In Conversation With Emilie Holmes
This month we had the pleasure of
visiting Emilie Holmes, Founder of
Good & Proper Tea, at her flagship
Tea Bar in the heart of Clerkenwell.
Greeted with a warm welcome and
the fresh smell of tea and lovely
sweet treats, we couldn't wait to
find out more about her flourishing
business, how it all started and
Emilie's go-to wardrobe staples.
Here's what she had to say...
Tell us about how Good & Proper Tea started and your journey so far.
I started G&P Tea because I was frustrated - I don't drink coffee & couldn't understand
why when I went for a 'coffee' with a friend they always got something beautifully
crafted by an expert barista, while the tea was always a disappointing afterthought. I
complained about it to family and friends for years, eventually decided I was going to
have to be the one to change it! With a plan to convert a 1974 Citroën-H van into a
mobile tea bar, I put the idea on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, where 372 backers
made that dream come true. We brewed the first cup of tea in Shoreditch, London on
3rd December 2012.
After taking the van to events & festivals across the UK I eventually decided it was time
to find somewhere to call home. Following a second successful crowdfunding campaign
in 2014, this time on Crowdcube, we opened our first Tea Bar in Clerkenwell, as well as
a year-long kiosk in Old Street. Good & Proper Tea has now grown to a flagship Tea Bar,
an online store, a growing network of cafe and restaurant partners - and of course the
van lives on!
Where do you source your teas?
We source from all over the world - Kenya, Rwanda, India, China, Sri Lanka and Japan
to name but a few! Each of those growing regions are very different, not only in the tea
they produce and the flavour of each but also in the way they work. It makes for a very
nuanced supply chain!
What inspires the variety of flavours you have on offer?
The key thing to note is that we source exclusively whole leaf, single origin teas. Single
origin means that the flavour of each one is determined by the geographical region in
which it is grown, and that is the flavour we want to showcase. So in selecting each of
our teas we are always looking for something that can stand up on its own without
blending or flavouring. Most of our customers will only be familiar with a couple of
black teas, so we want the collection to be exciting, but not overwhelming. We therefore
curate a selection of teas that covers all types, from blacks, oolongs, greens and whites
to herbal infusions, but each one must be distinct, bringing something new and different
to the range. It isn't easy as there are an infinite number of delicious teas being grown
around the world each year and it's tempting to bring them all in but we have to always
think about the customer and what they'll want to see. The collection is always growing
though and the numbers of the teas relate to the order in which we found them. We are
now looking for #30...
What are the benefits of loose-leaf tea over tea bags?
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, loose leaf tastes better. This is because of 2
things - firstly the best tea is whole leaf, meaning the leaves have been kept whole
during production. Whole leaves brew a more complex, flavourful cup, but won't fit
inside a convenient bag format. Instead they go through a process called 'cut-tear-curl',
during which the leaves are cut into smaller pieces, known as dust. Losing much of the
aroma in the process, this 'dust' is built for speed and strength, not for flavour. So to
drink the best, most delicious teas, you want loose leaf. Secondly the process of the
leaves unfurling is also important for flavour, and in order for them to release their full
flavour and aroma they need room to fully open up - a bag can sometimes restrict this.
It is also better for the environment (we currently throw away around 54 billion tea bags
a year) and more economical. You pay a premium for the bag, whereas with loose you're
paying for the quality of the tea itself. Finally, the process of making a pot of loose leaf
tea, much like preparing a cafetiere of coffee, is an important part of the ritual.
Measuring the leaves into your pot, pouring the water and watching the leaves dance
around, slowly unfurling to release their flavour - it is all part of the tea-making moment
and no doubt makes for a more delicious cup!
In a nation full of coffee addicts, what is it about your approach to tea that
sets it apart in terms of quality and experience.
Well although coffee, and in particular speciality coffee, has seen huge growth over the
past 10 years, we still drink a lot more tea in the UK. But tea, particularly when you're
out and about, has for too long been disappointing, so we wanted to do things
differently. We start with the tea itself - we look for delicious, single-origin, whole leaf
teas. Each one distinct and full of flavour. Then it's about the preparation. We use
unique brewing technology to extract the best possible flavour from the leaves, and then
hand over just the perfectly brewed tea. Finally we focus on serving it right - whether on
a tray - pot, mug, milk and all - or to takeaway with a unique lid that ensures you get the
full flavour from your cup. We call this way of doing things Good & Proper. And you can
also get the tea, as well as tips and kit to brew it with, delivered to your door.
What is your go-to method for making the perfect cup of tea?
I have one of our G&P glass teapots and I love it - it's what I use every day. It looks
beautiful as the whole thing, infuser included, are made of glass so you can see the
leaves dance around and the colour change as it brews. But most importantly it's easy to
get the tea right as you can remove the infuser once it's brewed, leaving just the liquor. I
always brew in a pot as I like the ritual of topping up your cup.
What's your favourite accompaniment to a good brew?
Other than one of our sourdough crumpets?! A milk chocolate hobnob has got to be up
What does a typical working day look like for you?
My days are so varied that it is often difficult to know what to put on in the morning - I
might be in the warehouse in Brockley in the morning surrounded by boxes, then at
meetings at the shop in Clerkenwell in the afternoon, followed by hosting a Tea Tasting
event in the evening! The most important thing is always feeling good - I need to be
comfortable, particularly in my shoes as I often walk between London appointments,
but also like what I'm wearing. No fiddly bits to keep tucking in or pulling down...
I've dressed up in jackets and heels for meetings in the past and never felt myself, so now
know that I much prefer to feel relaxed. I'm much more confident that way.
What are your wardrobe staples?
Dungarees. I am rarely seen in anything else! And a very comfy pair of trainers - usually
If I wasn't running Good & Proper Tea I would be...um a travel writer? Writing,
taking photographs and travel all in one sounds like a dream to me.
My favourite tea is... Assam. It was the first tea we sourced and is still my go to
Words to live by... Enjoy the journey. It's an old one but harder than it sounds.
Getting better at it!
Holiday destination I love... I love...Sri Lanka. Tea, sun, beach, lovely lovely people
and great food.
The best thing about my job is... the amazing people I meet.
My favourite London hangout is... Brockley Market on a sunny Saturday.
Shop the full collection here
Photography by Jutta Klee @juttaklee
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