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Dalhousie's tea-riffic drinking society 

The Dal Tea Drinkers’ Society is doing something progressive, sort of, but it’s not a big deal. A nice cuppa makes it all go down okay.

Hot tea means comfort. A different kind of comfort than coffee or, say, vodka Jello shots.

And while Orientation Week rears its over-excited head around the campus of Dalhousie University, members of the Dal Tea Drinkers' Society hope students can take a break from the bedlam of first semester to take solace in the comfort of tea---whatever kind of tea they fancy.

For Alison Martin, today it's Earl Grey, into which she pours a little milk, holding in her hand the blue cover of her American Natural History Museum mug.

"I change it up," says Martin, who started a medicine degree last week. "I like chai. I like the regular black tea from Just Us, the Ceylon."

She stops. Ponders. "I am kind of indiscriminate with teas." Then she looks directly at me. "I'm not a huge fan of herbal teas."

Martin started drinking tea as a child, when her parents would top up the dregs of her supper milk glass with tea as they poured their own after-supper mugs. "Maybe that's why I'm short," she says.

Martin's been a Dal Tea Drinkers' Society member since the first year of her undergrad. She has served as president and, before that, Tea Culture Rep, which she admits didn't have a whole lot to do with tea culture.

"I think they had originally intended it to be, if they had meetings, someone would give a little presentation---[like about] tea drinking around the world."

But, Martin says, "I don't think I ever did an actual presentation."

What she did do was coordinate with other societies, because apart from the meetings, which aren't so much meetings---a room spontaneously booked in the SUB, an urn of steeped tea and an urn of hot water with an assortment of teabags---the six- (possibly seven-) year-old Tea Drinkers' Society serves tea at functions for other Dal Societies.

They have handed out tea and baked goods (crowd favourite: Russian tea cookies---"I looked up what went well with tea and what I had the ingredients for," says Martin) to the likes of Stephen Lewis, David Suzuki, Elizabeth May, Jack Layton and Alexa McDonough.

You'll notice a political bend in those names. And the tea society is, technically, about "progressive values," according to the official description on the DSU society webpage. But the thing Martin likes about the Tea Drinkers' Society is the mish-mash group tea brings together.

"You would think it would be all the artsy students, but I'm Neuroscience/Microbiology," she says. "It brings in a really interesting and diverse crowd and they always find something interesting to talk about."

Diversity---or maybe randomness---is very much the name of the Tea Drinkers' game.

The meetings aren't regular, the members---there are about 500, in roughly equal proportions of men to women---are from all over the Dal departmental map and the official society mandate is loose. No, I mean really loose.

Partly, it's about the "proliferation of a uniquely Dalhousian tea culture."

What's that, I ask.

Martin laughs. And doesn't answer the question.

Partly it's to advocate "social and environmental sustainability and non-commercialism."


Under her leadership, the Tea Drinkers' started using biodegradable cups at meetings and society t-shirts were bought from a Canadian company.

Martin is unapologetic about the, um, relaxed dedication of the society to its mandate.

Tea Drinkers' "isn't as aggressive as some other groups." Martin says.

"I believe in that---you can have your values, but it's not like when people come out to have a cup of tea we're going to make you join Greenpeace."

And, actually, members don't have to come out to have a cup of tea. They don't even have to drink tea at all.

"You might need to bring your own streamed beverage, but, no, there is no mandate that you must enjoy tea. Plus, there are so many different types of tea, I'm sure you would find one you like."

One might wonder: just what the hell is this society all about?

"I think the novelty attracts a lot of people," says Martin (who signed up originally because at the society fair in her first year one Tea Drinkers' Society co-president was at a booth with "this really old portable record player, the ones kids used to have").

There's also this: tea, the mandate reads, "makes the general goings-on of life a little bit better than they otherwise would be."

Do we really need to get picky about the details?


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