It started with six invitations on Tuesdays, and five or six new faces would try tea each week. After about six weeks, there was a tea tasting one Tuesday – eleven teenagers tried three teas. Slowly but surely, one class (American Literature) requested tea – twenty-one students – but the availability of cups limited participants to twelve. The remaining nine took a raincheck. Soon, kids were requesting tea at least once every day. During the last two weeks of school, every Tuesday class requested tea, and the usual lunchtime rotating “Tea Twelve” showed up, too. Before long, tea was enjoyed EVERY lunch hour!

What is going on? What draws teens to tea? Is this a local fluke? In an attempt to answer these questions, I will answer from two perspectives – the cynical and the beautiful. Somewhere between the two lies the truth.

What, in rural Hood River, Oregon draws teens to tea? Cynically speaking: it is great tea and it is free and they get to eat lunch in a quiet, safe classroom. Beats the cafeteria by a long shot. The spiritual answer: it is great tea, and the method of steeping and pouring and holding a beautiful warm cup in the palm of your hand connects you, in a warm way, to everyone else cradling a cup. It has a cache of maturity and adulthood.

In the last few years, tea has been the object of many advertising campaigns touting the healthful benefits of tea, albeit mostly for the ready-to-drink varieties. Most teens don’t know the difference between an oxymoron and an antioxidant – but they know which one is getting media attention. Part of the attraction to tea is this awareness of health benefit.

Another draw is the huge variety available. Neither coffee nor soda can boast as many varieties as tea can. Black, Oolong, yellow, green, white — and a hundred variations on each theme — keep tea new and interesting. Variety adds to the debate, and development of tea camps: one group of young men, known locally as Carrharts, declared jasmine pearls to be “girly;” requesting Nepalese oolong instead. A large contingent of lads who build robots and electrical cars favor Golden Lion’s Paw. Then, there are the dance and theatre girls who adore matcha genmaicha. Tea has something for everyone — and we haven’t even discussed the flavored and blended varieties!

The time is right for teens and real tea.

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