EDGEWATER, N.J. -- The new Whole Food Market here has added a decidedly elegant component to its service coffee bar: fresh tea brewed from whole leaves.
More than two dozen varieties of traditional and unique teas from T Salon & T Emporium, an upscale tea shop in Manhattan, are to be rotated through the coffee bar menu, with three fresh-brewed flavors available on any given day, according to Miriam Novalle, T Salon's owner. Though about eight other Whole Food units offer T Salon teas in dry form, this marks the first time Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods and her company have moved to serve customers hot beverages, she said.
The relationship will get even stronger when Whole Food opens its flagship store in Manhattan's Chelsea section in early 2001. That store's service bar will be expanded to 15 feet, and include a humidifier and refrigerator specifically for Novalle's increased inventory of 50 teas. In her own store, Novalle carries a total of 450 teas, sourced from growing regions around the world.
At the Edgewater site, a five-foot merchandising section displays a selection of 25 teas in large glass jars. The three daily hot brews are chosen from there, she said.
On the day of SN's visit, Novalle herself poured samples from a large urn holding her own "Viva Mango" blend of black tea, fruit and spices. On the menu board above the bar proper, Earl Grey with Blue Flowers, Lemon Earl Grey and Viva Mango were the day's fresh-brewed selections. Novalle's enterprise supplies the product to the stores, and provides training for Whole Foods associates, who must learn proper brewing temperatures, times and about the leaves themselves.
Adjacent to the service area, customers can peruse T Salon's whole-leaf selection, and order packages of two, four and eight ounces, as well as one-pound bags. There's also chocolates and jams made with tea; and a variety of tea paraphernalia, ranging from tea pots, cozies and infusers to tea "travel kits," assembled by Novalle and her T Salon/T Emporium staff.
T Salon's operation shares the service bar area with Allegro, Whole Food Market's wholly owned coffee product subsidiary. Based in Boulder, Colo., Allegro's "sustainably delicious" motto is evident in the aromas wafting not only from the gurgling espresso machine on the bar counter, but from the 16 whole-bean bins along the perimeter of the inside aisle. The plexiglass, self-service chutes are subdivided into four categories: Dark & Bold, Rich & Exotic, Light & Bright and Organic. The company makes it known through signage and literature that its business philosophy is guided by principles supportive of human rights and sound environmental practices.
A highlight here is on-site coffee roasting. According to a store-level source, Edgewater is the fifth Whole Foods store with this service, supported by associates who can help customers select the appropriate coffee or blend, and operate the device. Whole beans are roasted in one- or three-pound batches, and then can be ground at the customer's request. The forced-air roaster, able to fit atop a side counter in the service area, is sophisticated enough to perform custom roasting functions.
The service coffee bar menu includes espresso, cappuccino, cafe latte and cafe au lait, as well as similar brewed beverages, like the T Salon teas. But, unlike other retailers, Whole Foods here does not offer any fresh juices from this station; rather; it has partnered with Jamba Juice, an independent concept that operates its own service counter adjacent to a Blue Ribbon Barbecue station and the store's 125-seat dining area (see related story, page 55).
The entire service coffee/tea counter forms an end cap of sorts at the back of the prepared foods perimeter aisle, part of a free-standing island that also includes the store's specialty foods section. Here, shoppers also find roughly 20 feet of imported and domestic cheese, such as Cotswald, Manchego, Roncal and Durrus. In the opposite end cap, a service case holds additional premium imported items like Coach Farms brand green peppercorn brick; Cypress Grove Humbolt Fog; and from Corsica, Brin d'Amour, a goat's milk cheese.
The fourth side of this service aisle includes olives, sour green tomatoes, fresh pastas like cheese or wild mushroom ravioli, gnocchi and tricolor tortellini. A section of this case set is reserved for pates, terrines and mousse, as well as a large bowl of cornichons, or whole spiced gherkins.
While the inner aisle opposite the service island is taken up with Allegro's coffee bins, the outer wall is set with a multitier, self-service case offering many of the same service items, such as olives and roasted red peppers, in neatly stacked plastic containers. Organic items are clearly marked. The case gives way to the service bakery counter, and its display of fresh, from-scratch artisan breads, which are prepared in a 9,000-square-foot production area in the back of the store, according to store-level sources.