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 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.