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Exploring the benefits of tea : Blog 3 : Tea & Community

In this last blog on the health benefits of drinking tea we will look at how tea creates and brings a sense of community in may different ways and how this in itself is health giving. This builds on our two previous blogs in this series on how the ritual of taking tea and the chemical properties of tea can vastly benefit those who take have the pleasure to enjoy it

[picture below : the table is set for tea at Mr Nans in Jingmai, Yunnan 2019]

Defining Community : A community can be defined in many ways, whether that is a group of people who share a common interest or passion or that are brought together by a location. There are also communities created by those in the same profession or who take part in similar activities. A focus on a specific type of change or action can bring about birth of a community. Finally, people thrust together by external situations or events can become communities. Communities can be formed in many ways, whether this is in person, through social media, online forums, or over the phone. All these reasons for community work because they create a feeling of belonging, of personal connection. This may have a bias towards emotional connections or be more based on a fulfilment of a need. Communities work because the actions of its members matter to the group and the group matters to its members 

[below : sitting with the cooperative community at Mr Xu's, Yunnan 2019]

This feeling of community fulfils a need that cannot be met in any other ways. Humans are by nature communal beings and it is this that has made us so successful as a species. This ability to share, cooperate and have compassion with one another is at the heart of our success and are the reason why communities are so healthy 

[below : good times with Seong Il  the team in South Korea 2018]

Of course different types of community offer different intensities of connection, however research shows that even simple communication can promote a healthier mindset and ultimately bring a greater enjoyment of life. When this communication is within a community and therefore (hopefully) with likeminded people these benefits are further intensified as it provides extra meaning and purpose to everyday life. The connection and social support provided helps us regulate our emotions and can therefore lower anxiety and depression. This in turn improves higher self-esteem, a greater empathy with others and better handling of stressful life situations. As referenced on this interesting site A study in the UK showed that people without the social support a community can bring are five times more likely to experience a mental illness. In the US it was shown good community interactions maintain cognitive vitality in older adults. There are also findings that indicate even our immune systems can be improved by the connections formed. 

[below : Michelle with Twistina & Bhushan in Kathmandu 2018]

One of the clearest examples of the benefits of community is that shown in Blue Zones. These are specific regions of the world where a higher than usual number of people live much longer than average. In the study of these areas it has been shown that the most important factor in longevity, happiness and health is community. These people were born into, or in some instances choose social circles that support healthy behaviours. Admittedly this concerns the entire lifestyle of a person, rather than an aspect of it but it illustrates the point vividly - - interested in blue zones?  Why not make a cup of tea & have a read here 

At Comins we are happy to be part of quite a few communities on varying levels.

1. Our Tea House community : A community which we miss greatly at the moment in this time of lockdown in the UK is formed by our teahouses. After sharing tea in our Sturminster Newton and Bath teahouses for eight and five years respectively we have been privileged to get to know a wide range of people we can certainly call a community. We feel that the teahouse is especially good at creating these connections. Historically teahouses have always been meeting places and centres of discussion, and we see this today. As people become more accustomed to the brewing methods we use and the variety of teas available we see connections form between drinkers - formed by this common interest focused in a specific place.

[below : Our Bath Tea House in pre COVID times]

A comment about a tea, perhaps its profile or method of brewing, leads onto regular acknowledgments of each other and then eventually conversation and friendship. We see (or have seen!) the power and therapeutic effect of true, authentic real conversation every time we open. When this is added to the benefit that the ritual of tea brewing has on the mind and body (see previous blog here) and a teahouse can be a very positive place. 

Offering tea how we do and interacting with our community in a way that is slightly unusual in todays world means that we usually share more than tea. From our interactions with customers we learn a great deal - similar outlooks often lead onto new ideas. This leads on to another healthy aspect of communities - it has been proven that helping other people makes you happier than if you put that same energy into just helping yourself [you can read more on this below under Collaboration & creativity through community]

Incidentally in this time when the teahouses are closed we have experienced enormous support from this community both towards ourselves and also between members of it. Interestingly despite the removal of the ‘place’ aspect of the connection this community has continued to function and has indeed grown, the focus of the interactions have just changed to online.

