Nine years ago, Brandi and Jermail Shelton said their “I dos” at the Hammonds House Museum.
In January, they returned to the historic West End home and opened a tea room in the very spot where they were married.
It’s the second retail shop and cafe for Just Add Honey Tea Co., a business that specializes in artisan teas.
“You have these wonderful experiences over a cup of tea,” said Brandi Shelton, who also works as a commercial prop stylist. “Tea is a safe space. It just feels good like I’m able to take a moment for myself to breathe and escape.”
The Stone Mountain couple want others to share that same feeling.
Their flagship shop and cafe is located in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market on Edgewood Avenue, and a third is planned for intown Atlanta later this year.
The company offers a line of 39 flavors of tea with such names as Georgia Peaches, Mint to Be, Chamomile Vanilla Bean and Green Caramel. Prices range between $4 and $5 per ounce.
The idea for tea company began brewing for Brandi Shelton while visiting different tea houses in London and Paris several years ago. The New Orleans native nurtured a longtime love of tea. As a hobby she used to blend teas and make bath salts and soaps.
Shelton was a frequent visitor to the tea room at Selfridges Department Store in London, where she sat alongside other well-dressed ladies at tables covered in white tablecloths and eating and drinking from fine china.
“You just didn’t roll in there in jeans and a T-shirt,” she said. “While I loved indulging in it, I knew there had to be something else. There had to be a beautiful in between. Something between just a tea bag and boas, gloves and hats.”
She also noticed there were few people of color.
“To me, it just seemed like an elitist and high-society enjoyment,” Shelton said. Queen of her debutante ball in New Orleans, Shelton knew about etiquette and how to navigate through those spaces. Even so, she felt “there was an element of something missing.”
She wanted a place where everyone felt comfortable. Where it “wasn’t all pinkies in the air” to enjoy a good cup of tea. “You can be a hipster with a man bun or you can be a 12-year-old girl who just loves tea parties,” she said.
There’s been a rise in tea drinkers, most noticeably among men and millennials.
And retail tea shops are following the growing market, fueled in part by consumers seeking healthier beverage options.
Forecasts in a 2014 article in World Tea News estimated that there would be nearly 8,000 tea-specific retail outlets in the country by 2018.
At Just Add Honey, which also built a customer base at regional and neighborhood festivals, current sales reached $230,000, a rise of 35 percent.
The Hammonds House location is currently open on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Beginning May 1, it will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
“When you drive around, it doesn’t take you long to drive by a coffee shop, but with tea shops they are few and far between,” said Jermail Shelton, who has a background in real estate and sales. “Especially tea shops that offer an elegant experience. The opportunity is definitely huge in metro Atlanta.”
He said the tea shops “offer more creative ways to hang out beyond going to a restaurant.” That includes tea parties between friends, bridal showers and mother-daughter time.
The Hammonds House was a natural expansion. Brandi Shelton, who also has been a speaker at tea conferences around the world, used to live in the area. One day, they were taking their two sons to see where they got married. They looked in the window and Brandi Shelton suddenly knew this would be the next location.
“We’ve had such a positive reaction in the West End community,” Jermail Shelton said. The location uses fresh flowers on each table. The company also has a tea subscription service and sells special seasonal teas.
Although they still plan to hit the festival circuit, the shops hold a special place.
“We like seeing people’s reaction,” he said. “You have that conversation. People are laughing or smiling — cracking jokes all centered around a cup of tea.”