Monday, July 7, 2014

The General Mercantile/Iced Earl Grey Tea

Ray Domer(one of my favorite people in the world) started The General Mercantile over forty years ago.  The Mercantile has morphed and changed with the times, at one point in the seventies selling black light posters and glass pipes, but now it's more of a family focused place.
It's a giant gift emporium with everything from picnic baskets to handerpants, not to mention the wall of loose leaf tea, chocolate case or the many jars of old fashioned candies.
The amazing Ray.  He's so great, he has a dish named after him at the No Sweat
 I used to run to go orders from my mom's cafe down to Ray and get my choice of one dollar, a bag of candy or a cup of their amazing whipped cream for a tip.  Ray would encourage us to feed the koi that he kept in an open tank with steps leading up to it.  One of those fish has been around since I was a child.

My favorite aspect of this place is behind the counter, the two gorgeous pull espresso machines that Ray has redesigned to be electric instead of using gas.

When I first moved to Portland, all I heard about was the coffee. I think I've been spoiled by the Mercantile, because nothing comes close to tasting like the drinks I've had here.  There's a place called Cafe Spella in downtown that has a pull espresso machine(one of the only ones in Portland it seems), but the ambiance doesn't quite match up to the General Mercantile.

I worked here for about a year when I was twenty and I was blown away by the entire process of pulling an espresso.  There has to be the right temperature, right water pressure, right grind on the coffee, even the way the coffee bean is roasted(air roasted in the case of the Mercantile) will effect the flavor of the drink.
It's the best place to go if you want to enjoy the best cup of coffee of your life(I recommend the Iced Rocket; espresso, lots of sugar and heavy cream poured over ice), chat with the friendly baristas and listen to old men wax poetic about their ill-informed opinions on politics and the local news.

I feel like there is a hole in my heart where the mercantile lived and realize being away what an incredibly special place it is.
In honor of the Mercantiles beautiful tea selection and the philosophy of making everything from scratch to order, here's a recipe for a simple cup of iced earl grey.  You can make this recipe with any tea, just change the steeping time for the separate kinds.  2-3 minutes for black and green teas and 5-6 minutes for herbals.

Earl Grey, black tea with bergamot oil. 

Iced Earl Grey

2 Tbsp loose leaf Earl Grey Tea
5 oz. water, or enough to barely cover your tea leaves
1 Tbsp honey
milk to taste
1 cup packed with cubed ice


1. Place your loose leaf in a tea basket and set in a heat proof cup. If you don't have a tea basket, go get one, they're cheap.  Otherwise you can use cheesecloth.

2. Bring your water up to a gentle boil and pour over your tea leaves.  You're creating a concentration of flavor, so you don't want to put too much water in, just enough to cover the leaves.

3. Steep for at least 1.5 minutes and no longer then 3.  Black and green teas get bitter when oversteeped.

4. Take out basket, discard leaves.  Mix honey into your hot tea until dissolved. 

5. Pour the hot tea over your cup of ice.  Add more ice as needed to chill it completely.  The ice melting will add liquid to your drink, that's why you needed the concentrated amount of tea.

6. Doctor it up with some milk, and enjoy the shit out of it.

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