Behind every great brand, there’s a story to match. Once you’ve set eyes on Birdhouse Tea Company’s fantastic loose leaf teas or stepped inside its eponymous tea shop, you know this is a company that’s doing something special with its products. Mother and daughter duo Julia and Becky English are the Sheffielders behind Birdhouse. I caught up with Julia in their Nether Edge tea studio.
While Birdhouse Tea officially launched back in 2013, Julia tells me that her daughter Becky has long dreamed of working with tea, having developed an interest in the ritual of green tea and Japanese culture more than a decade earlier. Ordering a pot of jasmine green tea in Soho was all it took and the teenage Becky was hooked. Blessed with a great palate, bags of creativity and valuable experience clocked up in the drinks industry, it would be a few years later that Becky joined forces with her mum, a trained holistic nutritionist, and the Birdhouse Tea concept was born.
The Englishes took their idea to market first by trying out their early blends at farmers’ and local markets. Cheered by the feedback they got, they created some Sheffield-inspired blends to sell at Kelham Island Christmas market in 2013 and since then, haven’t looked back. The duo opened Birdhouse Tea HQ in the old post office in Nether Edge in September 2014.
The tea shop itself is an oasis of bright, playful decor and slow living, off the beaten track in this leafy suburb. Part blending house, cafe and shop, you can get hold of all the tea paraphernalia you need to become a loose leaf convert and connoisseur. And did I mention they usually have some luscious cake for sale too? We’re talking numerous layers and serious icing.
Unsurprisingly, one of Birdhouse’s most popular collections is a series of love letters to Sheffield in the form of tea. Coles Corner, a green tea with jasmine, infused with rose and red fruits, reflects the historic lovers’ meeting place on Fargate, while Kelham Island is a smoky lapsang souchong shot with safflower, to represent its namesake’s old smoky furnaces and industrial history. The Full Monty is their signature blend: strong, northern and proud, in case you were wondering.
Other inspired collections nod to the natural heritage of the Peak District, Yorkshire in all its glory, and sweet shop classics. Whether you’re after white, black or green tea, something fruity, herbal or caffeine-free, you will find it at Birdhouse Tea. Tea is sold in ready-packaged and classily-designed brown paper bags – complete with beautifully illustrated icons by Sarah Abbott – or you can buy it loose in different weights. What makes Birdhouse tea so attractive is how the blends look in their natural form, as well as how they smell and taste. They even have sniff pots in their pitch-perfect tea shop, so you can try before you buy.
Becky and Julia have grand plans for the future of Birdhouse Tea, having opened a second place, Birdhouse Tea Bar and Kitchen, in the city centre, combining their lovely tea with an excellent food and drinks menu (tea cocktails anyone?). Raise your cup and keep an eye on what takes flight next from the Birdhouse ladies.
- Words by
- Joanne Mateer
- Images by
- Nigel Barker