In business now for 12 years, the husband-and-wife founders of the Just Add Honey Tea Co. are serving up more than tea at their café in Atlanta, Georgia. They sell extensions of their brand to wholesale accounts and for an elite group of tea drinkers, they offer afternoon tastings and tea experiences for special events such as a High-Tea” bridal shower.
When Jermail and Brandi Shelton started dating, Brandi created tea blends that were symbolic of their relationship. “My love for tea comes from my wife Brandi,” says Jermail. She had a blend called “1st Date,” which was a chocolate-based tea reminiscent of their first date at an ice cream shop. “She helped me step my game up from bagged to loose leaf. Her love for tea was contagious!” he says.
Brandi’s love for tea came from her childhood moments with her grandmother. “My grandmother would create a hot herb blend to soothe any ailment,” says Brandi. It was a simple gesture that I was drawn to. The teakettle whistling on her gas stove, pouring of the hot water, and the quiet moment at her kitchen table. Holding the warm cup to my lips and having table time with my grandmother made me feel better instantly. As I grew, I treasured our time and remembered the love in every cup. Since then, I try to incorporate the same love with our blends. It’s a wonderful feeling to hear our customers express how they’ve added Just Add Honey teas to their daily ritual.”
“We are proud that we’ve begun sourcing our teas from family-owned farms around the world. It feels good to share the farm to cup process while supporting an industry,” said Jermail. “Just Add Honey created Tea Experience Adventure (TEA for short) to give tea lovers a first-hand experience into where and how our favorite beverage is created. India, China, Kenya, Japan, Sri Lanka, Argentina, wherever tea is grown, you can travel with us and learn about the tea, rituals, and customs of its town.”
“My new love is educating our customers on the benefits of tea and seeing their love for tea grow. Teas are a feeling. With coffee, you can easily finish a cup without realizing it. Tea creates a mood. People choose teas to create how they want their day to go. Want to wake up? You reach for a tea with caffeine. Want to relax? You reach for an herbal blend. Want a tasty healthy beverage? There’s a list of teas that you can brew. Want a dessert without the calories? Turn on the teapot. So while we can steer tea lovers to an ‘of the moment’ tea, we listen to our customers and give them what they want versus telling them what sells the best. There’s no greater feeling than seeing repeat customers come back to tell us how drinking our tea started them on a new journey to become healthier.”
According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), 50% of businesses fail during the first five years, but Just Add Honey has managed to scale and keep the community connections going for over a decade. “The work I’m most proud of can’t be measured in dollars and cents or shown on a spreadsheet, said Jermail. It’s the bridging of community through our tea. We’ve created a space where you can find your suit-and-tie business professional having an engaging conversation with a college freshman in sweats. Conversations about homeschooling, how black women are leading the revolution and how to convert from employee to entrepreneur-—all had in our store under the roof of the Just Add Honey Tea Co.”
“Our business has also created a space where we can teach our kids in real time what it takes to be an entrepreneur. At age 9, our son William has a clear understanding of profit and loss, reinvesting in your brand, and how you should work for someone to gain a skill set, not necessarily for the dollar. He spends a lot of time in the store greeting customers and working the register. These are positions that aid in building his confidence so he’s never afraid to speak to an adult or look a person in the eyes.”
When it comes to running a business as a couple, the duo offers this advice, “We’ve brought lessons from our marriage and parenting to the office. Stay in your lane and trust your partner. I’m great with homework and don’t particularly love sports-related stuff with our boys. He’s great at sales and allows me to have full control over design and branding. We play to our strengths, offer input without taking it on the chin, and communicate. Communicate. Communicate! We also have day dates once a week where we can’t talk tea and we just enjoy each other’s company as husband and wife.”