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.”