Open letter - End of Tea Celebration

On 28 September 2017
[] THEODOR - La fête du thé

End of “International Tea celebration on Nov. 9th”. There will be no 11th edition.

The International Tea Celebration on November 9th celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2016, but there will be no 11th edition. Guillaume Leleu, behind this beautiful initiative, is revisiting these ten years in this open letter that you will find below and he shares with us his experience, his memories and his decision to put an end to it.

On November 9th 2007, day that is a wink at the House I run which is bearing the same name as the Saint who is celebrated on this day, I took the committed position to dedicate this date to the “International Tea Celebration”, knowing that no celebration, no date celebrating and promoting this beverage was existing previously, with great regret.

This year, on next November 9th, we would have celebrated the 11th edition of this festive Day about tea. And it is because this anniversary approaches, which should have been sumptuous, that I also make the decision to put an end to this initiative which was unfortunately not up to the ambitions I had hoped for it to the advantage of the values of discovery, sharing, welcome and tea pleasures.

Through the intermediary of THEODOR House, I had wished through this International Celebration that we could be an ambassador in order to highlight this extraordinary plant, with one thousand faces, that the whole planet drinks, while going beyond the divides of brands, of the usual places where it is consumed, of the economical and personal interests. 

There, Theodor was a bearer of voice, a player among the players, an originator, at best an intellectual organizer or agitator and nothing else, not wishing to monopolize this event for itself, neither for its own benefit, nor to take credit for a cause which then seemed essential to us.

But today, I can only regret, alone, far too alone, that we never managed to go beyond the divides I quoted above, never managed to federate other Houses around this event, never reached the threshold of making of it a date when from tea lovers to amateurs, each would appropriate this day in order to make the non-initiated better know the sensorial pleasures that a cup of tea can reveal and to pass on their passion by welcoming them around a table of friendship.

I am, besides, the only responsible for this failure, not bringing the expected answers to my colleagues, of the interest or non-interest that we had to be simple ambassadors or organizers of this celebration that I wanted above all to be anything but commercial.

The idea was not to be a sales day or for any special offer on our teas, nor a selling day to highlight a product, nor a date which would have enabled to append logos on communication media.

No. The idea was the one to engage in a celebration that everyone could appropriate to celebrate it, from the neighborhood baker who ventures on this day to concoct a few breads using tea, to the restaurant practicing to use tea like a new ingredient, to your town’s sports club giving a moment of break and friendship to its members, bringing out the health beneficial properties of one plant and a natural and healthy diet.

The idea was that tea could have one moment on this day, that it could be offered to the one who didn’t know it yet. A day when we were not asking to come to us, to a house or a tea house, but a day when we went towards the other, towards the unknown, the beginner and their friends.

Not waiting for anything from it, only to passively look at the smiles on the lips of the new converted ones who would discover this one thousand year-old beverage but who never had the pleasure to cross path with it until then.

But this idea, surely too ambitious, could not be borne by only one house, the smallest or the most confidential on the market besides, and this was not the approach.

Behind this November 9th, behind this initiative, there was the spirit of a generosity without anything in return, without expectations, the spirit of common sharing around the same passion where everybody, as they wished, didn’t have to hide, to stay hidden in the shadow of a selfish cup.

There have been, of course, a few Victories, a few fabulous November 9th, such as the first edition in La Réunion Island in the presence of more than 100 people coming from all over the world, such as Japan, Canada, South Korea… where tea lovers arranged to meet one another in unexpected places like the street, urban centers, harbors… All of these things which illustrated this Celebration and this International dimension wanted from the beginning.

But I retain what we weren’t able to achieve. This Celebration never reached the membership of players in the tea world. Here I am not talking about producers, nor small Gardens, who each have their festivals during the first days of harvest of their plantations, nor about producing countries, who often took some initiatives in the meantime in order to promote the typicality of their varieties.

No, here I am speaking about tea associations, blogs, retailers, Houses, brands who work every day in their way to promote tea, admittedly, but by appropriating its image and by conveying messages of rather expertise than pleasure.

There is no judgement there, everyone is free and the economic environment often and very naturally seeks for growth relays more than initiatives, either they are charities or communities and this can surely be understood.

This was maybe the mistake to take this initiative for this International Tea Celebration, with as tool the one of the House I had founded 5 years earlier. This choice might have been perceived like a personal interest, even if it was never the intention. Theodor never had the pretention to reflect the tea world, nor to appropriate it, but to be one of its surnames, one of its ambassadors, one of its faces. The tea world has more than 2,000 years of History, how would one believe for one second that a 5-year-old House would have the pretention to appropriate its cause?

No, nothing of this kind, and for that matter that’s why the difficulty of the exercise was to only be a clear voice more than to be at the initiative of events which would have brought everything back to it.

To host an event is to know how to make it sublime, to give all the light it deserves and to step aside without marking it too much by your presence.

To step aside and to put an end to it today, to close it, will maybe allow to do it to the advantage of other initiatives taken in other contexts, on other dates, either they are legitimate or not.

For 2-3 years, I have been very happy to see new dates flourishing other Tea Celebrations which would exist here and there, finding a past history, roots, sometimes surprising to be sure, and which would be “The official one”, “The true one”, etc. … As it’s not about having a contest here, or to assume what is, in my view, the right celebration, but more that tea benefits from pretty initiatives to talk about it, I can only join it.

It is then time to officially close, not the International Tea Celebration, but the November 9th date as its referent. It’s only a date after all.

And it’s not a question of failure here, but of humility, of a will to move forward and to allow other celebrations to take their place, like the “International Tea Day” taking place in December every year and which initiative must be welcomed.

As much in a personal as in a professional capacity, we will join them if these are bearer of the values animating us, if the specter of these celebrations is not dictated by a commercial nor an economic spirit, I commit to this.

This beautiful adventure is coming to an end, enabling me, far from any suspicions, to do the profession that is mine, in its core and its fundamentals.

Without any bitterness and without any shades, feelings which do not characterize me, I will continue, every day, to celebrate tea, to be an ambassador of tea and I am certain that those who will be sadden by this decision will understand the approach.

Théinement vôtre,
- G. Leleu