By Melina Macall
For Montclair Local
Melina Macall is a writer, researcher, community organizer and college lecturer focusing on issues around food access. She has lived in Montclair for 18 years and runs Boxed Organics, an organic food service, boxedorganicsnj.com. Macall is co-founder of The United Tastes of America, and the Syria Supper Club, which builds bridges across cultures and communities through dinners held in people’s homes and prepared by recently resettled Syrian refugees. For more information visit TheUnitedTastesOfAmerica.org.
Meet Sam, just Sam, owner of The Pie Store and the newly opened Tea Store on Watchung Avenue in Montclair.
Sam is a transplant, originally from Essex in England, but by way of Hong Kong. She has lived in Montclair for almost 20 years. Sam went to Hong Kong to work in printed textile design and worked in styling for a number of publications. from home decor to food styling.
Once she settled in Montclair she opened The London Food Company, synthesizing her talents in art styling and food, both of which Sam sees as forms of textile design: “When I put down a tray of scones or pies I subconsciously put things in an apparent repeat.” And Sam uses her artistic vision in her baking decisions too, she said: “I know how something will look. Before I make it I can see it. Most of the time I know if it’s going to work out or not.”
Soon she was hungry for a new project, and started offering home-style pies in the store. The pies were made in a licensed kitchen in New York and delivered. But, having them made off-site meant Sam couldn’t be guaranteed consistency. So Eventually Sam opened The Pie Store with her own kitchen, after originally offering pies made in New York.
“Even now, 10 years on, every day, if you’re not watching everything… You’ve got to check consistency, taste, everything.People will let you know if the chicken pie this week tastes different from last. I feel that’s what will break you.”
Sam’s favorite pies are turkey and stuffing — Thanksgiving every day! — and blackberry-raspberry-apple, for a taste of summer year round.
With a flourishing trade in pies, so much so that this year it’s first-come, first-served for Thanksgiving, she soon wanted a new challenge. Her many years in Hong Kong gave her an eternal love of tea, appreciating the many kinds available beyond her traditional British cuppa drunk with milk.
Just three weeks ago, two doors down from The Pie Store, she opened The Tea Store.
While Sam isn’t making the tea, she takes just as much care over her offerings. The teas do not smell like potpourri when dry. Instead, their delicate aromas are released when they are steeped in hot water. Black and herbal steep at 200 degrees, oolong and green at 180 degrees, and delicate white tea 160 Fahrenheit. You can get these temperatures at home without a calibrated machine by waiting 20 to 30 seconds after your kettle has come to the boil before pouring out water onto tea.
All the teas available at The Tea Shop are sourced from people as passionate about tea as Sam is about pie, bought from estates that utilize sustainable, ethical and organic or beyond organic practices. It is a point of pride for Sam that she has met the people she is buying from and, for the most part, they have personal relationships with their tea growers and workers, traveling and spending a few months a year sourcing the teas. The Tea Store offers snacks, baked at The Pie Store, to accompany a steaming cup of tea.Sam’s custard tarts have their origins in her time in Hong Kong. On weekends she would visit the market in Macau, a Portuguese enclave until 1999, where she would buy pasteis de nata, egg tarts, from Lord Stow’s Bakery. Eventually the bakery opened a stand in Hong Kong and now Sam offers her version of this Hong Kong custard tart right here in Montclair.