Imagine this. A young academic learns she has a job offer at Penn State in State College, PA. She lives in Melbourne Australia.
She’s grown up in a city where different migrant communities have bought their tea drinking cultures to the city. In her own family of Sri Lankan migrants, she learned that tea is like mother’s milk. "Plain tea’ is brewed dark and strong, and sweetened with at least three or four teaspoons of sugar, or sipped while eating a piece of “hakuru” (jaggery, palm sugar). It’s best in the afternoons, after hard work or heartbreak. “Milk tea” is black tea with milk (fresh or powdered), steaming fresh in the morning. It’s soothing and drinking it reminds her of her aunt who leaves a tea-cup covered with the saucer by her bed first thing in the morning. It’s pure love. In high school, she sometimes skipped school and sat in a hole-in the wall Vietnamese restaurant eating calamari and sipping green tea. And later, living with her best friend in Drummond Street in Carlton, she sipped copious amounts of tea out of delicate Turkish tea glasses talking about everything that matters.
So, what is the first things she does when she learns she will be moving to State College? She googles tea and cafe. She learns of this “East West Crossings” in neighboring Lemont and visits there as soon as she lands.
Inside an old converted barn by a little stream, EWC is an oasis of tranquility, warmth and best of all, open discourse! It is there that she really learns about tea, all the different varieties, flavours and types. She is timid at first – the Ceylon Pettigala is always her first choice. But guided by the owners, Ran and Joy Mitra, she is soon drinking Darjeeling Ginger Peach, Clouds and Mist, Ti Quan Ying and her favorite, Mango Rose (which to her sounds like a woman whom she would hope to be someday). She attends their music nights and creative writing groups. She studies, prepares her classes, arranges dates, and writes significant parts of her dissertation in that place. She loves the Emily sandwich and the scones are delicious (she gets rather fat).They have a special brew during exam time called “memory aid.” She has a perfect 30th birthday there, eating cake, drinking tea and reciting poetry with some of her favorite people in State College. She meets the most interesting people in State College at this tea shop.
She moves away after two years. She longs for the new events they have listed on their website – book discussion, tea tastings and classes, logic and art exhibitions. Her new local tea house has an identify crisis (is it bar, coffee house or tea shop?) and the juice bar down the street sells orientalist art and $8 juices. It is just not the same. Nobody in her new town even has Mango Rose.
It doesn’t matter. EWC has an online shop and they speedily send her supplies when she is running low.
EWC is not just a tea shop, it’s a place where the owners have attempted to create a very special place found no where else in the university town of state college.