Tags: tea

Spice Terminal closing

I just discovered that The Spice Terminal is closing! Their last day is January 29th, but they are still almost entirely cleared out. The signs say, "Thanks for 30 years of business."

I thought they were supposed to be moving to another location within the Reading Terminal Market, but I guess that didn't work out.

The Spice Terminal bought spices in large bulk quantities and then portioned them out into small plastic bags. It was much less expensive, and it most cases, much higher quality that the stuff you'd find in a grocery store. The cayenne pepper was so red, the black peppercorns so piquant! They had several varieties of black peppercorn. The Tellicherry, in particular, is a great peppercorn. Need something a little unusual, like filé powder for a proper gumbo? No problem, they've got it.

It was also our source for loose, whole-leaf tea. They stored it in glass containers, even though it should be stored in the dark, but I figured they turned it over so fast it didn't matter. It's the only place in town, that I know of, where you don't feel gouged and/or guilty for buying a half-pound of Darjeeling. (I know what you're saying: First flush Darjeeling? Second flush? Autumnal flush? Thing is: though I can differentiate a Keemun from an Assam, I'm not that much of a connoisseur.)

The people that worked there were always surly, but after a few visits you realized they were always surly: nothing against you, personally, just what working in a crowded market/tourist destination day-in, day-out can do to a person. The old Amish ladies seem immune and have smiles to spare, but I understand how the Terminal Market could grumpify a normal person.

What am I going to do for tea?! This is tragic!

How to Flavor Tea

There's a small grocery store a few blocks from our house, I think it is adjacent to the Little Island Cafe, that specializes in Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food. It's a very small shop, selling beans and rice, rosewater and lamb, and trays of baklava. The last time we stopped in, I bought some tea--I didn't expect much of it, as it was only $2 for 14 oz. (substantially cheaper than the $24/lb. for the organic English breakfast tea I'd previously ordered online).

It wasn't bad--not the greatest, but I was willing to sacrifice for the price. It becomes bitter if it is steeped too long, so I try to give it only 3-4 minutes instead of the usual 5.

Shahrzad - Pure Indian Barooti Tea

Yesterday I returned to buy more, and the exchange I had was quite humorous. The cashier, whose skin tone was much darker than I would expect for an Arab (possibly he was South Asian), looked extremely bored, barely even looked up when I came in. I grabbed a box of tea and brought it to the counter. He looked it over and didn't find a price. He consulted a price list, and apparently didn't find it there either.

"Hey, how much is this tea?" he asks.

A man who I assume is the store/cafe owner appears. He sports a neatly-trimmed white beard. He is much paler by comparison, barely more color than I have, but still noticeably ethnic. He is very animated, and extraordinarily cheerful. "$1.99" he says. Then, taking notice of me, he says, "You know what you should do? Add some mint to this. It is very good." He grabs a Styrofoam cup and fills it halfway from a nearby urn, and hands it to me. "Try this."

The sample tea was very sweet, and very minty. It was a welcome gift, particularly as I was feeling a bit cold and under-the-weather. "That is good," I said, "how much mint would you put in a pot of tea?"

"Oh, however much. Until it tastes right."

"I will definitely try it!" I told him.

As I pay for the tea, the cashier, without changing expression, his lips barely moving, says "Or you could try cinnamon. And some clove. That is how I like it. Cinnamon and some cloves."

--

I did try the mint tea. No matter how much mint I added, it still wasn't as minty, and no matter how much sugar, it still wasn't as sweet as the sample. well_lahdidah doesn't like mint tea, so I guess I'll go with the chai recipe instead (although I've been using cardamom, black peppercorns, and cloves, I think cinnamon would be a nice addition).

The stark contrast between the two men--light & dark, animated & lethargic, gregarious & laconic--was part of the amusement. But I was also amused: what was it about me, dropping by to spend a measly $2, that merited so much attention, and so much advice on how to flavor tea? Did they think I was a clueless tea novice who needed guidance, or did they think I was a connoisseur with whom they wanted to share their personal secrets?

I don't know, but I think next time I'll get some baklava, too.