“A lot of clubs want to make you do stuff; we don’t make you do anything,” Jason Coffin says, pouring hot water from his thermos into his mug. His roommate, Ben Lewis, spreads an impressive assortment of square boxes of tea across the table. Jason and Ben are heads of the Tea Club, a popular group on campus created in 2012. It’s not hard to see why they are fit for the job. They waste no time making you feel welcome, cracking jokes as if you were a day-one member. They are the type of strangers you would want to bump into and become friends with. Tonight is “tea time,” the second of their two weekly meetings held in the Gallaudet game room. Pool tables and desks are pushed out of the way to make room for an intimate circle of sofas and chairs. I prepare myself a mug of green tea and situate myself on the couch.
As more students arrive and steep their teas of choice, I introduce myself to everyone.
“I like your handshake. I’m so tired of the limp fish,” says Alastair, a proper, matter-of-fact sophomore.
“Call me Rafiki,” says a tall, boisterous member.
As conversation regarding the practicality of mac and cheese for breakfast comes to a close, a question is posed to the group: What was the best part of your week? Since I’m new, I start. I sip my tea and decide it was revisiting one of my favorite Joni Mitchell albums, which was necessary down time to help ease a hectic week. A chorus of snaps ensue. I look around, puzzled.
Call me Rafiki
“Oh yeah, we snap after someone shares something,” Jason says. I pass the question to my right.
“The best part of my week was learning the keys to life,” says Rafiki, opening the palm of his hand to reveal the word LOVE written on it.
“So what are the other keys?” Jason asks after a slight pause.
“You have to find the rest out yourselves,” Rafiki teases.
Freewheeling question and answer is the heart of the Tea Club. Every question asked that night, and every night before, is archived in The Book. At first glance, it resembles the average notebook elementary school teachers issue to their students to practice composition, but this book has history and character. Hundreds of questions fill the pages: What is a food you cook well? What is your favorite childhood movie? The binding is ripped. Pages fall out and have to be constantly shoved back in. “We could fix it, but then it would just be another book,” Jason explains. Fellow Tea Club members Julie and Bethany show up fashionably late. “Sorry you guys, but I fell in a puddle and had to change my clothes,” Julie says catching her breath. They are the most lively Tea Club members, quick to take on an awkward silence with a joke. After an hour on the keys to life and other book-driven questions, the discussion develops into casual banter.
“So Ben, what have you Ben up to these days,” asks Julie with a hearty laugh. He smiles and shakes his head.
The puns start rolling in. “You look sick, maybe you need some Benadryl,” Bethany joins.
“Come on guys, you know this isn’t Benificial to anything,” Jason adds.
Once the jokes are out of everyone’s system, Jason asks about the most surreal moment in our lives. Alastair answers without hesitation. He details his trip to the Galapagos, where he saw dozens of dolphins jumping out of the water in unison while on a boat. “I have the video if you want to see it,” he says, pulling out his phone with excitement. Everyone stares in awe at the tiny screen showing dolphins dancing in the air. A round of snaps inevitably follows.
Ben announces last call for tea. It is now past midnight but everyone is still dialed in to their conversations. Julie explains with great certainty that “We Will Rock You” should precede every playing of “We are the Champions”, and it irks her when they are played out of order. As I say my goodbyes and make my way to the door, Jason stops me, holding out his elbow. “We touch elbows here, man.” I reach mine out to complete the “shake.” As I sip the cold dregs left in my mug, I realize that the Tea Club has everything and nothing to do with tea.