Well, it's been a crazy few years here in 茶stin, Teaxas. For those of you just joining us, we've been importing, selling, and serving tea since 2012, and if you're not in Austin it's no surprise you're just now finding us - we've been so focused on growing the local community, and I (So-Han) am not very tech-savvy so the website and our online presence has been... quaint. To put it nicely. Wabi-sabi, if you will.
Well the good news is that we have a new website - you're on it right now - and we have a great team doing e-commerce now. We've been grinding hard getting descriptions and photos of all of our amazing teas and tea wares, offering online classes, producing more educational (and sometimes just silly) videos, and getting our whole inventory situation under control.
The interesting irony is that all of this new development was spurred unintentionally by the advent of Covid-19. At the beginning of March, before the pandemic had really started in earnest in the United States, we had already closed our last tea house, Guan Yin, in order to start renovating, redecorating, restructuring, and basically improving it to make the best tea house possible. So we were already planning on being closed for March and April.
In the interim we've been having 3-5 meetings daily (seriously though), putting together committees and sub-committees to manage the various branches of the organization - branding, aesthetics, inventory, infrastructure, e-commerce, marketing, the list goes on. We've built two beautiful outdoor seating areas complete with water features, miniature landscapes, fish and living plants - our take on the traditional Chinese garden. We're working on a new logo and all-new branding, getting ready to make the leap from plastic bags to reusable, eco-friendly (and beautiful) tins, designing our dream tea table (spoiler: it's horseshoe-shaped), and uniting the wabi-sabi, Hygge, and Chinese-scholar aesthetics to create a uniquely Texan tea house.
The global quarantine spurred a massive blossoming in the online tea-world. Tea culture is fundamentally a face-to-face world: sitting, drinking tea, getting unplugged from social media to enjoy some social reality; these are what make this simple practice so compelling. So when all face-to-face interaction stopped, the global tea community turned, ironically, to social media to simulate the tea experience. In our effort to participate in the new paradigm we started offering gong fu cha classes via Zoom, producing more digital content, and holding all of our internal meetings digitally.
Originally I thought of the shift to the digital format as a sort of compromise - we can't do it for real so we have to do it online. What's emerged, however, is that there is a huge amount of power in the reach that the internet can provide, even if you can't smell and taste the tea. I've been teaching my Intro to Gong Fu Cha class, in one form or another, for nearly 14 years now, and the Advanced Class for at least 6 years. In that whole time I've had dozens of students - all in person, all in Texas and occasionally other states. I started teaching online 4 weeks ago and in that time I've had the privilege of teaching students from Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Australia, Belgium, Singapore, France, Holland, and all over the United States. If it weren't for the quarantine we'd have been completely focused on getting the tea house open again, and never would have thought about offering online courses. As a result we've managed to share tea culture all over the world in a very short time, and grown our tea community beyond borders.
In Chinese, the word for crisis is 危機 wéijī, and the word for opportunity is 機會 jīhuì. The character they share in common, 機, has many meanings, but one of the most fundamental among them is "pivot". Change can be uncomfortable and sometimes terrifying. But if you remain flexible and adaptable, an unexpected crisis can result in unforeseen growth.
As for the lifting of the quarantine - Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, lifted the shelter-in-place order at the beginning of this month. As much as we would love to open our doors and start serving tea immediately, new cases and casualties continue to rise in Travis County. As such, we feel like it would be irresponsible and premature to open for full service right now - you can't drink tea with a face mask and gong fu cha, by its very intimate nature, is the antithesis of social distancing. For now, we are open 5 days a week (M-F 2-5 PM) for retail service only. We're letting people in one party at a time, with masks, to get loose leaf tea and tea ware. Once the coast is clear and we feel like it is socially responsible to serve again, we will be hosting some epic tea parties. Until then, we're going to keep working to make our physical tea house at 4706 N I35 in Austin, as well as our virtual tea house here online, the best it can be.
Thanks for joining us on our journey - follow us on Instagram at @westchinatea or West China Tea Company on Facebook to stay engaged, or create a profile on this website to get on our mailing list.
I'm going to keep trying to post on this blog - we'll see how I do, I've never been great with consistency. But I promise to update as events warrant!
Owner, West China Tea