The Tao of Tea

Brady Johnson - October 1, 2012

"each sip of tea is an 'unrepeatable event', a new experience Tealchemy is hoping to share with the world"

Oolong (oo-lawng)--N. A kind of dark tea, grown in China, that is partly fermented before being dried. Derived from the Chinese Wu Lung, wu black + lung dragon.

At Tealchemy Teahouse, only one flavor is served: Gungfu Cha, the oolong of Southern China. Owner Jon Oda is promoting Tealchemy as a pop-up business at Santa Fe’s RE:Mike event, held Sept. 21-23. The teahouse is found within a traditional Indian tent, which is Oda’s personal homage to the Silk Road. Oda uses a traditional Chinese seating arrangement, with an octagonal bar at the epicenter of the room and floor seating instead of chairs.

Oda’s passion for tea is the driving force behind his business Tealchemy originated at the Burning Man Festival; Oda relays that while at Burning Man he probably had the biggest tea house in the nation, serving more than 300 people a night in a tent that took two days to erect. However, service was not as plentiful in Santa Fe.

“I’m at the crucible of what makes sense,” says Oda. “It was a tough weekend.”

Oda views his tea as “instant gratification,” but found that people were turned off by the purely traditional serving methods he employed. He stands firmly behind his fundamentalist approach to tea service, by displaying his blend in traditionally smaller cup sizes.  In today’s consumeristic economy, the general population wants more and more, and Oda just wants people to experience the flavor in each and every tea leaf.

Tealchemy does not have a permanent establishment set up. Instead, Oda believes that a mobile teahouse will best accent his desire for multiculturalism. Working festivals in the Santa Fe area is his biggest form of service, because Oda believes that festivals accumulate more of a gathering of the masses from different walks of life.  Oda describes the interactions he wishes people to have while there, saying “I want to get people talking, to have people share their stories from when they were on the road.” In between, Oda supports his business with catering companies to indulge the masses in a sense of tea wonderment.

Though Oda’s main effort with tealchemy is to “reconnect people to the elements,” and to “open up their eyes,” he also sees his teahouse as a “bridge to the West,” and seeks to bring the nobility of the art of tea to the Western hemisphere.

Tealchemy chooses to serve only one tea, the Gungfu Cha (a.k.a. "Kung Fu tea"), strictly because Oda believes there is “something indisputable about a person’s sense of taste,” adding that tea has a sense of wonder, and that no one will taste the same thing as someone else since tea has that “vitality.” He believes that people of the Western World view tea only as “impotent coffee,” and so takes special pride in the “elaborate art of the ritual,” or roasting process, since the “alchemy adds flavor.” All tea served within Tealchemy is arranged in a traditional, five-sided Chinese medicine wheel, which serves to represent the elements of earth, wind, fire, water and space.

During Oda’s free time, he likes to take workshops specific to the techniques and insights into tea-making. He  believes that if he wants people to truly experience the flavor of his tea, he should know as much about it as possible. Oda does not believe he can do that if he serves his tea to pay the rent, saying he prefers his business to be “non-transactional.”

Oda wishes to, “create a container where people can arrive and support ‘global culture.’” He sees an absence of culture as the main disappointment to the Western world and that people could understand and feel this culture if they just “arrive.”

Oda is a self proclaimed “tea idiot,” a term coined from his Buddhist teacher from the Chinese provence of Tibet. He recites an ancient Chinese proverb that says tasting tea is like “tasting the life of the leaf on the mountainside.” Being a Buddhist, Oda believes that each sip of tea is an “unrepeatable event”, a new experience Tealchemy is hoping to share with the world.