have Sunday hours, it would be worthwhile.

Robert teamed up with Linley Hamilton, a local jazz performer and broadcaster, to launch the Java Jive weekly brunch from 11 am to 3 pm on Sundays. Advertising in the jazz press, social media and word of mouth resulted in a packed house almost every Sunday. It’s not bad for the staff either - as Barry noted that it’s a lot more fun to do his usual Sunday afternoon task of blending and packing teas with good music and buzzing conversation in the background.

Hamilton has been impressed with Robert’s dedication to the jazz community. S.D. Bell’s welcomes bands and musicians from throughout Belfast, many of whom lacked opportunities to showcase their musical talent. From newly-discovered talents to significant artists in the UK jazz scene, S.D. Bell’s has opened its doors to a wide range of artists, allowing them to be creative and collaborate in ways they might not otherwise have the opportunity to do. Java Jive is an all-around success - it’s good for S.D. Bell’s business, it’s good for the public and it’s good for the musicians. Hamilton describes S.D. Bell’s café as “one of the most significant venues for jazz that Belfast has seen in the last 25 years,” and “a jewel in the crown of the live music scene.”

Sounds like a more than worthy reason to open for a few hours on Sundays!

The outside of S.D. Bell & Co. with signs for the store and Leaf & Berry Bar. A sandwich board advertises live piano music on Friday afternoons!

The storefront at S.D. Bell & Co, where you can purchase freshly-blended teas and house-roasted coffees

Monday, February 18, 2013

Little Yellow Teapot Steeps Some S.D. Bell Goodness!

Our friends the Little Yellow Teapot & the Tea Gang had some good fun last week trying out a couple of our varieties from S.D. Bell & Co!

First up was the S.D. Bell Natural Leaf breakfast tea and the Tea Gang had fun creating their own mock-up of the postcard we sent! Highlights from the tasting: "Five minutes later we had a liquid that was deep ruby colored and had a mild, nondescript and pleasant aroma. The flavor was clearly a blend of the two teas in it and was happily free of bitterness or astringency even after a 5-minute steep."

Little Yellow Teapot's take - "My humans are definitely happy to have tried this tea, and I like keeping them happy since they are less troublesome then."

Later in the week they brewed up one of our finest (and most expensive) teas, the Assam Top Tippy, also known as SFTGFOP - Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. Can you say that five times fast?! The Tea Gang also enjoyed this tea and shared quite a bit of background, explaining that our tea is indeed different from a typical Assam because it is processed in the Orthodox method, so the pieces are small and light, unlike the CTC method which produces little nuggets that brew stronger. LYT's humans like to use milk and sweetener and had this to say: "The good news is that the flavor was actually enhanced by adding both milk and sweetener. A malty character comes through that was not detected in the straight tea."

Please make sure to check out the Tea Gang's blog - they are knowledgeable tea drinkers who do a thorough job of tasting teas ... and they have FUN with it, which is what this is all about after all.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

S.D. Bell Delivers!

This is a neat anecdote about the role S.D. Bell & Co. played in helping the inhabitants of Rathlin Island during a particularly long spell of rough weather in 1938. Rathlin (pop. 100) is small island, four miles in length, situated six miles northeast of the mainland and 47 miles from Belfast.

In 1938, Rathlin was cut off from the mainland for three weeks due to torrential rain and persistent gale force winds. Supply boats from Ballycastle could not make the trip and food supplies were rapidly diminishing. A brave pilot, Denys Gillam, responded to the call for assistance and prepared to fly supplies to Rathlin, which had a short runway of only 250 yards.

S.D. Bell’s sprung into action as well, preparing a delivery of flour, oatmeal, butter, tea, sugar, lard, paraffin oil, candles, matches, cigarettes and newspapers – note that tea is on a list of necessities! Gillam made the treacherous flight and landing, which involved barely clearing the roof of a house, to deliver the goods from Bell’s. He made a second trip the following day.

Gillam was later awarded the Air Force Cross for his bravery and airmanship during the relief flights. S.D. Bell’s capitalized on the event for its advertising as well. A headline read: “Rathlin Island – supplied at a moment’s notice – we can supply your requirements with the same dispatch and satisfaction.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Tea & Coffee Merchant

Thought we'd offer a look at what a typical day is like over at S.D. Bell’s in Belfast. Robert Bell, Samuel’s great grandson, runs the company now and this is what his days are like, excerpted from the book, Creating a Stir.  Be sure not to miss the editor’s note at the end.

