To say Capital Teas’ proprietors, Peter and Manelle Martino, know tea might be a bit of an understatement. Fifth-generation tea merchant Manelle’s great-great-grandfather Francis Van Reyk was a Dutch tea planter who immigrated in the 1890s to present-day Sri Lanka, where he managed the Diyagama Estate, from which the Martinos now source their Great Grandfather’s tea. Manelle’s family has been in the tea trade ever since, a tradition she has carried to her own specialty tea business, which has several boutique locations throughout the D.C. and Maryland area. Additionally, Peter has become a popular speaker at World Tea Expos, where he frequently educates and inspires the tea world.
In addition to tea from Sri Lanka, the business carries more than 200 loose teas and herbal infusions from 18 countries including India, China, Japan, Malawi, and Kenya. A sniffing wall dispenses wafts of black, oolong, and mate teas, and knowledgeable employees drift around the store’s tasting stations to explain each flavor’s nuances and read the tea leaves in tasting cups.
Capital Teas also pairs customers with accompaniments such as teapots, brewers, tea-infused chocolate, and artisanal honey. In-store patrons may sample free tea samples—which are brewed fresh daily—, while online purchasers receive a free sample with every order.
At Occasionally Cake, pastry chefs Sabrina Campbell and Marcia Crandall get pretty bold with their cupcake flavors. So it may not come as a surprise that one of their bestsellers is called Everything But The Kitchen Sink. There's a lot going on with this vanilla cupcake—it's filled with peanut butter, chocolate, and butterscotch chips, dipped in caramel, iced with peanut butter frosting, and topped off with Heath bits. Other cupcakes, meanwhile, range from the Fuzzy Navel—an orange cake with peach buttercream—to the Grasshopper, a chocolate truffle cake crowned with mint-Oreo buttercream and capable of leaping several feet if startled. Sabrina and Marcia also craft cakes for special occasions such as weddings and birthday parties.
Though people no longer have to cross continental boundaries to sample exotic flavors, the average spice rack still tends to lack diversity. At the Spice & Tea Exchange of Annapolis, a staff of flavor-seeking specialists stocks gourmet seasonings and spices, cooking herbs, sugars, and sea salts to expand their customers' cooking horizons. In addition to fresh herbs and flavorings, the team designs signature seasoning powders that infuse dishes with medleys of chili, savory hints of cheese, or the essence of smoke. They also carry an assortment of gourmet teas, which are good to keep around the house in case a local king decides to stop by.
Food and wine make for a great tag-team duo, assuaging stress while filling the belly with scrumptious sustenance. At GRAPE + BEAN, patrons can sample wines, small plates, and large plates to satisfy the pickiest of sippers and tasters. A knowledgeable staff helps customers pick out palate-soothing drinks and eats amid an inviting atmosphere that features original brick walls, exposed beams, and rustic wood finishes. Sample tasty bites off the lunch, brunch, or dinner menus, which offer selections such as the rosemary ham with melted aged gruyere ($11), truffled egg toast ($12.50), and duck confit with white-bean casserole ($22). Or, opt for smaller plates, such as artichoke with pecorino, fresh mint, and basil ($9) and organic heirloom tomato with serrano ham ($9).
Growing up, Chakra Café’s owner Monisha lived two different lives. At school, she was known by her given name and spent lunch hours twirling spaghetti on a fork. But at home, Monisha’s Bengali parents only referred to her by her nickname, Hashi–or laughter–and mealtimes meant scooping up lamb curry with a piece of luchi. The duality of Monisha’s two worlds–and the food she was exposed to–left a lasting impression and is the driving force behind the Café’s menu.
Inside Chakra Café’s kitchen, chefs marry Indian flavors with culinary traditions from around the world, using recipes adapted from Monisha’s mother, according to a Patch.com article. Traditional Bengali dishes such as begun bhartha–roasted eggplant flavored with green mango–are served solo or stuffed inside quesadillas with smoked fontina cheese, roasted pine nuts, and raitha yogurt sauce. Other Indian staples are also Americanized, from the tandoori chicken that tops flatbread pizzas to spaghetti paired with lamb meatballs and a whisper of ghee. Each item on the menu is clearly marked as halal, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free, making it easy to decipher the dishes without meat and the ones that require each bite to be chewed 32 times.
All of Bittersweet's enormous cupcakes undergo a delicate upbringing from roots of real butter and other gourmet ingredients. Flavors range from classic chocolate to more inventive tastes such as PB&J, which is loaded with a strawberry filling core and given a top hat of peanut butter buttercream. If you prefer to paint your own cakesterpiece, customize a creation by pairing a cake flavor, such as lemon, coconut, or spice, with a buttercream flavor, such as orange, mint, or cream cheese frosting. Whether you phone in or drop in, be sure to peep through the bakery window on North Alfred Street and say hello to executive bakery chef Angel, who is known for melting the buttery hearts of swooning passersby by reciting romantic passages from the encyclopedia. With a dozen chances to spread your confectioned love, you won't have to play favorites with all the jury members.