The moments that change our lives forever...

It was a Saturday. May 17th, 2008 – if you want to me to be precise about it. A hike isn't something that Cody Beer and I would normally have planned for a Saturday morning, but for some reason, it seemed like a good idea the evening before.

Cody was reluctant to follow through - I could hear the hesitation in his voice when I rang him at 9am, just as I said I would. But what was I doing out of bed at 9am on a Saturday morning anyway? What good could really come of going for a hike on a Saturday morning?

I had no idea what I was in for...

We had been hiking for a couple of hours. Cody was a ways behind. I think he thought he was going to die - not that I was in great shape either, mind you. We pressed on though, as you do – because everyone knows that the only thing worse than dragging yourself out of bed on a Saturday morning to go for a hike, is dragging yourself out of bed on a Saturday morning to go for a hike without making it to the peak to enjoy the view.

Death had yet to tighten it's icy grip on Cody – in fact, I think he was beginning to enjoy himself as we neared the top. We passed by a group of fellow hikers, exchanging an acknowledgement of humility – you go into a hike like that thinking you're in pretty good shape, but you know the mountain is laughing a hearty mountain laugh as you stand, slightly hunched, gasping to catch your breath. Between gasps though, it wasn't the humility that the mountain was teaching that was on my mind. No. My mind was much more interested in the cute girl that Cody and I had just passed.

I looked back at Cody with a smile as we passed by – he was smiling too – the kind of smile that says 'What do you say we go hiking again next Saturday'? Cheeky bugger.

I didn't know it then – not when Cody and I sat at the top, enjoying the view we had just earned – not when I saw that same cute girl again, offering to take a picture of her and her room mate Justin, as I noticed them struggling to take the photo themselves. I didn't know it when I gathered up the courage to ask her for her number, or on the hike down, or on the drive home, or even that night when I would meet that very same cute girl from the mountain for a drink – but on Saturday, May 17th, 2008 – my life changed forever. One stranger. One conversation. That's all it takes...

[Lou & Justin - This is the actual picture that I took of a the 'cute girl' and her room mate that day. Now, 3 years later, I live with that girl in London, and Justin is one of our closest friends. Funny how things turn out...]

I talk a lot about the moments that have the ability to change your life. I'm hunting for them I guess. Can a cup of tea change my life? Well, yes and no. The truth is – it has very little to do with the tea, and everything to do with the stranger and the conversation - but you knew that already I'm sure. Those are the ingredients that truly matter. I found this out 3 years ago on top of a mountain. But I want to experience it again. Over and over if I can.

And I realized something the other day as I walked through Richmond with Silvia Pezzetti, telling her the same story I have just told all of you about the stranger I met 3 years ago on top of a mountain – I realized that this is the one story that I have shared with each and every stranger I have met so far on my journey to 100. This is the one that started it all, in a strange sort of way. This particular moment is the one that set me down the road I am still on today. The road that led me to England. The same road that got me started having cups of tea with strangers. So today, I thought I should share it with all of you as well.

Oh, and if you are wondering who Silvia Pezzetti is – you'll have to come back on Friday so I can tell you all about the girl who came all the way from Italy to London for cup # 23...

[On that note, I'd love to hear if any of you have moments like this one. One stranger + One Conversation = Changed Life. I mean, I'm sure you do. We all do – so maybe you'd like to share them with me? Email Post comments here. Tweet @100cups. Post on I can share them on the blog, or I can keep them to myself – it's up to you. Just help me prove that a conversation is worth our time!]

Who is Chris Guillebeau?

It can be a bit of a struggle coming up with new and worth while topics to write about, especially when the next cup of tea is still a few days away. I thought about telling you the story of 'Mad John' - the outgoing, but rather boisterous fellow who yells at people as the pass him by on the corner just up from my flat. He yells nice things, mind you - but I think I'd better pin the guy down for a cup of tea first, before I tell all his secrets. I considered talking of my upcoming plans for more tea related adventure, but I'd rather not spill the beans just yet. Poking around for some inspiration though, I found an email that I had put aside the other week - and so I think now might be a good time to tell you all about a man named Chris Guillebeau.

