The Bottom Line: Year after year, it’s always a delicious treat to see what’s brewing in the cups of some New York’s most ambitious coffee and tea merchants.
While some of the products weren’t quite my cup of tea, meeting passionate individuals who have made their livehoods in this competitive industry really warmed my heart.
Review: Happily the trains were actually working this weekend as my friend, Kei, and I headed for the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint. Having arrived earlier than our previous ETA, luckily, the center had not yet filled up.
Generally, the annual expo is always a great success. Although I wish it would return to the Park Avenue Armory because of the space issue, the Expo center is still a cheerful spot. After 2pm, however, it changes as crowds poured in making our sipping a congested affair.
It was great to see some of the usual suspects. There was the long queue for Café Grumpy – a Williamsburgie coffee joint serving up foamy cappuccinos.
My favorite tea place, Harney & Sons Ltd. has, in my opinion, some of the most reliably delicious blends.
I purchased their Palm Court blend, which works well with Indian spices or just on its own.
They weren’t the only ones on the block promoting Asian tea. My Chai Dairies founded by Ami Bhansali and supported by her family was selling high end teas from India. I really liked the tea samples they offered, and the packaging was pretty, but they weren’t cheap.
The $12 canisters of pure Assam seemed way over the top ridiculous, particularly because you can get almost twice the amount at Harney’s for cheaper. I decided to pass.
Silver Needle’s gals were selling “Asian blends” most were from China, but they also had one Sencha from Japan and a light tea from Taiwan.
The tea was good, but I would have preferred the bitter punch of my favorite Gemaicha. Sadly, it wasn’t available.
Live Vessel also had an Asian thinkg going. They sell Buddha-like jade Chinese-style tea pots and cups. I liked the presentation of their product.
Owl’s Brew, which produces tea-based mixers, were also serving up their concoctions, but I was hoping for a little booze to calm my over-caffeinated nerves. Unfortunately, this expo was teetotal.
Some of the booths had original concepts like The Subte Tea’s cold, refreshing tea on tap. Although it wasn’t quite my thing, I still enjoyed the theatre of watching tea get a proper pub-style pour.
Some of the beverage disappointments included: 1st-line coffee, its retail rep, a charming man who likes his coffee strong, like Rocky IV strong. We tried the espresso – bitter is an understatement. It was to the point of acrid and that defined unpleasantness. I wished he had served up the same coffee ice cream from the previous Coffee Fest last year.
The grounds stuck to my teeth sending fumes up my nostrils. The very air I breathed smelled bitter. He set the bar so high in killing taste that everything we subsequently drank still tasted of the revolting brew. Maybe just stick to equipment instead.
Some flavors no matter how hard I try just don’t work for me. Vanilla Earl Grey is one of them. Both Capital Teas and Fashionista Tea sell their own popular versions, but for me, the vanilla creaminess going into sour bergamote doesn’t work.
There were plenty of food options, and fortunately, they weren’t all gluten-free-because-it’s-trendy-to-be-a-celiac-to-annoy-my-friends fare. Many of the merchants should drop the term “Artisanal” which just gets thrown around too much.
On of my favorites was Jessy’s Pastries selling spicy empanadas, which were absolutely delicious. My first taste of these in Argentina almost twenty years ago did little to impress because of the lack of spices. Far from those bland-on-the-run hot pockets, Jessy’s really delivered on flavor. They will be at the Long Island City fleamarket so keep your eyes open.
The honey and olive oil tastings from The Olive Table were indeed delicious.
The Olive Table showcased an array of raw honey infusions. The orange blossom, pine and reiki were really nice. Being a huge fan of classic Mont Blanc, however, I had to try the chestnut-infused honey.
Although it may not be to everyone’s liking, I enjoyed the chestnut flavor so much that I purchased a small jar to take home.
Maple and bacon seemed to be the lastest hipster flavor. Perhaps it was memories of a hangover Sunday breakfast at IHOP that made it popular, but as food critic Jay Rayner once remarked, adding bacon can make almost any dish or dessert taste better.
Anita’s Biscottis promotted their latest maple & bacon biscuit. Unfortunately, no tastings of this new flavor were available. Why not? Their booth was still overwhelmed with customers glossing over the dozens of flavors available for sale. Anita’s actually has over 50 varieties!
Waffatopia‘s maple & bacon waffles were a hit in terms of flavor. But having lived in Brussels, nothing beats the texture of a crispy gauffre fresh off the griddle with crystalized sugar sprinkled on top.
And who could ignore the donuts for sale, literally flying of the tables. It was definitely a nice accompaniment to a hot beverage.
But this wouldn’t be Brooklyn unless something were vegan, paleo and gluten-free. Haute Chocolate (which isn’t correct French!) offered the anti-oxidant, ex-foliating paleolithic female folk a taste of some high end non-dairy chocolates. Their steamy posters with semi-nude, inked females also caught our attention. I wonder why.
Don’t get me wrong. I did like the taste of the chocolate & chili, and the almond chocolate was actually quite nice. However, the rosemary & chocolate combo, which has found its way into trendy restaurant menus, was a step too far for me.
There’s a reason, however, why chocolate needs cream in order to be called chocolate. Haute Chocolate’s flavor combinations were inventive and albeit worked, but texture was a bit too dry and chalky. And I don’t get this obession with paleo. Do we walk around with clovis pointed spears hunting mammoths and mastadons? Was it really better during the Pleistocene, with an average life expectancy of 25? The packaging doesn’t really scream Paleolithic either. Anyway enough ranting, they found a product that sells. Kudos to them.
Another pleasant surprise was the ginger oatmeal cookies from Finally Ginger. I tasted the original, which was too sweet for my liking, but did the cranberry oatmeal ones work really well. The sour berries cut through rich, sweetness of the oatmeal ginger. Absolutely delicious.
After two and half hours of sampling, the place was getting packed. We felt like two caffeine-jolted hot water bottles being pushed around in a bee colony. It was time to detox at the Spritzenhaus for a couple of beers and a hot dog. Until next year.