Oasis: Mobile ceremonies bring tea to the people

TEA TIME: Mobile tea booths like Charles Wu's venture, Wu Gong Fu Tea, are joining the ranks of food and drinks vendors at local festivals, giving festivalgoers a chance to slow down and appreciate the moment.
TEA TIME: Mobile tea booths like Charles Wu's venture, Wu Gong Fu Tea, are joining the ranks of food and drinks vendors at local festivals, giving festivalgoers a chance to slow down and appreciate the moment. Photo by Tim Robison

“A lot of tourism and a lot of community around Asheville is based around drinking beer. How do we build a community around another beverage that has innate healing qualities?” wonders Charles Wu, co-owner of Wu Gong Fu Tea.

Wu’s comment reflects a shift in the local tea community, which is joining the growing trend toward mobile dining and entertainment. Mobile tea services invite participants into a warm, homelike environment for a pouring that doubles as a social gathering with newfound friends. People sit down and instead of ordering, they’re simply handed a cup of whichever tea variety is currently brewing. “Often we find that pouring tea outside is way more social,” says Dobra Tea co-owner Lindsay Thomas. “In a traditional Chinese tea ceremony,” she notes, “there are numerous chairs set up, and you are just serving people infusion after infusion.”

Another local company, The Infusion Lounge, specializes in mobile tea ceremonies. “We really enjoy doing festivals, because it pairs nicely with that sometimes chaotic festival nature,” explains Clarice Coppolino, who co-owns the business with Saksiri Kridakara. “Where there’s a lot going on, people are really relieved to have that moment to come and sit, recharge, connect and kind of take in all that’s been happening.”

Coppolino and Kridakara’s shared passion for bringing tea to the community was ignited when they first poured at the LEAF Festival four years ago. “We were really grateful to do it at LEAF because it was a completely new experience that we hadn’t had here in Asheville,” Kridakara recalls. “A woman came in and said it was the most connected experience she had had all weekend, and from that moment on we decided that we were going to continue offering it at these types of events.”

Charles and Jenny Wu report similar experiences. “Sometimes, at festivals, it is just so crazy out there,” says Jenny Wu. “It’s nice to come be somewhere where we are just communicating through our eyes and our motions and are really able to hear each other on a different level. The conversations that do start up tend to be really vulnerable.”

“Vulnerability is a strength,” adds Charles Wu. “When we can foster vulnerability, we open up, we’re more connected, we’re more empathetic, and we are able to really resonate with where other people are.”

Unlike other festival booths, where one simply walks up, orders a product and then moves on to the next activity, tea ceremonies give festivalgoers a chance to slow down and truly be in the moment. “People forget that they’ve actually been there for hours, because they end up talking with someone and making a really special connection,” notes Coppolino. “That’s kind of the beauty of tea: It’s a gateway for connection.”

Jenny Wu takes it further, maintaining that the tea ceremony can actually enhance the brew’s medicinal value. “I believe that when we’re talking about plants as medicine, just having that human interaction between the pourer and the receiver can be a cyclical healing and a really beautiful experience.”

Kridakara, meanwhile, points out that “People often gravitate toward alcohol because it’s a way to open up and meet others. Well, you can have that same experience over tea and even take the conversations to another level that sometimes doesn’t happen with alcohol.”

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