He and I haven't had a cup of tea - but something tells me that someday, we will.

Chris is many things. A writer. An entrepreneur. A world traveler. And routed in all that Chris does, is that quest to fight conformity in it's many forms. Chris has discovered that you don't need to live your life by the rules of another. You can carve your own path - in almost any way that you choose. Sure, you'll make some mistakes along the way - we all do - but those mistakes will be yours and yours alone. And you'll learn from them too.

It's an easy thing these days to get caught up in living the life that others expect. Maybe the pressures come from society. Maybe from your friends or family. From teachers. From the media. Wherever it is that these external pressures manifest themselves - and however they happen to make you feel - it's important to remember that you do have the option to ignore them. All of them. Am I saying that everyone should lead an unconventional life? No, not exactly. What I am saying, and I'm sure Chris would agree, is that you should decide for yourself what works best for you. Make your own rules. If those rules should lead straight from high school to university, to a white collar job in finance with a nice house to raise a family in - at least you know you go there on your own terms. If, however, they lead you to drop out of university to spend 5 years chasing your dreams of rock stardom, eventually putting those dreams aside to travel to world, moving from Canada to England to work for minimum wage and drink tea with complete strangers - maybe that's okay too.

Chris sends out weekly emails to his army - yes, he is the leader of an army too - and it just so happens that one of his recent emails struck an interesting chord with me and my tea drinking business - an email about the goodness of strangers.

I'll give you all a moment to take a look - but don't forget to come back. We're not quite finished yet.

Isn't it strange how how the word stranger has become synonymous with distrust. Strangers are bad. We avoid them. We don't know what they want from us, but we're sure they want something.

How did it get to be this way? How did it get so out of control? We've taught ourselves that someone who we don't know is not likely to be worth our trust.

What do you think about it? What is your natural reaction when a stranger approaches you? Do you feel it's right to teach our children that strangers are best to avoid, or does that simply spread distrust and side step the necessity to teach them common sense and good judgement. I don't have children myself, so I'm not sure it would be fair for me to comment on that. I can understand that desire to protect them, to keep them safe - but does teaching them to avoid strangers come at a cost. Is it having a detrimental effect on human interaction and general social skills? Have a look through the comments on Chris's page. Read some of the stories that his readers have shared. Consider your own life. Your own interactions with strangers. Share your thoughts here if you like. Tell me a story about a stranger you have met - positive or negative. Let's open the debate up on this end.

I'm not sure I have the solution yet - but it seems that a cup of tea is a good first step.

Unlikely Places. Ultimate Experiences.

It's been a couple of weeks now since my last cup official of tea. And if my recent tweets didn't tip you off, I've actually spent the last 15 days travelling through Vietnam – working my way from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. The trip wasn't exactly tea related – not in the 100 cups sense anyway, but that isn't to say that I didn't meet any strangers along the way- and I definitely drank a lot of tea.

While there are several cups brewing in the not so distant future, I thought I might take some time today to tell you about a stranger who entered into my life in the not so distant past. A stranger who has shown me incredible kindness and hospitality. A stranger with whom I may not have had a cup of tea, but who has had an effect on my life just the same.

My recent trip to Philadelphia to meet Mo Neville for cup # 22 would have me spending two nights in New York City, and after splashing on the plane ticket and accommodation in Philly, I wasn't sure I my bank balance could accommodate anything more – especially heading jobless into a two week run around Vietnam. I wonder if my impulsiveness will ever catch up with me?

I would turn to twitter, I thought – 100 cups had brought me so much already, perhaps it could help me find a couch to sleep on in New York City?

