A couple weeks ago I experienced a personal tragedy. Aside from my partner and best friends, the most immediate outpouring of love and support came from the tea drinker community. Austin and Zhuping immediately offered their support in any way I could possibly need. Zhuping came by to lend her support and tell me what to do for the traditional Chinese observances, and for the rest of the week I offered free tea tastings that honored the person in my life who had passed away. Tea patrons cried with me and left little offerings for her in front of the Guan Yin statue at the Gardens. The rest of the Seven Cups staff offered their support. Long-time friends and customers from Seven Cups and the Mahjongg nights came by the Gardens to visit and bring food. Over and over again, I reaped a harvest of support, love, and sympathy from the communitea Austin and Zhuping created through Seven Cups. It was beautiful.
This past Sunday we had a memorial service at the main Seven Cups teahouse, and Zhuping helped me organize things in a respectful and auspicious traditional Chinese way. It was a beautiful service, and somehow, almost everyone there was united in friendship through Seven Cups and tea. Needless to say, the tea drinker community made possible by Seven Cups in Tucson dramatically influenced and enriched our lives, and continues to do so.
I’ve told Austin and Zhuping many times over how amazing it is that we have this beautiful community all made possible by Seven Cups and our shared love and passion for good tea. We are an extremely diverse group of people all brought together by a shared passion, and the bringing together enriches us as we experience and appreciate all of our differences.
When I was going to school in Santa Fe several years ago I took a bunch of great Seven Cups tea with me, and made sure to take a travel teaware set, a great Yixing pot, and some tasting and fragrance cups. The result was that my little rented guest cottage downtown became the epicenter for tea culture in Santa Fe for those few months. My classmates couldn’t believe how great tea could be, and we had our own little tea culture community to bring us all together every day. Those are memories I’ll always cherish, and many of my old classmates are still enjoying good tea because of those months.
There’s something about knowing where your tea comes from, how it’s made, how the flavors and attributes change over the infusions, the story behind the tea, and the ceremony of making and sharing it that elevates tea into so much more than a product. In Cafe culture I’ve certainly felt a sense of community, but it was more about the establishment; the coffee or Italian sodas were just peripheral. But over and over again I have seen people bond over tea with or without a teahouse.
Even my tiny little outpost at the Botanical Gardens has its own thriving tea community. On Friday a group of African women came in to the teahouse and we shared cultures – me sharing tea culture and them sharing the cultures of Tanzania and Cameroon. Sunday night, during the memorial service, they came in to the main teahouse on their way out of town, thinking Seven Cups was still open. When I heard their voices I had to go up front to say hello. When they found out why we were all there after closing, they cried with me, giving me the warmest and most healing embraces I’d felt in a long time. For that moment, these travelers from across the world were family, and before they left they invited me to visit them in Africa. That beautiful moment would not have happened without tea and the incredibly rich and nurturing culture we enjoy as a special gift. Just as Chinese culture embraces tea as a divine gift, I feel like the culture of tea has given me gifts of abundant riches as well.