“A Day In the Life of a Tea & Coffee Merchant”
6:10 am: Alarm … wake up the girls, breakfast with a cup of black tea. Check emails and internet orders. Leave home for S.D. Bell’s
7:40 am: Crank up the roaster and roast four to five batches of coffee. Coffee has to be fresh, roasted in small batches to order. The aroma extends for a mile or more – It’s one sure way to get the locals up and out of bed.
10 am: Check for deliveries to be made. Prepare special orders. Check world trade price movements of coffee, chat with London brokers and partner before placing orders.
10:30 am: Post arrives. New Seasons Darjeeling tea samples have arrived from Mumbai. Set out Samuel’s antique tasting cups, put the kettle on, sit down with Barry and taste the new teas. Make notes and compare, request prices for teas we like.
11 am: Coffee is now taken, a black Americano! Coffee shop is full, chat to a few regulars
1 pm: More office work. Soup and a roll in the office for lunch followed by a black coffee. Discuss weekend staffing plan with William, shop manager.
2 pm: Make a couple of deliveries around the city and visit a few retailers, asking their opinion on the new coffee tin sample which has just arrived from Hong Kong.
3:30 pm: Review tomorrow’s schedule and deliveries. Telephone a few wholesale customers from that area and prepare orders.
5 pm: Load the van in preparation for tomorrow’s early runs and cash up the shop. Try to lock up by 6:00 pm.

EDITORIAL COMMENT (from the book):
Something didn’t seem to add up so we asked Robert, “Is that all the coffee and tea you drink in a day? We have friends that could make you look like an amateur – don’t disappoint us!”
After some thought Robert tells us he always starts the day with black tea and finished it with an exotic Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearl white tea. From 6:30 am he reckons he drinks about seven cups of coffee and at least four cups of tea.
“That makes 11 cups a day,” we tell him. “Does that include all the tea-tasting and coffee-cupping each day?”
“No, that’s extra he replies!”
Our faith is restored.

Can anybody rival Robert Bell? In general we probably all drink more tea than he does (maybe not in a given day) but drinking about 11 hot beverages a day is pretty serious business.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Bit of S.D. Bell History

While not every detail is known about Samuel David Bell or his company’s history, here is a brief background on how S.D. Bell & Co., came to be.

Samuel David Bell was born in 1868 into a working class farming family of nine children. As a teenager, he moved to Belfast and worked as a shop assistant at a general store, Dunwoody & Blakely. There he met and married Jeannie McCausland, whose father owned a linen mill. When the store was facing bankruptcy, Bell offered to buy the company from Dunwoody & Blakely – no doubt with financial support from his father-in-law – allowing the owners to retire comfortably and giving Bell his own business.

While the company is now a Tea and Coffee Emporium, back in 1890 the Belfast economy could not support such a singular venture and thus he operated a general merchant. At the time, Samuel’s firm was officially recorded as  “S.D. Bell and Co, Tea Merchants and Family Grocers.”  In addition to his operations on Ann Street in downtown Belfast, Bell also built three houses in the suburban neighborhood of Knock, where the company still resides.

Beyond his business, Samuel Bell was a religious man known for his philanthropic work, particularly with Belfast’s poor, and he had a great love of horses. He would ultimately pass S.D. Bell & Co. down to his son and the family-owned business is now in its fourth generation.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tea Aids Hurricane Sandy Survivors

Based in New Jersey, I was excited to read this article from TeaMag.com about how tea and the wonderful people who are part of the tea-selling community, helped those who endured the storms. Luckily the Best International Tea family suffered no damage but we were without power for a length of time and many of our friends, neighbors and fellow New Jerseyans were hit unbelievably hard.

Several tea-related businesses went above and beyond to help those affected. Kudos to our local tea businesses that helped and all the others who have been involved, including:

NJ resident Darlene Meyers-Perry, President of The Tea Lover’s Archives, made a mobile comfort station, bringing her teapots, cups and kettle to her church’s soup kitchen. As she said “it was important for me to bring some semblance of home to people who had nowhere to go.”

Kirsten Kristensen, owner of the White House Tea Room in Ocean, NJ, opened her business to any area residents without electricity to come for tea and charge their phones and other electronic devices.

Several NYC based tea room owners formed a non-profit Tea for Humanity, whose purpose is to bring a hot cup of tea to those needing warmth and comfort most. Sheena Foster (Curiositeas), Jo Johnson (A Gift of Tea) and Tiffany Denise (Tea By Tiffany) joined forces to host tea gatherings for evacuees from Lower Manhattan

Yoon Hee Kim of Hancha Teas used Twitter and Facebook to spread the word for tea business owners to host tea events to raise money for relief efforts, raising more than $4,500 to date.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Creating a Stir

Over the next few weeks we'll be sharing some excerpts from Creating a Stir, a wonderful new book published by the Bell family. Published in 2012, it chronicles the 125 year history of S.D. Bell's tea and coffee, a rich Belfast tradition since 1887.

This book is simply amazing, full of photos, personal anecdotes and a historical account of both the growth of S.D. Bell and the city of Belfast.

From the foreword:

We felt that we should mark 125 years of trading [tea] not just by producing a historical account of our association with Belfast and with tea and coffee, but also by paying respect to those who in former years guided the company through economic depression, World Wars and local civil unrest.

It is our hope that you will find enjoyment in these pages; you may even learn some new facts about tea and coffee along with the history of our family firm. We found the research and writing quite a tough challenge as a huge quantity of used books, invoices and brochures were given up as a salvage during the Second World War in order to help the war effort. However, it was not paper that kept this firm trading successfully for 125 years, but the determination of a great many to provide our customers with the very best possible blended tea and roasted coffee.