2. Our online community : This brings us onto a community which has expanded dramatically over the last year - social media [Instagram, Facebook & Twitter] and other online methods of connection have been vital, showing the positive side of this modern phenomena. Ways of connecting which we just didn't know about or believe would be useful have become the norm! Connecting in person through our Instagram Live feed (see here), teaching about tea through Tea School on Zoom and running Tea & Meditation sessions as well as our usual social media channels we have found a greater positivity and dynamism that we feel has definitely brought us closer to our (more distant) drinkers.   

From our own experiences nothing beats the ability to see someone in person in the teahouses, to read their expressions and feel their energy.  However, connection via a screen or phone still offers enormous reward and should not be underestimated!

3. Our Tea Partners : Growers & Makers community Another aspect of our community spreads a little further afield. We have spent the last ten or so years travelling the world, building relationships and drinking a lot of tea. This way of doing things has lead to an understanding about how important people and their approach are in the process of making a tea or a piece of teaware which not only tastes great or makes tea taste great [in the case of teaware] but also has a positive impact beyond the cup. This has created strong links with communities of farmers,  producers and makers who are like minded and striving to make the best teas in a positive way. To be a small part of these communities is a joy and an honour and drives us forwards to be better for them.  You can read much more about some of these on the blog - just a few of the more recent that may be of interest are :-

1. Mr Nan : Jingmai 2019
2. Mr Xu Yunnan 2019
3. South Korea 2019
4. Friends from Japan visit Comins in Bath

4. Our Tea Partners : Shops, Cafes, Restaurants community : Our wholesale brand ‘Tea with Purpose’ which we launched last year is a development of this. The seven teas we have  chosen for this project are from growers and partners who produce delicious and flavourful tea in a way that positively impacts people, nature and the planet. Importantly they are all also looking to educate beyond their tea gardens and broaden the impact of their approach.

The collection is a true partnership - specific teas have been selected and all packaging and literature has been designed and brought to life alongside our partners - an approach that offers complete transparency on those producing the tea. This approach aims to bring the story of each tea to the forefront of tea-drinkers minds, bringing tea growers and tea drinkers closer than ever and showing how every cup of tea can support those working hard to make a positive difference. These are growers who have formed and are growing their own communities.  In turn the businesses that partner with us and share the same values have their communities [businesses such as Sweven Coffee, Rye Bakery, Pipers Farm, Eco-Orkney, Feed the Soul, Colonna Coffee and Hole & Corner].  You get the idea- connecting these people up through Comins creates a community all keen to have important conversations related to tea and make a positive difference with their £.  In the future we also hope to connect the growers in this project to start to hopefully form a wider community for good.  You can read more in our blog here or do get in touch if you wish to discuss in more detail

Collaboration & creativity through community : Over the years it has been empowering to discover how other people find strength in the Comins community and embrace its possibilities. We have had several people reach out and connect by writing blogs for us : this lovely blog was written in 2015 by a customer Steve who we spoke to again about new ideas just a few weeks ago :  (Blog : The Meditative qualities of tea).  In 2017 we travelled to China with customer and great friend photographer Howard Boyer who also took many photos for our book and videos on our website.  A printmaker and friend from the Tea House Genny Levers also came along and this resulted in an exhibition at the Tea House back in 2017

Just this week our Comins Tea with Purpose brand allowed us to connect over IGTV with the amazing Henri & Peter from Pipers Farm : talk about their life and journey @pipersfarm, shared values, our favourite topic of soil and so much more (including plenty on tea of course).

Our last example of how community can bring great opportunities for learning is in our own development : each Tuesday Michelles mets with KC from Ambootia in Darjeeling to learn from his lifetime of experience in biodynamic and organic farming - these result in her Wednesday Wisdom Blogs which you can read here - aiming to keep the flow of information moving through our community and stimulating discussion [Blog 1, Blog 2, Blog 3, Blog 4, Blog 5, Blog 6]

Moving our focus to the times we are living in now : the time of COVID - what have we learned?  This period of time has taught us the true power of community. We are enormously grateful to be able to be even a small part of the communities mentioned above and truly appreciate that without them we could simply not do what we do.  Thank you all!

So to conclude :  Connections and a feeling of belonging bring tremendous health giving opportunities.   When combined with the ritual of 'having a cup of tea' and the physical properties of that cup we start to see that tea is truly a healthy powerful force for good.  We raise our cup of tea to that! 

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