Christine Snyder, Owner of the Lia Leaf Tea House in Flagstaff, Arizona, shares her heartfelt stance on tea’s role in society in her Letter to the Editor below.
To Whom It May Concern:
I’ve seen many articles and reporting trends lately painting a dire image of the tea industry in America. Chains slowing growth or closing, stagnant grocery store shelves, and small independent mom and pops closing. As someone who falls into that last category, this news is very disturbing. Especially in a small tourist town who’s minimum wage is set to increase to $15.50 in 2021 from $8 just a few years ago and skyrocketing rent costs. Closing the doors and moving just to online sales has definitely crossed my mind and at many times seems like the only way. But what quenches that thought every time is the reason I opened my little shop. I wanted to share true tea culture with America, show them it’s not about highly sweetened boba drinks or chemically flavored teas. It’s about appreciating the complexity in a simple product. Reveling in the art and ritual that is tea culture. I labeled my business as a tea house for a reason. I want it to serve as a refuge for my community. A place they can feel at home, meet with old friends, run into new acquaintances, or sit with themselves in stillness.
As American culture seems to be polarizing more every day and there exists more anger and hatred between groups of people, we need to find a way to build community and foster communication. I don’t think it’s a coincidence more membership based spaces are opening up all over the country. Whether it be shared work spaces, workout communities, or interest/hobby based groups; people are flocking to these businesses and willing to spend a healthy sum to feel a part of something, a part of a community, or tribe as is the popular nomenclature.
I see this as the growth space for tea and tea culture in America. Tea may never be big business here; there may never be the “Starbucks” of tea, and I don’t think that should be the end goal. As a member of the tea industry in America, I feel a sense of stewardship towards tea culture. And I think we all should. We can’t shoe horn tea into the coffee model but we can create something different that the American culture is craving, a product that detoxifies our bodies physically and detoxifies the collective thought patterns that are devastating American identity and pride. Tea houses and spaces where tea culture is practiced can offer us a way to heal physically, mentally, and come together to work towards all our common desires and dreams.
Our product is not just a drink; it is centuries of ritual and respect, and it is a hopeful future.