A week ago, an article made the rounds in the greater tea community sphere. At the time it came out, it rubbed me the wrong way. So much so, I originally meant to pen a rant pointing out where it went wrong, and how the thesis was misguided. After thought and prayer (yes, both are useful), I removed my hands from the keyboard. However, I still cheekily “memed” about it, and shared it privately.
My reason for doing so—or so I expressed—was that artisan tea (or rather, specialty tea) wasn’t having a moment; it was about having a moment, and sharing that moment with others. Fellowship should’ve been the focus, not the subject which brought the fellowship together.
As per usual, though, in my attempt to make a point, I completely missed the point. Looking back at my trusty ol’ Bible showed me exactly how much I did so. I’ll explain.
Fellowship is defined as: “friendly association, especially with people who share one’s interests.”
In the Christian sense, it means something even broader than that. The Book of Acts in the New Testament (Chapter 2: Verses 42-44) describes it more succinctly than I ever could:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.
The last verse really hit the mark: “everything in common”. Fellowship was about convening and finding camaraderie in the very beliefs they had in common. The true testament of faith and acts of grace were found in the presence of others. How does this apply to tea? Oh, more than you would think.
For some of us who have been at this passion project of studying dried leaves in hot water for decades, sometimes we tend to view ourselves as “apart” from the average, novice tea drinker. Not only that, some of us tend to rest high on our laurels about our well-earned opinions on the subject. The problem: in this attempt to separate ourselves, we often miss out on a greater opportunity. The opportunity to share that joy with others.
I remember a piece written by blogger compatriot The Tea Letter some time ago. In it, he mused on the solitude we western tea drinkers feel in our enjoyment of the beverage. Some of that is due to how niche our hobby can be, and the veritable dearth of local likeminded people compounds that sense of loneliness. Being a writer about said beverage is even further isolating.
Did you know that until this last September, I hadn’t really served tea for other people? Okay, there were informal occasions, but—in those cases—I chose teas that were difficult to butcher in brewing. Rarely did I step out of my comfort zone and brew for others. Rarely did I serve others.
Over the course of the last year, my brother and I did a tag-team Bible study together. Throughout the spring and summer of this year, we dissected Romans. For each session, I would break out a new tea for us to drink. My favorite hobbyist beverage served as a lubricant for the lessons we were about to learn from the Word.
Romans, Chapter 12 really stuck out to me then, and it still does to this day. Aside from the call to believers to offer themselves up as a “living sacrifice” (i.e. a vessel of grace for doing good in the world in Jesus’s name), there is also a call for conveying love in action. Paul conveyed it in Romans 12:12-13 thus:
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
And here’s the irony . . . I work in the hospitality field.
Had I been practicing hospitality? Not a lick of it.
Some time ago, I attended an “underground” tea party.
I came by myself, hardly knew anyone there, and kept mostly to myself. A young man sitting next to me asked me one simple question:
“So, what’s your story?”
He clarified, querying about what got me into tea. And as if opening the floodgates, I unfurled an abridged version of my hobbyist journey like an oolong leaf in hot water. He appeared taken aback by it.
“Um, sorry,” I mumbled. “Hadn’t meant to go off on a litany.”
“No, it’s great!” he said. “I was about to leave, but you gave me a reason to stay.”
For fifteen minutes, I talked about how my journey with tea had paralleled in some curious way with my faith walk. Right then, I also realized the journey had come full circle. In being born again, I understood more clearly about what kept me fascinated in a plant that can be drunk many different ways, and—more importantly—how it brought people together.
On my long drives to work, I’ll often cue up a sermon to listen to in podcast form. One particular anecdote stood out to me, and it dealt with evangelizing. Instead of simply preaching at people, it was more important to garner where they were in their journey. A simple introductory question made all the difference: “What’s your story?”
From there, fellowship could be attained.
As it is in faith circles, it also applies to our little tea community. And, believe me, it feels quite small at times; even with how disparate we are around the world. The stories are what brought us together, and finding common ground is what keeps us together. Isn’t that what I was always seeking with this blog to begin with? Steep Stories?! Not just my own.
One particular Sunday, I arrived at church with a mug of over-brewed black tea in one hand, and my Bible in the other. My brother showed up shortly after with his usual thermos of tea and two cups. I nodded; he nodded back.
“What’ve you got there?” I asked in a whisper.
“Oolong,” he said. “Want some? I have a second cup.”
Even though I already had my tea a-brewin’, I said, “Sure, why not?”
Then we clanked paper cups, and listened to the pastor delve deep into Hebrews.
My tea and church fellowships collided.
So . . .
What’s your story?