6 strangers..one cafe..2 hours..that’s the basic premise of Tea With Strangers. A host announces a time and a venue, 5 other people sign up, meet, and have conversations over a beverage of their choice. I had come across the site a few months ago and was intrigued enough to try out the meetup. And luckily, one was scheduled for the day I had planned my maiden trip to San Francisco. I signed up for the last spot for the meetup, and boy am I glad I did!
In the summer of 2016, I took the Caltrain from Mountain View to San Francisco and Ubered to Another Cafe (that is the actual name of the cafe), where I met the host — a charming, affable Australia-born Indian living in the Bay Area. I also met my fellow attendees — a world traveler, who has traveled to 30 countries and still counting, and also does improv and social dances; a Korean techie; a French entrepreneur who just launched the US version of his startup; and a maths genius who recently moved to SF and is having fun exploring it.
It was an eclectic mix of people who would not have crossed paths in the normal course of life, and definitely would not have had the open, deep conversations that we did. Credit goes to our excellent host, who ensured a comfortable and open space for everyone to voice their views and made sure everyone was included in the conversation. He did not waste time in small talk and asked us to answer a simple question — What are you about? And this deceptively simple question made us self-reflect and find out how we define ourselves, what do we identify with the most? I went through several iterations of the answer in my head — is it my job, my career that defines me? Is it my love for sitcoms? Is it my family and friends? What is it?
Thankfully, my turn came last. By then, I had the privilege to hear the amazingly insightful answers that my tea-mates had given — from experiences to family to doing something good for the world. Their answers led me to mine — being happy. Or rather choosing to be happy everyday. Celebrating and enjoying the smallest of things — like a cup of tea or a good read. This habit that I have consciously developed over the years has now become so ingrained that it is what defines me now. I had never realized that before.
I realized that no matter how diverse our backgrounds are, our aspirations and fears and concerns have a common thread — and so is the need to share them with someone and find answers together. What we offered each other is perspective — a different way of looking at things. In those two hours, we not only got to know each other, but also ourselves. At the end of the two hours, we dispersed and went our own ways, probably never to meet again. But the experience left me feeling satisfied and enriched — two hours well spent indeed. I look forward to the next round of tea with strangers!