It only took a day, and I was sent in the direction of @adventurousness – though in real life, they call him Aaron. A friend of a friend - or perhaps more accurately, a friend of a stranger – but soon, Aaron and I wouldn't require the middle man. After a brief exchange, Aaron agreed to let me spend two nights on his couch. I was thrilled, and my bank account felt pretty good about it too. But what I would learn, rather quickly upon my arrival, is that Aaron was about to offer me much more than a just couch to sleep on...

After what felt like the longest bus journey of my life (something I didn't allude to when I told you about cup # 22), I arrived in New York City. I was almost 3 hours late. Would Aaron still be waiting for me on the corner of 34th and 8th? I wouldn't have blamed him if he wasn't. What reason did he even have to wait around? I was a stranger from the internet. A silly bugger from London who booked a flight to New York without the financial ability to book himself into a hotel. I was irresponsible. He didn't owe me a thing.

But he waited anyway...

I would learn very quickly that Aaron isn't your average stranger – that fact was ever so apparent in his willingness to treat me as as a friend, right from the moment we met. It didn't matter that we had never met one another before. Aaron already understands the value in opening your life up to the strangers within it – something that I grow more understanding of with each cup of tea that I have. Every conversation, every stranger – they bring me closer to truly understanding what we are capable of as human beings; to understanding the power of these connections that we have the ability to create.

Aaron took me to Shakes for New York's best burger. He took me to the Waffle Truck for the best waffle I've ever eaten – and believe me when I say I've eaten a waffle or two in my time. We went to Union Square and Grand Central. To the Trump Tower, and Radio City Music Hall, and the NBC Studios. He took me to brunch in the morning, and for my first New York bagel experience for lunch. We went to Tom's Restaurant, the diner you'd know from Seinfeld. We walked all over Manhattan - from the Upper West Side, through Central Park, to Wall Street, down to the Hudson River, and through the West Village. We went to the fire hall from the Ghostbusters' movies. To the site where the World Trade Centre once stood. We had Mexican for dinner - sharing stories of our worldly adventures and our mutual desire to experience all that life has to offer.

All of this for a me – a guy that he had only just met.

You could call it hospitality – but I can't help but feel that it's something much more than that. Hospitality is nice, but you don't usually walk away from a dinner party feeling life a different person, do you? Maybe I was still riding high after my cup of tea with Mo? Maybe the magic of New York City was taking its toll? Or maybe, just maybe, Aaron had offered me something much more than just kindness and hospitality. Maybe that's how it feels when someone takes what would usually require years of friendship and trust- the culmination of heartfelt conversations, shared experiences, honesty, and emotional growth - and and offers it to you all at once – the first time that you meet.

[ Radio City Music Hall ]

[ Everything bagel with Nova & Cream Cheese ]

[ Canyon of Heroes ]

[ Who you gonna' call? ]

[ Brunch! ]

[ Monks? ]

I left New York, determined that I would one day be able to pay Aaron back for everything that he did for me – and one day I will. For now though, maybe I can offer to someone else what Aaron so graciously offered to me. Maybe, if you come to London, you can stay on my couch. I'll show you the sights. We can eat waffles too if you like.

And maybe, if your feeling up to it, we can have a cup of tea as well...

[As an avid traveller - Aaron, like me - shares his stories with all who wish to read. Check out his website - have a poke around. Maybe there is something there for you too!]

Fraiser sends out a radio call for a new friend...

Since moving to London, Lou and I have been watching a lot of Fraiser. This had very little to do with 100 cups until just a few weeks ago. An episode called 'The Friend' was on, where Fraiser, in realizing that his social circle is not so social anymore, puts out a call on his radio show to anyone who might like to get together for a cup of coffee and some conversation...

I couldn't help but laugh.

This particular episode aired back in 1996 - proof positive that the importance of human connection, and I suppose the humor and awkwardness that can make these connections difficult, have been on the minds of people for some time now - even television sitcom writers!

