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!