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The founders of Brooklyn Tea, which is slated to open its second location at 329 Nelson St SW in April, said they had always planned to open an Atlanta tearoom.
“I am a native, and all three of us have very strong ties to Atlanta,” co-founder Jamila McGill told What Now Atlanta. “I am a born-and-raised West-side Atlanta girl. I am a Frederick Douglass [Highschool] Astro — I’ve always been in the neighborhood. There was no other alternative, we were always going to open a second location.”
Before she met her Brooklyn Tea co-founder and fiancee Alfonso Ali Wright, McGill said that her knowledge of teas “stopped at iced sweet tea [or] a good Arnold Palmer.” But for Brooklyn-born Wright, who was steeped in Caribbean tea culture by his Jamaican mother, tea was an everything. Fragrant loose-leaf teas imbued with hibiscus flowers and cinnamon sticks became a centerpiece in McGill’s life, too, and in their relationship.
“It felt all magic and special and I got caught up in the magic of it all,” said McGill. “We talked about who we wanted to be, and the idea of tea as a business came from that.”
Toward that goal, Wright pored over the ins and outs of the most consumed beverage on the planet, moonlighting at a teahouse in the West Village and ultimately becoming a tea sommelier. Since, Brooklyn Tea has received nods from Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Self and New York Magazine. Now, their brand curates nearly 100 varieties of tea, ranging from South African rooibos tea with Belgian chocolate pieces to Pu-erh grown in the mountains of China to herbs cultivated in Washington State. As a result of Wright’s training and passion, the teas on their menu are never spared the story of their origins and are described in a manner akin to wine tasting notes.
Before the couple’s humble beginnings gave way to notoriety, McGill attended Spelman. There, she grew close to Kerri-Ann T. Thomas, who played a crucial role in the operations of the Brooklyn shop, “helping the store at the drop of a dime.” McGill said that Thomas was the apparent candidate to own the second iteration of Brooklyn Tea.
“To have Kerri at the helm of it just perfectly fit,” said McGill. “She has a love and investment for the city of Atlanta and her mother resides in the city… we wanted to do well for the city and wanted to help it expand and flourish. There was no other alternative, we were always going to open a second location.”
Deepening the trio’s sense of kismet, two of their Brooklyn employees were accepted Clark Atlanta, a seven-minute walk from the Nelson Street property, before a deal on the space was closed. Bringing a portion of their flagship location’s staff is reassuring, said Thomas, and will facilitate the process of ferrying the energy from their premier shop down the East Coast.
“Truly when you walk in it’s one of the most welcoming environments. their customers feel seen. They remember their customers by name, They remember little fun facts about them. it really does have that,” said Thomas. “The people stay for the people.”
Currently, the three are searching for a community garden in Atlanta that could use their spent tea leaves — Wright said that the Tahuti Ma’at community garden where their leaves are sent in New York had “one of their best seasons ever” when they began composting the tea shop’s leaves. As a Black-owned business, Thomas said that “everyone that’s part of Brooklyn Tea is chosen with intentionality — we have Black contractors, Black banks and [work with other] Black businesses.”
The Nelson Street location will be a test run, McGill said, before future sites are sought out.
“The life of a franchise is kind of a unity thing where it is a lot of planning and attention setting, but it’s [mostly]about finding the right people,” McGill said. “Just as important as location is having the right person to be in charge, for [that person] to be completely dedicated to community service in the neighborhood and for them to have had a close connection to wherever the location is.”