This isn't exactly what meeting me for a cup of tea is like, but I wanted to share it with you anyway!

And for what it's Bob, I'd have been thrilled to go for BBQ with you...

[On a side note, this has got me to thinking that it might be interesting to have a cup of tea with Kelsey Grammer - yes, Fraiser Crane himself! If you have any ideas how I might make that happen, feel free to share them with me! And if you are keen to watch the rest of the episode - go here!]

I would love to meet you for tea, but I live in Pennsylvania... (Cup # 22)

It was a fairly ordinary Thursday evening when I received my first email from Mo Neville, a journalist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mo is hoping to lay to rest the idea that conformity is one of life's necessities. She calls her blog 'Project Joy' - a quest to uncover the individuals and ideas "that change how we work, live, and dream". I was thrilled to be considered as such. I mean, I know now the potential that's brewing within this quest to 100 cups - but I guess it still catches me by surprise when a stranger on the opposite side of the world takes the time to email and shows an interest, not only in what I'm doing, but in the things I have to say. I was glad too that Mo didn't take any offence to the fact that, in the excitement of receiving her email and the subsequent desire to provide a timely response, I mistook her for a man.

Good start Greg. Good start.

I scanned her initial email a second time. There was phrase that stood out. It was one I had heard before, and one that I expect to hear again. "I would love to meet you for tea, but I live in Pennsylvania.". 

She said it like she thought it would stop me from coming...

I had been to Philadelphia before, and though my previous visit was brief, I was excited to return - to take the city in, see some sights, and meet Mo for tea of course. Heathrow to Liberty International. Airport rail to Newark Penn Station. NJ transit to Trenton. Switch trains. Amtrak to 30th Street in Philadelphia. Walk to subway station. Subway to Penn's Landing. Walk to Hostel. Check in. Walk to bar down the street. Eat veggie burger. Watch the Vancouver Canucks beat Nashville. Feel happy. Walk back to hostel. Go to sleep. It was a long day...

In the morning, I found my way to the cafe where I would meet Mo with relative ease. I was early, so I took a seat on the couch and pulled out my laptop in an effort to look busy. I wasn't really sure what to expect of our conversation - this would be the first time, with the exception of cup #14 on 4ZZZ radio in Australia, that the person I was meeting wanted to interview me. There would be a photographer, a tape recorder - the whole bit. It's a tricky situation when that is the case. Not that I would know, this being the first cup of tea with a professional photographer present - but I couldn't help but make assumptions about it's trickiness. The purpose of sitting down for a cup of tea is to talk openly about anything at all. I didn't want my conversation with Mo to be one sided. I didn't want it to feel like an interview, even though it was one. I wanted to know about her, just as much as she wanted to know about me. I wanted to hear about her project - about what inspired her. I wanted to learn about the things that excite her in her life as a journalist in Philadelphia. I wanted to walk away that day feeling like I knew who Mo Neville really was. Maybe that's a lot to expect from a conversation between two complete strangers - but then again, maybe it's not...

The conversation came easy. It always does. We talked about our lives - about the journey we found ourselves on, and how exactly we came to be where we are in life. We shared stories of our past and our aspirations for the future. We couldn't help but laugh when the man seated behind us got a little upset at all the flash photography - and couldn't help but laugh a little more when the owner of the cafe (who had given us permission to take photos) told the guy deal with it. I felt a little bad, if I am honest. I wanted to ask him to join us for tea, but I don't think he'd have been all that interested.

I could go on and on about my conversation with Mo - all three and a half hours of it. 
I could tell you how amazing it felt to sit down with a complete stranger, yet find so much to talk about. I could tell you how happy it made me to receive such an incredible outpouring of support from a person I had never met.  I could tell you how touched I was that Mo had brought me some books to read, books that had served her well, and that she thought might also help me on my journey. But, I realize now that what's most important to my story, happened after I left...

