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Bulk spices and teas make luxury highly affordable, particularly when you buy with friends; photo by Sheila Velazquez.
Bulk spices and teas make luxury highly affordable, particularly when you buy with friends; photo by Sheila Velazquez.

Tea and Sympathy

The sympathy is for those of us, including me, who can’t seem to shake whatever bug it is that has invaded our chests, heads and thinking. The tea is part of that sympathy, because a hot cup of tea with honey and lemon, and perhaps a warm muffin, is the next best thing to mom holding you on her lap, wrapped in a blanket, rocking back and forth in time to the lullaby she is humming.

My daughter is a beekeeper, and she has ordered that I am not to buy honey in the store. Hers is wonderful. She sends several at a time so I don’t have to ration. As for tea, I buy it in bulk from two sources, San Francisco Herb and Atlantic Spice Company. I first bought from San Francisco Herb decades ago and actually once visited their store and warehouse. Their spices and teas are fresh and cheap, a fraction of what you would pay in a store for the little cans or jars whose origins and freshness may be suspect. Even coops that sell in bulk buy from big suppliers and mark them up substantially. Both of these companies are listed as coop distributors, yet will sell direct to you. Just sayin.

Shipping is less from Atlantic Spice, since they are located on the Cape, but the prices at San Francisco Herb are often less. If you can’t find what you are looking for at one, you can often find it at the other. Compare.

Besides the huge cost savings, the other advantage to buying tea in bulk is that you can create your own blends. When your tummy is upset, maybe half chamomile and half ginger with a bit of peppermint. If you are feeling adventurous, maybe hibiscus and lemongrass. These sellers also have a number of blends that are wonderful, and their mesh strainers and tea balls are very inexpensive. For less than $10, you can create a gift that will please any tea lover.

In my back-to-the-land days, I and several friends bought food in bulk and saved a ton of money. There was a minimum for delivery that was easily met, and our goodies were delivered by a huge truck that we could hear rumble down the road passed the barn before we could see it. I happily hosted the breaking up of the goods that came in large-quantity containers, except for when we were getting honey or molasses. My floors were wood plank, and so the member with easily cleaned linoleum in her kitchen would take a turn.

We bought cheese by the wheel and divided it with a guitar string. Scales were set up on the table to weigh herbs, teas and gorgeously fragrant spices. We collected and cleaned jars between deliveries and filled and marked contents as bags and cans were emptied. Some buys, like nuts or wheatberries, were easy to divide. Flours were another matter.

A few years ago I contacted a bulk supplier about setting up a group and having orders delivered to a residence. I was told that their contracts with food coops now stipulate that they cannot do so to addresses within a certain number of miles of the coop. I do buy specialty food items online, and there are good deals to be had, but I miss the five-gallon cans, fifty-pound bags, twenty-pound cheeses and the sense of community of a home-grown buyers’ club.

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Sheila Velazquez is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in more than 100 print newspapers and magazines, including Grit, New Woman, the Hartford Courant, the New Haven Register, the San Antonio Express-News and Bay Area Parent. Her awards include two from the Society of Professional Journalists for a syndicated column. Sheila has contributed to online websites, including commondreams.org and dissidentvoice.org. She served as contributing editor of Organic Producer magazine and wrote biographical material for reference collections that include “Contemporary Authors,” the “Encyclopedia of International Biography” and “Notable Sports Figures.” Feel free to send her an e-mail.

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