The residential life and services department at most colleges encourages and often requires residence advisors (RA's) to organize period programs and activities with their dorm hall, in order to foster a sense of community. Last year I teamed up with an RA at the University of Delaware to sponsor a tea tasting and tea swap in one of the dorms, and it was a huge success. Even though it happened to fall on an unseasonably hot day in spring (reaching the 90's), there was a huge turnout of people wanting to drink hot tea! I was impressed and encouraged, and resolved to help organize one again.
While it was by no means a fancy event, it got college students to sample lots of loose tea. The most exciting thing to me about these events is that a lot of the students who come do not regularly drink loose tea, and they end up sampling many different varieties of loose leaf tea, and loving it. One thing that also surprises me is how many people drink the tea unsweetened--even though we provide honey, sugar, and artificial sweetener.
Here is a picture from before the second such event (the table was much more disorderly afterwards):
The setup was very simple; I brought lots of loose tea, some of which was donated courtesy of Arbor Teas, Teatulia, and the Boston Tea Company. There were numerous other brands which I provided as well. There were at least 4 of each kinds of tea: green, black, white, and oolong, and there was an aged Pu-erh, and many herbals, including some I had grown locally in my own garden. People were able to brew the tea loose in their own mug, or a ceramic teapot, and and a variety of tea infusers and filters were also provided. People were also encouraged to bring their own teas to contribute, sample, and trade.
I want to thank the RA and the other student (pictured above) who organized this event and made this project possible! They baked delicious croissants and cinnamon buns to go with the tea.
I talked informally with people as they were choosing a tea to drink, about where the tea comes from, how it is processed. Rather than an organized educational medium like a talk, the event was more informal, with a drop-in, drop-out setup. I am most comfortable in this sort of environment though, and I found the students were really enthusiastic to learn about all the different varieties of tea present.
Lastly, in yet another encouraging point, we composted all of the tea, even breaking open the few tea bags that were used. You can see below that we drank a lot of tea at this one small event:
People often talk about how the U.S. lacks a strong tea culture, but it seems that the younger generation is very passionate about tea (and about sustainability, which is also encouraging!). I look forward to running more programs like this. I am thinking of having one open to the general public as well!