Only a few hours after meeting with Mo, I was seated on the 4pm bus from Philadelphia to New York City. Engrossed as I was in one of the books that Mo had brought for me, I wasn't paying too much attention to the journey, which is a bit of a shame. I eagerly turned the page of Po Bronson's "What Should I Do With My Life" when a particular sentence grabbed me, jumped off the page in a way, as if it were trying to tell me something - something more than the words would add up to.

"Tell them that it's okay not to have an answer, but it's not okay to stop looking for one".

I had to pause for a moment, letting the words take hold inside my head.

I know I talk a lot about all the things that this project means to me. About how I hope that my stories might be a source of inspiration to others; a way for me to push myself to be more social and less judgmental; a means to challenge the increasingly isolated nature of society and create more conversation in the world; a way to prove to that anyone can be worthy of your time. And all of these things are true - every one of them. But even still, when I break it all down - when I look at it for what it really is - I suppose that this is all nothing more than a guy looking for some meaning in the world. This is me, smack dab in the middle of my own personal search for whatever it is that I should do with my life. I know it might seem like a strange place to look, having tea with strangers all around the world - but each stranger offers me something new - something I can use on my journey. New ideas. New insights. We help each other to clarify the things that we think we know, but that we feel a little unsure of. With each conversation, I can feel myself getting closer. I may not yet be sure what I am getting closer to, but after having a cup of tea with Mo Neville, I know that it's there.

I put the book down for a moment. Still pondering the words I had just read. Looking up, I could see the New York skyline peering over the horizon - the Empire State Building reaching just a little higher than the rest. I savored the moment - taking time to appreciate where I was, and what I was doing. What began with a simple idea between two friends, a rather curious ad placed online, and a single cup of tea in North London, now had me sitting on a bus bound for New York City. I closed the book, carefully placing it into my bag. I wanted to enjoy the rest of the ride. There was something incredible about that moment - sitting on that bus, thinking about my meeting with Mo, reading those lines in a book I had never heard of before earlier that afternoon.

You know those moments when you know without a doubt that you are exactly where you are supposed to be in the world? I've only had a few of them in my life. They often come without warning - they take you by surprise - but they are moments that you never forget. This was one of those moments.

Our lives tend to be unfold as a series of hits and misses. It's a guessing game at best. We take what information is available to us, make the most informed decisions that we possibly can, and hope for the best. It's a bit like making your way in the dark. Eventually, our eyes adjust and we can see a little bit - but not all that well. We walk with our arms out-stretched, hoping that we won't bump into anything along the way. We know we will though, so we hope too that we don't bump too hard.

When you have one of those moments, the ones I just mentioned, it's almost as if the light comes on in a dark room, if only for a single moment. It's blinding at first - overpowering. But then, all of a sudden, everything around us is so clear. So beautifully clear.

Sitting on that 4pm bus to New York City - I knew, without any doubt in my mind that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. That this... all of this... 100 cups. Tea with strangers. Conversation. Human connection. As strange as it might sound - this is exactly what I am meant to be doing with my life. I may have had my doubts before, but now - now I am sure.

Mo made that happen. She gave me the tools that led me to that discovery. So thank you, Mo Neville - thank you for turing on the light.

You should also take a few minutes to visit Mo's website - - She has written some very lovely things about me, and about our meeting for tea - and a lot of other great stuff as well. It's hard to put into words how incredibly lucky I feel to have met her. And Mo, if you are reading this... you have that 'light' too. You really do. But more than that - I think we all do. It's somewhere within each and every one of us. It's just a matter of finding the passion that brings it out - the thing that makes it shine...

[Bottom two photos by Joan Cimino Photgraphy:]

Tea at 36,000 feet (Cup #21)

I'm not certain what it is about flying - but when you are 36,000 feet in the air over the Atlantic Ocean- talking to a complete stranger doesn't seem like such a crazy thing to do any more. I know this because, well, as I sat on the plane from London to New York, I wasn't the one fishing for a conversation.

