Making Tea With Skill: Discipline And Community At The Teaparker Teahouse
It’s time to spill the tea on one of Penn State’s best-kept secrets: The Teaparker Teahouse.
The Teaparker Teahouse (蓝白色茶馆) was founded in 2009 by then-student Jason Cohen, who spent time traveling throughout China before enrolling at the university. Cohen frequented many open tea markets and befriended Chinese tea merchants, who taught him about Chinese tea and its preparation. Penn State’s Tea Club, which occupies the Teahouse, still practices the methods Cohen brought back from China.
The Teahouse was granted a permanent space when the Penn State School of Hospitality Management allowed it to occupy room 34 of the Ritenour Building. The room was originally used for radiographic imaging, or x-rays, but has been renovated to act as a traditional tea house. Ritenour is scheduled to undergo renovations in the next few years, so the Tea Club is now searching for a new location to hold its meetings.
Gongfu Cha (功夫茶), a Chinese tea ceremony that directly translates to “making tea with skill,” is the most commonly practiced ceremony at the Tea House. Members practicing this ritual typically brew six types of loose leaf tea including yellow, black, red, green, white, and oolong.
Gongfu Cha isn’t the only tea ceremony the Tea Club practices. Members also learn and prepare teas from Chanoyu (Japanese) and Darye (Korean) ceremonies. Gongfu Cha emphasizes tea preparation and presentation. Darye is more of a meditative experience that uses tea as a method of relaxation. Chanoyu is an expression of hospitality that is deeply rooted in Japanese culture.
To gain membership to the Teahouse, prospective students are required to attend weekly meetings, or “lineages,” to learn of the different teas, wares, and methods of preparation. They join the club as “new brews” and work their way up to become full-time members, affectionately referred to as tea specialists. Until they become full members, new brews can only drink and prepare specific “basic” teas.
“I initially called it a cult because you have to learn so much before you’re allowed to drink the cool stuff,” newly-certified tea specialist Xavion Huffman said. “The grind is worth it, though. The higher-level teas are really fun to prepare and learn about.”
Prospective members study tea at every meeting. Lessons are split between a practical portion (drinking and pouring) and a written portion that delves into the history and culture of tea. The membership process culminates in a four-hour exam, including lengthy practical and written portions. A score of 90 percent or higher is required to become a tea specialist.
Currently, more than 50 new brews and tea specialists make up the Tea Club. It should come as no surprise, then, that they’ve grown into a tight-knit group that’s more like a family than just a group of friends.
“We’re kind of like a really quirky frat that happens to know far too much about tea,” Curator of Wares Phil Rubin said. “It’s not hard to fit in. We’re like one big family.”
Serving as Curator of Wares, Rubin is responsible for keeping track of the ancient artifacts, wares, and equipment housed in the Teahouse. The majority of these artifacts date back hundreds or thousands of years, encompassing several Asian cultures and dynasties.
Like many other Tea Club members, the Teahouse has given Rubin a space to learn about Asian cultures and traditions, as well as meet new friends that share some common interests.
“I think having something you are skilled at and friends who look up to you for it is critical to feeling important,” Rubin said. “The Teahouse has given me a lot of meaning this way, and I enjoy passing that knowledge on to others.”
Anyone interested in joining the Tea Club is welcome to visit the Teaparker Teahouse during its open house hours from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
“Tea House allows you to immerse yourself in Asian culture right here on campus,” Huffman said. “I’m a pretty busy guy that doesn’t follow a daily regimen. Tea Club’s open house hours help me recharge, relax, and drink some tea with friends.”
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