Recently I was catching up on some TeaDB reading and came across an article written by James called “Western Tea Culture & Tea Hermits”. In the article, James talks about the difference between tea in Asia versus tea in the West. In short, whereas tea is part of the social fabric of life in Asia, many western tea drinkers are drinking alone. The article resonated with me and I thought I’d chime in with my own thoughts and experiences on the matter.
In the East, and even some Asian-run Western tea shops in areas with large Asian communities, tea is a social experience. Tea is like the liquor of the daytime–a lubricant for good conversation and a great excuse to be together with friends and loved ones. Walk into one of these tea shops and you’re likely to see a few local friends sitting with the owner talking and drinking tea.
The Problems With Drinking Alone
Problem 1: Habits
Over the summer I had the great pleasure of connecting with Anna, fellow Bay Area tea lover and author of the excellent tea blog The Tea Squirrel. We met at Asha Teahouse on Kearny in San Francisco’s FiDi and ordered up a gongfu set with the tea of our choice. I felt very self-conscious making tea in front of another person with knowledge and experience of gongfu style brewing, something I had never done before.
What if my manners are off? What if I make a mistake brewing the tea and she notices? On my very first sip of the very first infusion I tried to breathe puerh into my lungs. I immediately launched into a fit of coughing. How embarrassing!
And yet, I’m very glad to have looked a bit foolish in front of Anna. After the initial hiccup (or cough), we had an awesome conversation about all things tea. What’s a little pie on your face (or tea in your lungs) when you’re making a new friend? I’ll write it off as an icebreaker.
Problem 2: Teaware
I have an addiction to beautiful teaware and an inability to buy much of it. It’s not that good teaware can be expensive–and boy can it be expensive–but rather I know I simply won’t use most of it. Why? Because I mostly drink tea alone.
For example: I purchased my first piece of yixing clay pottery earlier this year at Song Tea here in SF. It’s a simple but beautiful “xishi” style tea pot that clocks in at 180 mL (~6 ounces). This being my first pot, I had no sense for how big it actually was. I normally drink with a 60-70 mL gaiwan, so this was a new experience for me.
I’ve used it a few times since then on the rare occasion I have people to share with, but mostly this beautiful pot sits unused.
Making Tea Friends
Tea is so fun when it’s shared with others. The times I enjoy tea the most are the times when I’m brewing and pouring for friends and family. I sometimes do this at work for coworkers who have some interest in drinking tea whenever I’m making something good, and it’s always so gratifying for me (and hopefully for them, too).
I’ve had some success connecting with tea lovers on places like Instagram, reddit, and Discord, but it’s not the same as making that face-to-face connection. To that end, I would love to find more tea friends in the Bay Area and I have tea to share!
Find me on Instagram, Twitter (which I have recently started using for real, kinda), or email me if you want to get together and drink some tea.
Also, if you’re going to the San Francisco International Tea Festival, I’ll be there! I would love to meet up.
Are you a lonely tea drinker? How do you bridge the gap to connect with others? Or are you happy drinking tea on your own?
Would love to hear about your experience in the comments!
You raise an excellent point here. Most really serious tea drinkers do find themselves a bit isolated. That was part of what made me start up my blog and using social media to talk about tea. That was 9 years ago and I’m happy to report that I now have a wonderful community of friends who I have tea with in person frequently 🙂
9 years! I admire your persistence. Hopefully I can look back and say the same. 😉
There is something to be said for drinking tea alone, but it’s my aspiration to establish a circle of people to share tea with, I have for the first time tried brick tea and I am trying to solve a mystery about a gift of tea. I would appreciate any help.
Your article touched a chord which I am very familiar with. Living near London my usual tea partneris my wife who prefers oolong rather pu’er tea so at least at home I do have tea company.
As to organise a tea drinking group in London (a city with 12 million people or more) has been a struggle for the past couple of decades. Finally a couple of weeks ago we managed to organise a group of 5 people to have a tea session and a kind tea shop owner allowed us to use his gong fu tea making facilities with the proviso we paid for corkage which was ideal for us. A couple of times before I tried in Facebook to organise a tea drinking group in London to no use.
At work is a different story for a simple reason. My group of five tea drinkers to whom I am happy to share my pu’er tea are all French who seem more keen to appreciate quality tea.
I would think Londoners are the type that would be open to having a get together for some tea! Thanks for sharing, Rui.
I like drinking tea alone especially when I’m trying a new tea or I just want to be very casual but it’s really quite enjoyable to drink tea with friends. I’m fortunate to live in NYC where there’s a great in-person tea community.
I have heard about a lot of great tea community stuff in NYC. My brother lives in Queens so I’ll have to make my way over there!
Yep, this struck a nerve.
The good kind.
Most of my tea experiences—memorable and unmemorable—usually happen in my basement “apartment”. In my pajamas. Alone.
On those rare times when I leave the house to tea, it’s usually to jaunt off to a tea place (again, alone), or some fancy-ish affar; a tea festival, a press release, or a tea party, et al. Even in a town that seems to be bursting at the seams with tea drinkers, I rarely get together with like-minded sippers and just . . . hang out. Part of that may be my own social awkwardness, or it might be that—deep down—I *DO* prefer it alone.
Maybe we all can find comfort in that there’s solidarity in our mutual solitude.
It’s of course more fun to enjoy tea with friends than to drink alone. Drinking tea with others is particular about the process of meeting. However, chatting with friends and talking about family affairs by having a cup of beautiful tea is kind of very relaxing time. You can review the tea together and share the tea experience with each other, and that’s also a good way to promote relationships with others.
Please, you say western, but you mean “US”. There are distinct tea cultures in the UK, northern Germany and the Netherlands. Tea is the go-to drink in Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, and so on. Granted, finding people in these countries that are into Asian-style tea might be hard. Still, we love our tea.
Not trying to discount the tea culture as it exists in Western countries. If this is the only article you’ve read on my blog then maybe you may not have noticed in general I write about “tea” and “tea culture” as it is found in Asia–China, Taiwan, and Japan in particular. I could have made that clearer in the post. Thanks for the comment!