Is it the inevitability that you will rub elbows for the next 10 hours? The fact that, at some point during the flight, I will have to excuse myself - interrupting what may well be the only decent 3 hours of sleep that Betsy and Richard will get? As weird as it sounds, it would seem that flying completely changes the social nature of a human being. We've grown into creatures who crave comfort and predictability. We don't trust that which we don't know. On a plane though, it becomes impossible for us to maintain that level of isolation. We become painfully aware of the people around us. Each time they adjust their position, every cough, every sneeze - every time they doze off on your shoulder sending a stream of drool onto your lapel - it's a bit disappointing really, that it takes that much to force us to be okay with sociability.

Back to Betsy and Richard though, and I guess an explanation as well about what I was doing 36,000 feet in the air over the Atlantic Ocean in the first place.

To be honest, I was actually quite content to mind my own business when Betsy asked me where I was off to. I know that goes against the message I have found myself preaching, but I guess, at some point, it's inevitable that the need for balance will rear it's little head and enter into the equation. While this quest to meet 100 strangers might suggest that I spend the majority of my time approaching people in the street, the reality of it is actually quite the opposite. I am getting better at it, but talking to strangers is still very much a challenge for me. I still get nervous. I still have those moments where, when silence creeps in, I begin to panic in the face of an awkward moment - which, of course, only serves to perpetuate the problem that may well have not existed in the first place. I like talking to people, it's true - but my preference tends to lie in keeping to myself. I still have a long way to go.

I wasn't exactly sure how to answer the question Betsy had just so innocently asked. Maybe she was just making small talk, just being polite. Did she really want more than an answer in short form? Did she care where I was going and what I would do when I got there? Should I tell her from the get go that I was on a plane from London to New York to meet a stranger for a cup of tea? Would she be ready for the conversation that an answer of that magnitude would require? I guess it would be an interesting ice breaker...

I decided to hold back though - talked around the questioned - thought I would buy myself a little time. We talked about the photography expo that her and her husband, Richard, had just attended in London. About the book Richard had written that had been nominated for an award at that very expo. I told the couple of my own interest in photography and film, admitting that, as high school came to an end, I nearly ventured to film school in pursuit of a career in the film industry. Richard seemed delighted, he was a film man himself - spending some time in the industry, but later leaving the hands-on behind to teach to the next generation the skills he had acquired. Betsy was a social worker by trade. I told her that my girlfriend was a social worker as well. Funny, the things you can have in common with the stranger seated next to you on a plane.

But Betsy still did not have a satisfying answer about the purpose of my trip, and so she asked again.

'So, where did you say you were off to?'

Both her and Richard looked to me for an answer. They seemed genuinely interested too. I didn't want to lie to them. And I certainly couldn't put it off any longer - so I told them. I told them everything. I told them of my move to London and the immediate difficulties that a move of that nature had created. I describe the social nature of a city like London, one that had welcomed them with open arms they said - but they were only there for the weekend - the magic hadn't worn off yet I suppose. I told them about my desire to create more conversation in the world, to challenge the growing interest in isolation. I talked about the need to challenge my own social preconceptions, the habitual way that I make judgements about people I don't know. I told them about 100 cups - my journey to have 100 cups of tea with 100 strangers, and how I hoped that this journey would change the way I look at the world and the people around me. I shared stories of my journey so far, of all the wonderful people I had met, and of all the wonderful people I am sure are still out there, as keen as ever to join a guy like me for a cup of tea. And I told them about Mo, the journalist from Philadelphia that I was off to meet. The reason why I was on the plane.

I was beginning to feel a little silly, playing with my tray table as I unloaded my story on a couple of New Yorker's who now call New Jersey their home - but as I looked up for the first time in since launching into my tall tale of self-discovery-meets-social-experimentation, I knew that they understood. They probably wouldn't have invited me to bring my girlfriend to visit their country house in Vermont if they hadn't.

