I keep reconsidering and changing my impression of tea culture. Or subcultures – it’s not all one thing.
What really started me thinking about this was a family tradition of having a cup of tea with my parents in the evening. Odd timing for that caffeine intake, but one tea-bag-worth didn’t seem to matter. It wasn’t “tea appreciation,” as I now experience it, but I would trade my entire tea habit for more contact with my parents.
One of my favorite sub-themes relates to a circle of friends exploring tea together, basing social gatherings on that. During the pandemic I met with a group of online friends in different places, related to tea, so I did get to experience one form; and that meant a lot to me. I’m really not part of the local tea subculture, and I currently don’t meet local friends related to tea. I started a Facebook group based on starting to do local (Bangkok) tasting events a while back, but let the initiative go.
Making online connections can be problematic. Groups are a good place to exchange ideas, to ask questions, and share an interest with others; but translating that to social bonds that feel real is harder. One of my initial social connections living in Thailand was participating in a popular expat forum. That later experienced a decline as groups or sites can, and finally shut down.
I keep exploring tea cultures in different places in blog articles, looking into how tea interest goes in Sweden, Poland, and Russia. Russian groups can either take a formal version of the circle of friends or can relate to tea club attendance and events. I’m really curious about China, since I talk to plenty of vendors and producers from there and a few close friends from here are too, but I’ve not run across a close parallel to the US “enthusiast” culture. To many people there it’s just a drink.
US-based tea bloggers and vendors seem to find it easier to form online and real-life bonds, through expos and local circles. Being part of a group-buy or monthly subscription circle could lead to connections, bridging over into discussion. I’ve written about one form, Liquid Proust set buys (about the theme and the teas), and there are several others.
Of course any shared interest can bring people together, especially online. An international Facebook group can help with that, or a second “Tea” group that I also moderate, or a Quora Specialty Tea Space. Online contact through text only goes so far, but video events like Tealet informal seminars could feel a little like joining a local Meetup or seminar event.
In asking around about other options, people brought up a group-chat group through the Telegram app, Discord group discussion and other exchange, and a new app called Topia supporting virtual tea-room meetings. Using standard communication tools in novel ways would work. In discussion someone mentioned a broad Zoom-based tea circle also using smaller break-out discussions after a main session. It would be interesting to hear what else is out there.
I know that meeting up in person can be a touchy subject in lots of places right now, but it could help that isolation is a shared experience for many. It’s a good time to branch out online, and make some new connections, or experience a new contact channel.
Images provided by author and used with permission