One of the aspects I love about tea is the solidarity and community in connecting with others. It’s always reassuring to share cup after cup with friends, colleagues, or family. But there is a certain longing to have tea alongside other tea enthusiasts. Beyond the comfort of the cups themselves, there is this pulsating desire to share knowledge, discuss industry topics, and to simply make friends. TeaBookClub, founded by Kyle Whittington, is a virtual space which accomplishes all of this.
TeaBookClub (one word) was founded as an armchair idea when Kyle browsed his collection of tea books and harbored a desire to discuss the books with fellow tea enthusiasts. This group started with 3 individuals but has since grown to have regular meetings that often range between 6 to 30 members in attendance.
“It started off as a social,” Kyle shared. “We would pick a topic based on the theme of the book we were reading that month. When we read 85°, the theme was tea houses. So, people contributed memories of their favorite tea houses.” All of this would happen over Zoom while attendees sipped various artisanal teas. The genre of books shifts frequently: Nonfiction research, fictional novels, magazines, memoir, etc. Who knows what will be read next.
Members range from tea shop owners, authors, tea enthusiasts, and those whose profession is outside the tea industry. The meetings are brief: 40 minutes that are officially recorded. Then, the recording goes off and individuals are welcome to stay and chat. Topics have ranged from tea in daily life, esoteric or spiritual aspects of tea, tea culture in various countries, insight into the tea industry, etc. Selected and edited recordings from TeaBookClub meetings have been featured on Tea Biz.
TeaBookClub meeting with Lisa See
As a member of the group, I have enjoyed the rich discussions and unique perspectives that have been brought up. Since joining, we have read “Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic” by Zhang Jinghong, “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane: A Novel” by Lisa See, “The Book of Tea” by Okakura Kakuzō, “The True History of Tea” by Victor H. Mair & Erling Hoh, “Cha Dao” by Solala Towler, “The Teabowl: East and West” by Bonnie Kemske, “Legacy” by Thomas Harding, and “Tea: Wine’s Sober Sibling” by Mariëlla Erkens.
When reading Kakuzō’s work, I found it refreshing to hear about Japanese tea ceremony tradition and lineages from someone who has formally studied Japanese Tea Ceremony. I compared and contrasted it to dynastic Chinese influences, and was grateful for what I learned in that conversation. I’ve enjoyed the way the group meanders from questions and answers to rants to in-depth conversations.
An annual tradition has also been brewing. Every year, the group rereads “The Book of Tea” by Okakura Kakuzō. As TeaBookClub was founded in October, it is reread during that month. The book is very dear to Kyle’s heart. He said he reads it “to mark the occasion. Every time you read it, you get something different from it. And I get to see how I’ve changed when I read it and see how other people change.”
In addition to this tradition, guest speakers have joined in for special occasions: Lisa See, Bonnie Kemske, Indi Khanna, Henrietta Lovell, Rebecca Corbett, as well as Michelle and Rob Coming. It is an especially momentous occasion to listen to authors speak about their experiences with craft, how tea has influenced both their life and writing, and to see what tea they bring to drink in the company of TeaBookClub. When Bonnie Kemske visited, she displayed various handcrafted teaware and shared stories of their journeys.
TeaBookClub meeting with Bonnie Kemske
“TeaBookClub is a collaboration of all of us together: sharing and exploring.”
TeaBookClub is welcoming new members. To join, one may reach out via TeaBookClub’s website.
Screen captures provided by Kyle Whittington (founder of TeaBookClub) and used with permission