19 July 2017

Tea culture in Atlanta, as seen by a gongfu guy

Because my partner and I are likely moving out-of-state this fall, and in response to TeaDB's recent post on "Western Tea Culture & Tea Hermits," I thought I would take the opportunity to review what tea culture is like in Atlanta, Georgia--at least for these handful of years that we have lived here.

This picture has no relation to the content. Just teapr0n for your pleasure.

First, some context

We moved here from Southern California, where we were part of a lively group of tea drinkers who met with irregularity, called the LA Tea Affair. A couple of tea vendors were in the group, notably Tea Habitat and Bana Tea Company. The former even provided our location when she had a shop in Palos Verdes/Rolling Hills Estates (Tea Habitat's current shop is in the San Gabriel Valley, by appointment only, I believe, and well worth a visit. See my post here). We all brought and shared tea, learned from one another, shared opinions on teas and vendors and regions, and had a great time.

The state of gongfu Atlanta (kind of, not really)

On this blog, you can read some posts about my previous attempts to gather gongfu people together to drink tea in the south for the Southeast Tea Affair. The effort resulted in a some success, but only because of a few dedicated out-of-state people who were willing to drive as far as 10 hours to Atlanta to come drink tea. That kind of effort isn't sustainable long-term: People's lives become busy, or they tire of driving, or what have you. I don't blame them; I don't think I could have driven the distances often myself.

Fast-forward to today: There are four of us gongfu drinkers in the Atlanta metro area, including me and my partner. Four, at least, who have found one another on the internet and taken the next step to meet in person for tea. My partner's already in Seattle, so that leaves three. One of those three doesn't have easy access to transportation, so it's more often just two of us. We have a great time, and I'm very glad to be that much less of a hermit. Sharing tea is a joy, and I don't take my tea friends here for granted.
Again, not relevant, just delicious-looking.

Culturally, gongfu faces several challenges in Atlanta

Why so few of us teaheads here, in the United States' 9th-largest metro population? My years of living here have me believe it's the local culture; of the four of us who drink gongfu tea here, three of us moved here from California. That leaves only one Georgia native into gongfu. Of course, if you live in the area and would like to join us, feel free to comment. I'd love to see these "statistics" changed.

TeaDB mentions the lack of shops in the West, and Atlanta follows this trend. We only really have a handful of tea houses: not tea shops, per se, but places where you order (British) tea service and food. They do all sell loose leaf to take home, but they're more places to drink tea than to buy leaves. The tea house model makes tea social, but only as long as you BYOF, bring your own friends. Moreover, it's not Chinese or any other Asian tea focus, so there's no gongfu. The places you might get some hot Chinese tea are boba/bubble tea restaurants, but despite hot tea being on the menu, I've never witnessed anyone drinking it. And some boba places only have bagged tea.

Aside from a lack of even one shop that could teach one that gongfu exists, Atlanta is a sweet tea town, like the rest of the Southeast. Tea without sweetener, artificial or otherwise, is anathema to the culture. When you order tea at a restaurant, the assumption is cold and sweet, and you have to specify otherwise. Even if ordered plain, the assumption is you want to sweeten it yourself or use an artificial sweetener, so the staff will plunk down a caddy with bags of various sugar substitutes. It's more than even tea, really: many friends here tell me that they can't drink water plain because it tastes bad. Adults here drink kool-aid by the gallon, a beverage reserved only for children in my native state. Sugar is a necessary ingredient for the state's local foods. From fried chicken marinated in sweet tea to syrupy-sweet barbeque sauce, from sugar in spicy tuna roll sauce to pecan pie so sweet it hurts your teeth, sugar is inescapable. It helps define the local palate. Bitter tea is the opposite of this palate's preference.

Weather significantly affects the tea culture here, of course. Atlantans collectively sweat and pant their way through hot and humid weather 7 to 8 months of the year. Predictably, most Atlantans want to cool off with sweet tea, not heat up with hot tea. The farther south from Atlanta, the longer the hot season and the warmer the winters. In terms of comfort, it makes sense that cold tea reigns in the area.
Almost apropos, insomuch as I grew this tea in Georgia
and processed it myself. Georgia's first white tea! All 6
grams of it.
Lastly, one gongfu-inhibiting factor, which I don't think most Georgians even realize, is the state's conformist culture. Difference isn't celebrated here like it was in California, and a hobby like gongfu makes people think you strange. Where in California, it was common to meet people of all walks of life, interested in any sort of hobby, here it's uncommon.


We have planned our move for September/early October, and our first choice is Seattle, so TeaDB will have two more teaheads to drink with, if he wants. I'll enjoy being able to visit Floating Leaves in person, and if you have any other tea shop recommendations for Seattle or thereabouts, let me know in the comments.


Unknown said...

We'd love to have you over for tea this Fall. We're in Yunnan until early September. Then we'll be back. We live about 15 miles north of Seattle. We also do puerh tea tasting events each Friday at Phoenix Tea in Burien. You're more than welcome.


Miriam said...

Yay! Looking forward to you joining the fun in Seattle! Definitely hit up Phoenix Tea when you come to the area too. :) There's also the Seattle Best Tea Co and New Century Tea Gallery in Seattle's Chinatown district, and Teabook has a tea studio out in the suburbs. :)

Bearsbearsbears said...

Thanks for the suggestions! I will check these out once I'm there, and I look forward to having tea with new tea friends.

James said...

Everyone's moving to Seattle! It'd definitely be cool to meet and have tea. Shoot me a facebook message or email when you're up here.

-James (teadb)

Marcus Murphy said...

Have you already left? I'm a big gongfu drinker in Chattanooga!

Bearsbearsbears said...

James, I look forward to it! Marcus, I am here in Georgia until early January.