Five Minutes with... the Carefree Tea Lady
Carefree was known far more for tee time than tea time until Jo Gemmill opened the English Rose Tea Room in 2002. She was born and raised in Hampshire, in southern England, where the slim, vivacious woman was involved in management training and development before meeting her husband, Bob Gemmill. They moved to America; first to Seattle, then to Carefree. “I think if I would have come to Arizona first, I’d have got on the first boat back,” she said with a laugh. She gradually grew accustomed to life in the desert, “but it was a bit dry.” A lack of tea, as well as rain.
“I guess what inspired me to do a tea room,” she mused, “was partly homesickness, being able to surround myself with things from home, and partly I am a huge tea drinker and couldn’t find anywhere to get a cup of tea.”
When afternoons roll around, Jo starts to feel that familiar craving, an aching for a cake and cup ’a. Even so, she feels her tea shop has become a hit not just for its tasty treats and comforting tea. “It’s a sense of occasion,” she said. “It’s about getting dressed up, meeting friends and taking time for tea. Tea is a ceremony. It’s steeped in culture.” Pun not intended, but fitting.
We caught up to Gemmill at Jo London, an Anglophile’s shopping dream (as one Yelp commenter called it, “a British fairyland”) right next to the tea room. A mother to three step-children and three dogs, Jo Gemmill has a sneaky sense of humor. Asked how she and her husband picked this town, Jo says, “He used to come here for work back in the 80s and 90s. I remember thinking, ‘I could never live in Carefree. My mother wouldn’t believe it was a real place!’ But here I am, on the corner of Lucky Lane and Easy Street in Carefree. It sounds like toy town!”
Yet, now that she has a spot for a spot of tea, she has settled into the area. “It feels like a small town, or a village.”
A few questions to and answers from the “Tea Lady,” as she is known around Carefree, Cave Creek and north Scottsdale:
IAZ: If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only have one kind of tea for six months before you were rescued, what would that tea be?
JG: Definitely Assam. But I am hoping that there is a least one cow on this island too, as I only take my tea with milk.
IAZ: You had a late night at a social function, have to be up early the next morning for brain-bending meetings. Be honest: Are you going to have tea that morning, or coffee?
JG: I never schedule early morning meetings ... and it’s always tea.
IAZ: What’s your favorite American food?
JG: Pulled pork sandwiches.
IAZ: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve heard a visitor say (lately)?
JG: “I just love the way you talk … I just can’t decide whether you are from the UK or Great Britain.”
IAZ: Something that would surprise people who know you casually?
JG: Last weekend, I spent the afternoon shooting AK-47s in Prescott. Not at people, at tin cans. I like to shoot guns. It’s the alter ego of the Tea Lady!
IAZ: At the end of a long work week, what do you like to do to unwind?
JG: Sunday afternoon time: listening to jazz, in a comfy armchair, reading piles of English Home magazines, surrounded by dogs and of course, drinking a big mug of tea.