To Tea or not to Tea – that is the question.

“Tea in a Suitcase”, Neil Lambert, Venice 2015

I like drinking tea. In 1906 the seminal The Book of Tea by Japan’s Kakuzō Okakura was published in the USA. He says of tea, “(i)t has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa.” That’s good enough for me, although I do enjoy “simpering innocence” most days and the occasional glass of “arrogance” as well.

Two decades ago I met the inspiring UK artist Neil Lambert at an Andrew Jones gig in Prague. He intrigued me with his cut-fruit-art stuck in patterns on external and internal windows of houses. Slices of bananas and Kiwi fruit and pineapple…. He also had a tea-ceremony-in-a-suitcase that I heard about but didn’t experience.

Four years ago I had the delight of catching up with Neil in Venice and the joy of having him serve me tea from a suitcase-based tea set while sitting on the side of the Guidecca Canal footpath. Gorgeous.

Last year as I planned a series of chapels for the precinct I curate at Festival One ( I wondered about offering some kind of tea ceremony. After a few scrapped iterations the result was “Tea & Be”. A place to drink tea and be. Tea-ing and be-ing.

This is what we ended up with.

The setting was a long narrow table seating 7 people each side on wooden benches. Gorgeous lamps (by Linda Sines) made out of china teapots hung above the table providing a soft light. Large second sweep-hand clocks for timing tea brewing were on the walls.

The concept involved people registering in advance for a 45 minute session, with not more than 3 other people (spreading the mix of friends).

Each of the 14 place settings had a printed paper placemat with a description of six teas I had chosen, a few starter discussion questions, and place for name and journal/comment.

Places also had a small block with “Talk” printed on one side and “Be” on the other, and each setting had a white china gaiwan (tea apparatus).

Teas were high quality from New Zealand’s only commercial tea estate, Zealong ( which is a short distance from the Festival One venue but relatively unknown to Kiwis.

Tea & Be tea crew set out the places very precisiely at the table – often measuring distances – and the Chapel looked great. Minimalist and clean.

To be continued…


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