Wabi-Sabi Weekend: A Modern Tea Master Hits the Road

On Wabi-Sabi Weekends, I post excerpts from my book, Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House. This week’s post is about Guisepi Spadafora, a longtime wabi-sabi hero and friend who embarked this week on a two-year North American Free Tea Tour. Guisepi will serve free tea, spark good conversation and spread community far and wide in a journey that he describes as “a questioning and search for the meaning of freedom across this great land.” 

Guisepi gathers a crowd for tea near Edna Lu. Learn more at www.freeteaparty.org.

Guisepi gathers a crowd for tea near Edna Lu. Learn more about free tea parties and the tour.

“We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip.”                  – John Steinbeck

Los Angeles video editor Guisepi Spadafora began cooking his dinner and boiling a pot of tea on the tailgate of his truck, parked on Hollywood Boulevard, in 2006. He offered a little food and a lot of tea to anyone hungry for sustenance and conversation.

“This small offering made to people was enough to create friendships between all classes and colors, spark conversations on hundreds of topics, put a human face on those involved, and create a strong community out of a mish mash of people and cultures right there on the pavement,” Guisepi writes. “Whether there was a Japanese tourist or a tattooed gangster with a shopkeeper or a Nazi punk, everyone related, everyone was comfortable sitting at the same level drinking the same warm beverage.” Free Tea Party was born.

In 2008 Guisepi traded in his truck for a 1989 Ford/Thomas bus, which he has since remodeled inside using salvaged wood. Edna Lu, as his Tea bus is known, has a full kitchen with running water, benches with storage, a closet, a wood stove, and a solar panel.

Guisepi and Edna Lu travel the West Coast to cultivate community and encourage dialogue about peace, environment and health by serving free cups of tea to people on city streets, at parks and at festivals. “Tea provides a relaxing, warm atmosphere for people to be themselves and comfortably share with others,” Guisepi states. Thousands of conversations between people who otherwise might not have met have been sparked during Guisepi’s gatherings.

“The free tea concept is based on the idea that goods or services can be offered without expecting anything in return,” Guisepi says. “This is known as the gift economy. We believe that selfishness should be balanced out by selflessness.”

While unique in the West, Guisepi says that free tea parties happen all over the world, every day. “Head to England for afternoon tea, South America for a Mate session, or any part of Asia for, well, just about any occasion,” he points out. “Tea to these tea cultures represents connecting with friends and strangers, relaxing and shedding outside worries, slowing down, settling disputes, finding beauty in simple things. We are just taking these aspects of tea and bringing them to the people of North America.”

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