The tea drinking community is an incredibly friendly and welcoming one. I have been a member of a tea forum called Steepster since 2011 and recently became a more active participant. I got to know several members and we started chatting nightly about tea, food, and many random subjects. We also video chat each other many Sundays and often pick a tea theme and all drink a similar tea.
The idea of all sharing tea together came up, and what first started as a joke was starting to come together. We started looking at our calendars and found a week in August that we could all get time off of work. Things got really serious when our friend in the Netherlands found a good airfare to Chicago, so we started trying to make this meetup really happen! Because the primary focus of the trip was going to be to drink tea together, we wanted to make sure to pick a comfortable location, so a hotel room didn’t seem very practical. Also, we have a few friends who live in the Midwest who were last minute decisions, so booking a hotel with a concrete number of people would have been difficult.
We found a great house on AirBnB in Chicago that could be used for the weekend. It was only about a half hour from my house, so I was happy to host everyone. The house had 3 beds, 2 air mattresses, and a couch. The owner allowed guests in the house, there was a fully functional kitchen and the house was in a great neighborhood. Six of us were able to commit, and the tea drinking weekend began! When our other tea friends who could not make it heard about the meetup, they started mailing all sorts of teas to me so that we could share them together!
From the moment I picked the first person up from the airport, it was as if we had been friends forever. We got to the AirBnB around 10:30pm and immediately started boiling some water and had a session of shou puerh that lasted well past midnight. During the session, we got on Google Hangouts and video chatted with about 5 other friends and geeked out about tea together.
The next day everyone else came in town. I got to the AirBnB fairly early in the morning, and as soon as I walked in the door I was handed a cup and was told, “drink this.” I was having flashbacks to college life, except now it was tea! I took a sip, and immediately spit everything out! Apparently, they found some old Lipton bags in the kitchen and decided to brew it gongfu style as a prank. I guess it was a good sign that at least I could tell it was bad tea! The rest of the teas that we drank throughout the weekend were excellent. Many of the teas we had been saving for special occasions, and what better way to share special teas than with friends!
We also did the world’s fastest tour of Chicago. We explored a good part of the North Side and finished by taking a boat tour of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. As tea lovers, we had to bring some tea with us, so enjoyed an excellent aged sheng puerh on the boat. We brought hot water, a gaiwan, pitcher, and cups with us and enjoyed tea gongfu on the boat! Several people commented asking us what we were doing, and they were all very intrigued. One lady asked if it tasted like those tea bags you get in the store, I had to bite my tongue, and just told her “you get a much better flavor.”
The tea drinking continued well past midnight most nights, it was quite a shock to my system, as I usually stop caffeine around 5pm. In total, we had well over 40 sessions of tea between Thursday and Monday! By the end, we didn’t want to say goodbye to each other, even though we talk almost daily online. As someone who typically brews tea by himself, it was fun to drink teas brewed by other people. I learned that everyone has a unique style of brewing. One person remarked that I tend to make my tea really strong. It was fun to have teas that I’m very familiar with brewed by others, as well as try new techniques. The ultimate compliment came on Monday morning when someone asked me to brew their Dancong that they nicknamed “Gollum” because it was their precious tea. She said she really liked how I made oolongs. I was so happy to hear this, I was very nervous going into the weekend to brew for other people!
Being a part of the tea community has allowed me to meet some great people. Although these friends are ‘online friends’ I do consider them friends. We are already talking about the possibility of meeting up in 2017, maybe in a different city! Although tea was the common bond that brought us all together, I have made some lasting friendships from it.