Joanne MacLeod: Brewhaha

Photo: joanne macleod. Don't be surprised if you see Jude Law in Glasgow's Buchanan Galleries any time soon, as the woman behind the actor's favourite brand of tea, has just opened a tea shop with a twist in Buchanan Galleries, Glasgow City Centre.

It's four years since Joanne MacLeod (47), launched her Brewhaha tea company at the kitchen table of her home in the west end of Glasgow. Now, her trendy teas are on the shelves of Harvey Nichols, Harrods, Tesco, and delis and cafes UK-wide. The independent Scottish tea company has even won a 'food Oscar' in the form of a Gold Great Taste Award from the Guild of Fine Food.

"It all kicked off when my youngest child Leon, who's now nine, started nursery," explains Joanne, in a Geordie accent as refreshing as her tea. "I had a panic attack about what to do next as my daughter Lily (15), was also at school. I'd worked as a food buyer and assistant producer on commercials, but I'd reached the stage where I wanted to work for myself."

After months of research, everything pointed to tea, with Joanne linking up with two plantations in Sri Lanka. It's typical of Joanne's sociable approach to life and work, that she gathered a group of friends round her kitchen table for a brainstorming session to choose a name for the tea.

When someone suggested Brewhaha, Joanne laughed out loud, but as she tried the name for size, she realised it was the exact match for what she describes as 'a frivolous and fun product'. The quirky Brewhaha logo, a 1950's glamour model sipping tea, was taken from a vintage calendar bought in a thrift shop for £1 and revamped by Joanne's designer husband, Douglas.

Photo: brewhaha. "We've since called her Bunty," smiles Joanne, who launched the brand by taking a tiny stand at a fine food fair in London. "We went to a huge amount of trouble to dress the stand beautifully, and had a fantastic response, with the first customer placing and order there and then.

"Now we have around nine varieties of tea, with our rose and green teas, the two best sellers. We even have a bloke's tea called Brewsthedaddy, with black and silver packaging and a geezer on the front. Lily came up with the Brewhoho name for our Christmas tea."

The family is always coming up with original names, and Joanne was delighted when she heard that actors Jude Law and Johnny Lee Miller, once whiled away an evening in a Glasgow hotel, concocting new names for her teas.

Recently, when the owner of a Notting Hill deli ordered more than their usual quota of rose tea, Joanne wasn't surprised to hear that Jude Law was responsible for the increase in demand. During his time at St Andrew's University, Prince William also bought Brewhaha from his local deli.

Photo: tea room brewhaha. With the opening of her first tea room and shop on the ground level of Buchanan Galleries, Joanne is currently spinning a lot of plates. The tea supremo says she keeps her energy levels up with fruit and endless cups of Brewhaha. "Customers were always saying 'please open a tea room'. I eventually said 'yes', and then thought, 'how do I actually do this?' I started researching tea rooms in the same way as I'd set up the brand. Finding the right site was critical, and Buchanan Galleries have been a fantastic support.

"The decor is a traditional tea room with a twist," says Joanne, who is reviving the concept of the 'nippie' to clear tables and advise on teas. "We serve breakfast, elevenses, and afternoon tea with proper sandwiches, cakes and scones, plus provide take-home boxes for what you can't eat."

From the outset, Joanne was determined to source local produce, with cakes such as the signature Brewhaha Earl Gray tea loaf, from a young baker in Ayr. It's Joanne's express wish, that increasingly, the menu will reference her teas, right down to the pickle in the Ploughman's Lunch.

"You can have such fun with tea as it's very seasonal," points out Joanne. "During the run up to Christmas, we served Chai tea with cinnamon and cloves, and detox tea after New Year. As well as tea pots, crockery and our usual brands of tea, we also stock super teas to match your mood.

"We want people to come here and enjoy the whole experience. Tea is for everyone and appeals to all ages. I've even heard that some universities are holding Brewhaha tea dances. Brewhaha is all about making tea fun again, and we hope our tea room will do exactly that."

Heather MacLeod, May, 2009.