To Tea & Be or Not to Tea & Be – that is a better question (contd.)

(Part 2) Tea & Be sessions at Festival One, began with a 10 minute introduction to the history of tea, how to use the tea apparatus, an explanation of the teas available and how the session would proceed.  After that people chose their tea and talked with those around them. Each individual gaiwan was labelled with the type of tea in it, and as the tea-strainer wasn’t the part of the cup that was drunk from,  people were encouraged to swap teas and try a variety. Being high quality teas each serving could produce 4-8 cups.

Exploded Zealong gaiwan – lid, strainer, cup, saucer.

The remaining time of the session was spent in conversation. Some starter questions were provided on the placemat.

Following each session tea leaves and dregs were poured into a tall glass vessel to create an emerging symbol of the conversations engaged in and the placemats formed a massive mural around the Tea & Be Chapel. 

In  the week before festival while we were building this and the other ten chapels I began to worry that no one would register. Maybe it was a stupid idea… most people drink coffee, who wants a cup of tea, and conversation with strangers  in the midst of a busy festival…? The normal pre-event doubts. I was slightly less fearful when two people who had got wind of the concept emailed asking if they could register in advance of festival in case they missed out. Maybe it would work.

About 12 tea crew were trained to deliver and assist with sessions in pairs. Sessions started on the hour and allowed us 15 minutes between to reset the table. Even with two sets of gaiwan in use it was solid work and crew worked hard.  

By less than halfway through festival all 23 sessions were fully subscribed and we had people waiting at the start of some sessions in case someone didn’t show. The journal-placemat feedback was humblingly positive with many people saying it was the highlight of festival for them.

Written comments on the collected placemats  invariably mentioned the quality of the tea and of the conversations had. They make a humbling read as responses to a very simple concept. e.g.

“Awesome tea and discussion, met new people.” Liam

“Fantastic. Highlight of Festival One” – Zach

“Great having no distractions and a shared common ground of tea to get some great conversations started.” – Rebekah.

“The tea was a lovely reason to sit down with strangers and leave knowing a bit more about the people around me. Roll on the tea drinking in heaven!” Jenny

“This was awesome! Community and tea is brilliant. The questions rocked and the tea was delicious. So cool to learn more about the people around me.” Holly

It appears that a curated place to talk to people you don’t necessarily know, and a framework of some guidance and distraction to support those conversations leads to the kind of connection that people want and need. With multiple levels of connection being the elements most often missing from people’s lives today (Johann Hari – Lost Connections) and largely responsible for the huge increase of anxiety, depression and subsequently suicide around the world, Tea & Be went a very small way toward meeting this need and at very least provided people with a glimpse of what re-connecting might look and feel like. I was reminded of Sidewalk Talk (sidewalk-talk.org)

It did work.

To be continued… Part 3 soon.

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