Who: Brandi Shelton of Just Add Honey Tea Company
What: Custom-blended loose-leaf teas, cold-brewed teas, and accessories
Where: Atlanta, Georgia
While studying fashion design and marketing in London, Brandi Shelton fell in love with the daily ritual of a cup of tea, but was less enamored of the traditional flavors. "I thought I could add a spice here or a fruit there to make a more flavorful cup," she tells us. And that's how Just Add Honey, her custom tea line, began. Now back in Atlanta, Brandi remains fascinated by tea. Read on for a look at her business and her advice on buying and tasting tea — great for tea newbies and enthusiasts alike!
Brandi's southern roots run deep. A native of New Orleans, she's called Atlanta, Georgia home since 1996, met her husband there, and is now raising a busy blended family just northeast of the city. Her company Just Add Honey sells flavored and spiced teas mixtures from local farmers markets, online, and in boutiques nationwide.
Brandi works her magic out of a professional kitchen ("I was so glad when I could move the business out of the house") that is half Japanese teahouse, half laboratory, and surrounded by shimmering bottles and apothecary jars, the air scented with her many custom mixtures. She's been in this location for three years, but for the first two years she was so focused on product that the front office remained bare. "I finally decided this year, I'm going to be here for a while, I should hang up some art!"
She develops new flavors all the time: "In the fall I'm working to develop blends for the following spring. We offer [new blends] to our customers at the farmers market, and if they're a hit we package them in our tins." Not content to simply sell the dried teas, she also provides tea by the gallon to local restaurants, hosts tea parties, and speaks at foodie events. She even supplies a smoked tea to a local chocolatier, who uses it to infuse bonbons.
But her greatest pleasure is still introducing people to the teas she loves most: "I love when I 'hear' a smile in someone's voice from the flavor of the tea... 'Mmmm! That's really good!'"
Quick Questions for Brandi
1. What inspired you to open your own business with the teas?
Drinking quality teas wasn't as big at the time in the States. Other than Teavana, loose tea wasn't well known. And people really liked what I made! Also, the photography market was changing [at that time] so I had a lot of time on my hands.
2. Who are your clients? Do you sell retail or wholesale?
Our teas are sold on our website. We brew iced teas for coffee shops and restaurants and sell our tins to other retail locations nation wide.
3. How do you develop your custom blends?
Our blends come from many places. I've developed tea blends based on customer recommendations. I've created a blend out of boredom with my current blends. I once had a drink that I loved, tried dissecting the flavors, and created a blend inspired by it!
4. What is your favorite tea accessory?
Right now I'm loving our Tea Traveler! I can enjoy a cup of tea anytime with it. The container stays cool to touch even when the tea is hot on the inside.
Brandi's Tea Advice
On sweetening your tea: "I prefer my tea unadorned, but if I sweeten my tea, I just add honey! And TruBee Honey is it. They are American beekeepers who do it right and offer delicious honey that sweetens my cup."
On accompaniments to tea: "Anything that allows the tea to shine [is fair game]. Scones, tea biscuits, shortbread cookies, or nothing at all. When you add too many flavors, your cup of tea gets lost."
On buying tea: "Get flavors that you know you will love or you won't drink it. Once you know that you enjoy loose leaf tea and feel comfortable preparing it, explore other teas, flavors, and blends. Invest in quality brewing extras (french press, strainers, disposable tea bags, etc) to make you life easier, and drink up!"
On flavors: "Start with one additional flavor to a tea you already enjoy. Do you like English Breakfast tea? Add dried cranberries for a different twist. Or add fresh mint to your favorite green tea for a refreshing twist. You can later add additional ingredients (but one at a time so your tongue doesn't explode in taste overload)."
On throwing a tea party: "I love tea parties! I would find a way to have a tea party that would incorporate chocolates from Chocolate South. Her company infuses our teas in some of the bonbons. My menu would also include savory scones, Emily G's jam, varieties of finger sandwiches, and fresh fruit. I would set the table with an modern spread (only real china works here!) with a few vintage flairs, add fresh flowers and wait for my friends to arrive."
(Image credits: Amy Herr and Tracey Brower )