Friday, 18 June 2010

S.D. Bell & Co Ltd.

I spent my Friday morning having a nosey round St Georges market coffee in hand as usual. The “Friday morning market” is a Belfast Institution and I’ll write about in properly at some point. However, I always get my coffee from the same little stall “S.D. Bell & Co Ltd” that sells excellent coffee for £1.20 a cup as well as a selection of tea and freshly ground coffee. It was only recently I heard they have a shop and cafe in Knock, East Belfast and with a bus day ticket and a bit of free time I decided to visit.

The SD Bell Shop is split into two sections, firstly the “leaf & berry” coffee bar which also serves something like 12 different types of tea and when I called in they had a jazz pianist playing in the corner. Apparently this happens every Friday afternoon! I had quick coffee with this as a background for all of £1.40.

They also have a shop next door to the cafe that sells everything from a huge selection of coffee beans which are roasted and ground on the premises to loose leaf tea and tea bags which are also made out the back of the shop.

It turns out that S.D. Bell & Co Ltd far from being a modern coffee house has been selling tea and coffee in Belfast since 1887. I spoke briefly with Mr Robert Bell, great-grandson of the original Mr S.D. Bell (featured on their packaging) who represents the fourth generation of Bells, who explained a bit about the history of the company. He pointed to the pictures of the other three generations of Bells hung on the wall. Mr Bell said he was in no hurry to get his picture on the wall as the price for that honour was death!

They began with a small store below Mr Bells home in 1887, very close to their current premises. The business expanded and in 1927 they took on larger premises in Church Lane and Ann Street as a general store which specialised in selling the finest teas and roasting coffee, where it remained until 1973. Sadly with the advent of the troubles and the barriers and barricades that went with it in the city centre S.D. Bell & Co Ltd decided to close their city centre branch.

In 1973 they opened the cafe and headquarters we see today, four men and 123 years later. Mr Bell tells me his nephew now roasts the coffee so it looks set to remain a family business.

Apart from their unique history, its really does offer a great selection of ground coffee and loose leaf tea and is certainly worth a visit. It’s not expensive either 80 tea bags are £2 and a jar of instant is £2. The freshly ground beans and loose leaf tea vary in price from quite cheap to reasonable expensive for their finest beans.

You can buy their produce and see some of the in house processes behind their production of tea and coffee on their website.

A big thanks to Mr Bell and the nice lady in the shop who was to modest too have her picture taken.

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