In that moment, I knew there was only one thing left for me to do. Reaching up, I pressed the button to call the flight attendant.

'May we have 3 cups of tea, please?'

Not a cup of tea. Not yet, anyway...

One of the questions I continue to ask – to you, and to myself – is if a cup of tea has the power to change my life. Can a single conversation with a complete stranger on topics of a fairly ordinary nature, have extraordinary results? What if I were to have 100 of these conversations, inviting the opportunity for change into my life on a consistent basis? What might happen then?

I can feel the changes, as small as they are, with each and every cup of tea. Each conversation I have sparks new ideas in me. It brings change to the ideas I already have. With each conversation, I take small steps towards a deeper understanding myself, and my place in this world. I develop purpose, and discover the subtleties of social interaction that we have lost sight of in this digital age. I am learning to appreciate the people around me – an appreciation that we really shouldn't have lost sight of in the first place...

But how can I measure any of this? I mean, I write about it – I share my thoughts with all of you – but these changes are purely internal. I'm in a wrestling match with the metaphysical, trying desperately to come to a greater understanding of the ability we have to connect to one another, and flirting playfully with the potential that these connections have to inspire change and offer new opportunities. But, it's the opportunities I must chase if I hope to have any substantial proof - any actual evidence that sitting down for a conversation with a stranger, or in my case, 100 of them, might have the power to re-shape my life entirely.

Elenita Belgica, a journalist and radio host out of Montreal, Canada - after hearing about a Canadian in London who drinks tea with strangers, thought she might send me an email in the hope of having me as a phone guest on her weekly radio show. While that conversation may now have to wait a few months due to changes to her own schedule, connecting with Elenita has already lead to an opportunity that I may not have been offered had it not been for the 20 cups of tea I have had to date.

An invitation has been extended to me to be a regular contributor to a new, news-based website – The online publication will be released monthly, and will feature a collection of news stories and articles, all with a generally positive spin. Seems like a good fit for my adventures, doesn't it? Will I be paid? No. Does that matter? Of course not. Will this lead to anything bigger? I have no idea. But, in the words of the 'Great One' (that's Wayne Gretzky, by the way - the hockey fan in my couldn't leave that one out), 'You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.'

The maiden issue was just released, and features the story of a stranger I met on the bus in London. Maxine and I haven't had a cup of tea just yet, but I'm confident that we will. She's got my number after all...

Enjoy the article, have a poke around the rest of the site if you like, and on the off chance that any of you are keen to share any stories of your own, let me know. Elenita is always looking for more contributors to the site and I would be more than happy to put you in touch!

Say hello... to Clipper. (Cup # 20)

I can't help but wonder, sitting on this train to Crewkerne, where everyone else is off to today. Everyone seems rather content to mind their business, paying no attention to me as I stare, wondering about the lives they might lead. I can't be sure, but I would guess the nobody here is wondering the same things about me that I am wondering about them. And even if they were, I'm confident that none of them would guess that the only reason I am on this 3 hour train ride is for a cup of tea...

You probably would have guessed that by now though, am I right?

Before today, I had never been on the production floor of a tea company. Actually, I've never been on any sort of production floor at all. Today may have also been my first time wearing a hair net. It was a special day, today was - though, the hair net had very little to do with it. I had been wondering for a while what a tea company might think of all of this tea drinking business, whether they might appreciate what I have set out to do using the oh so lovely beverage that they've devoted their careers to producing. Funny that all I should do to set up a meeting with a tea company then, was ask.

[ Hair net? Check! All ready for the tour! ]

I had been talking to Clipper Teas for a little while – throwing around some possible dates for me to come by their headquarters in Beaminster – a small town some 200 km's outside of London. I took a little while I suppose, but the cup of Clipper at the end of the tunnel was definitely worth the wait.

