THE WELL Q&A: Alfonso Wright & Jamila McGill

The founders of Brooklyn Tea spill about building a business, their wellness must-haves and finding balance.

Alfonso and Jamila, founders of Brooklyn Tea in their store

Alfonso Wright and Jamila McGill are the co-founders of Brooklyn Tea, a company that celebrates the history and ritual of drinking tea with high-quality, organic blends and varietals. Read on to discover what brought the engaged couple to the tea industry, and how they both navigate running a business while maintaining balance. 

If you are local to New York, check out their tearoom in Bed-Stuy. Or browse their unique selection online.

What brought you to wellness?

Alfonso: Ostensibly, I was brought into wellness through my culture. My mother is Jamaican, so drinking tea and herbal infusions has always been a part of daily life. In my household growing up everyone had their “job” to do. From the age of three until I left for college, one of my jobs was bringing my mom tea.

Years later, when thinking about what kind of business to start, I knew that I wanted to improve lives in some way. I’ve worked in retail sales and marketing, and felt bored — or at times disgusted — with selling people frivolous stuff. That’s when the idea for the tea company began, which I shared with my now-partner and fiancée, Jamila McGill, and she was 100 percent in. What interested her most was the community and the joy surrounding tea, and she was eager to share that with others. (Side note: When she and I started dating, she loved when I made her Masala Chai with a cinnamon stick on the bottom or a blooming tea in a clear glass pot.)

To learn more about the art and culture of tea, I took classes to become a certified tea sommelier. I then worked in a tea shop at night and on weekends for a year to learn the craft of tea making and the business of selling tea. Jamila and I started Brooklyn Tea online in 2017 and opened the brick and mortar storefront in Bed-Stuy December 22, 2018.

One lesson you'll take away from the COVID-19 pandemic?

The pandemic reinforced a lesson that we learned early on: Our community is our business. Through in-person customer service and online engagement, we’ve developed a strong community that went out of their way to to support us when the pandemic began.

Luckily for us, we began online so the pivot from in-store to online was swift. We developed an immunity box of teas and herbs that are scientifically proven to boost the immune system and support respiratory health. We also spent more time making funny tea-education videos to lighten our communities spirits during the uncertain times.

What does wellness mean to you?

At the mention of wellness, we immediately think of meditation, yoga, tea (of course) and plant-based diets. And while those activities are a part of it, wellness is more of a lifestyle or universal law. It involves all the tangible and intangible things that we can do to both create peace around us and be at peace within ourselves.

[Wellness] involves all the tangible and intangible things that we can do to both create peace around us and be at peace within ourselves.

Name three non-negotiables in your life.

Alfonso: Always be honest. Don’t cut corners or do things carelessly. Don’t be late.
Jamila: Respect. Compassion. Kindness.

The book you own that is the most dog-eared?

Alfonso: 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
Jamila: The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Favorite quote?

Alfonso: "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” — John Milton, Paradise Lost
Jamila: "Confidence is the food of the wise man and the liquor of the fool." — The Office TV series

Snack you pack when you’re on the go?

Alfonso: Roasted Salted Cashews
Jamila: Trail mix with M&Ms

Instagram accounts that get the most likes from you?

Jamila: @blackownedbklyn
Alfonso: @thereidcrew — my friend since the second grade has five kids and this account allows me to feel like I’m there with them.

Best beauty/grooming secret?

Sunshine Lemon Rooibos tea. It contains rooibos, lemongrass, lemon peel and calendula petals. All the ingredients are high-antioxidant, detoxing, anti-inflammatory and help to clarify skin from the inside out.

Morning and/or bedtime rituals?

Twenty-minute meditation in the morning and a cup of tea. Followed by WNYC Public Radio and lately BNC (Black News Channel). We need to work on our bedtime rituals...

Wellness travel essentials?

An infuser basket from making tea on the go and something to carry around water/tea (vacuum flask or reusable water bottle).

The key to a good night's sleep?

A good breathable yet heavy blanket.

When you really need to chill out, you…

Take a walk.

Instant mood lifter?

Alfonso: Animated series. I love to watch Bob’s Burgers, DC Animated movies, and Avatar: The Last Airbender
Jamila: Call my sister

How do you take your coffee or tea?

We love to experience tea in many ways. But we always sip before we sweeten.

Hydration strategy?

Alfonso: I have a 116 oz water bottle with lines for the time of day to consume that amount of water by. It helps remind me that I need to drink.

Simple smoothie recipe?

  • 1 tsp Matcha powder
  • 1 banana 
  • 1 mango (sliced)
  • 2 tbsp of yogurt (dairy or non-dairy)
  • 8 oz of oat milk

Go-to wellness gift?

At this point, people are disappointed when we don’t gift them tea. Depending on what they already have, we will do a tea gift box or something special off the menu.

Words to live by?

Kaizen — a Japanese philosophy that means "try to be a little better every day."

Try to be a little better every day.

How do you reboot?

One of two extremes… either a long run in the park or binge watching movies and documentaries on the couch.

When you feel a cold coming on you…

Drink Cold Killer: A warming blend of ginger, holy basil, rose hips and citrus.

Weirdest wellness trend you've ever tried?

Alfonso: I bought this rich mineral Indian bathing salve which I’m pretty sure was just packaged dirt.

What's sacred to you?

Starting this business really scared me. I had to ask Jamila, her family, my family and our friends for money to start. Failing them was terrifying. That’s why the business, and my commitment to everyone who helped along the way, is so sacred to me.

Last time you laughed — and at what?

We laugh at/with each other every day. We’re both quite silly when we are home alone.

 

Find more Black-owned businesses to support and wellness thought leaders to follow here

Read more about our anti-racist action plan at THE WELL here.

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