On a recent Saturday afternoon, Little Teapot owner Valerie Peacock translates a code on a label from the dozens of jars of loose tea along the back wall of her shop in Laurel: "FTGFOP.1. That's Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe and first quality, " she says, emphasizing the first letter of each word as she measures ounces of white, black, green and oolong loose teas. "A good-quality tea will have a designation you can figure out." Within minutes, she has described the April-June tea-picking season, highlights of her recent trip to the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas and the "agony of the leaves" -- the proper term for when hot water meets the tea.
This is the sixth year that Peacock, a longtime Laurel resident with a bit of Brooklyn in her delivery, has run the carriage-house shop on the grounds of the 18th-century Montpelier Mansion, a national historic landmark.
Her Little Teapot is quiet and neither precious nor overwhelmingly quaint. Peacock carries 65 kinds of loose teas, several of which have decaffeinated counterparts; most are from $1.25 to $2.25 an ounce. In addition, she sells 20 types of popular packaged teas such as PG Tips ($5.25, 40 tea bags) and Yorkshire Gold ($6.35, 40 bags), and more teas are available online. If she does not have a particular tea in stock, she's confident she can track it down (a "tea hunt").
The shop doesn't have a kitchen of its own, but Peacock can brew a pot for a light tea ($5.99, including shortbread and a ceramic cup and saucer to take home) or for a proper tasting at one of three small tables. She also oversees afternoon teas in the mansion's dining room on selected Fridays from April onward ($18, including scones, pastries and jam sandwiches).
On the same afternoon, Army Lt. Col. Tim Napora of Crofton has come in for his usual eight-ounce supply of creme brulee tea. At Peacock's urging, he takes a whiff of something new: "Here, chocolate raspberry. It smells like heaven," she says. The aroma of both blends conjures visions of guilt-free dessert. She also points out tins of organic green tea mints ($3.99): "Green tea's all the rage these days, but all [tea] is good for you," she says.
Peacock commissioned her tea distributor to come up with a house blend for Montpelier. It's a black-tea combination of Earl Grey and Darjeeling. It's perhaps the best example of what her shop has to offer: fresh, flavorful leaves that make for a superior cup of tea. She considers tea as a gift that ought to be just right: "If it's not your cup of tea, bring it back to me."
The Little Teapot, 9401 Montpelier Dr., Laurel; 301-498-8486. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday; see www.the-little-teapot.com or e-mail to email@example.com. Reservations are required for the mansion's afternoon teas.
-- Bonnie S. Benwick