Claire Tuck picked me up from the station – a short drive from Clipper HQ. There is something comforting about receiving such kindness from someone you have never met. When I first reached out to Clipper, I was surprised to receive a reply at all, let alone an invite for tea and a ride from the station. I would learn though, as the day went on, that Clipper isn't your average tea company.

Claire and I started with a tour of their production floor – from the warehouses that hold the tea leaves, to the storage facilities for tea's ready for shipment, and finally, to the place where all the magic happens. Watching the machinery portion the tea, setting it onto the paper to be sealed, perforated, cut, sorted, packaged, boxed, and sealed again. Incredible, it is – watching it all happen. A single line, manned by 2 or 3 workers, pumping out 350 cases of tea an hour. This didn't feel like your average production line I thought, as Paul stopped the machine, pulled out a single packet of wild berry tea, ripping it open and handing it to me to smell – this was something entirely different.

Clipper, while they do export to an international customer base, and hold the title as the first UK based fair trade tea company – operate more like small business - a family business. I guess though, you'd have to operate that way when a genuine worry on your way to work in the morning is the risk of getting stuck driving behind a tractor. There's just no room for big-city, corporate stress in a place like this. They employ real people, doing their best to keep things local. Surely there would be pressures to move into bigger facilities, to increase production and cut costs – but then they wouldn't be the same company that Mike and Lorraine Brehme started in the upstairs bedroom of their house with only two chests of Assam and a desire to offer to world a better quality cup of tea.

Penny Knapman – my initial contact at the company – later joined Claire and I in the company boardroom, where the three of us drank tea and talked the day away. I am never short of amazed at how is it becomes to open up when you have a cup of tea in your hands. Sitting in Beaminster, I felt different than I did only hours earlier in London. I felt at ease. I felt relaxed. And as we spoke of the importance of slowing down, existing completely in the moment I felt, in a strange way, as if there was nothing else in the world besides Penny, Claire, and I – and our tea of course.

I know how important it is to exist in the moment. To embrace today - letting go of the past and feeling okay about the fact that we have no idea what the future may or may not hold. Like anything though, this is a skill that takes practice to perfect. How incredible it is that I live in London right now. That I have the freedom and ability to pack up my life and move it to the other side of the world. And though a move of that nature is difficult, it is harder still to remember that each moment spent wondering about what could have been – is a moment that you never truly lived. A moment you lose forever. I've always struggled with that. Even in those incredible, awe inspiring moments - I tend to coast. To detatch. I know I was there, but my recollection is hazy. I spend too much time conerned with what's next, and forget to enjoy what is. It's strange to say, but each cup of tea - each conversation - it forces me to live in the moment. It pulls my head out of the clouds, and reminds me that there is just as much, if not more, to enjoy right here. Right now.

I felt alive today, sitting with Penny and Claire – and I can't help but feel that it might have had even just a little something to do with the Clipper tea that sat in front of me – savouring each sip, appreciating the flavour, the subtle undertones, and the way it warms your entire soul as each mouthful makes it's way through your body. I noticed the warmth of the mug in my hand. The way that it burned my finger tips if I held it too long. I imagined Claire on a boat, as she told me of her love for sailing. I remembered that last time I sailed - appreciating the way that, once on the open sea, your troubles seem non-existant, as if you left them back at the dock. I listened to the words we each spoke - letting each one resonate - appreciating not just what was being said, but how alive each word was making me feel. I looked up at Claire, and then over at Penny - I wonder if they felt it too?

It's amazing that something as simple as a cup of taught me that I need to stop just existing, and get back to being alive. To always strive to see the value within the people around me. To appreciate that beauty that each day offers to us, but more importantly, to accept the offering and share it with everyone that I possibly can.

So here's to sharing, and living in the moment – and to getting stuck behind tractors too. After all, maybe getting stuck behind tractor is just life's way of reminding us to slow down and enjoy the ride.

[ Claire to my right and Penny to my left! ]