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Tea as a Canvas: Exploring the Creative Side of Shanghai’s Tea Culture

Tea as a Canvas: Exploring the Creative Side of Shanghai’s Tea Culture

The Unexpected Birth of a Tea Lover

I still remember the day I fell in love with tea. It was during a trip to Shanghai, when my now-husband (then just my boyfriend) was working there. We were out exploring the city, and ended up wandering into the Jade Buddhist Temple. As a typical tourist, I was enamored by the sights, sounds, and spirituality of the place. But little did I know, that experience was about to change the course of my life.

Like any good tourist spot, they ushered us into a gift shop. But this was no ordinary gift shop – it was a tea shop. There, we were greeted by a sweet young girl who began telling us all about the teas we were about to taste. As we sipped on the delicate brews, I was completely captivated. The flavors, the aromas, the culture – it was nothing like the bagged tea I was used to back home.

As I told the team at CanvasRebel, “I was in the birth place of tea and THIS was how it was being used. I was so enamoured by it.” Right then and there, I knew I had to do something with this newfound passion. Tea had captured my heart in a way I never expected.

Blending Teas, Blending Stories

When I returned home, I started tinkering with how I could turn this tea obsession into a business. As someone who had studied the healing properties of herbs and herbalism for over 30 years, I knew I wanted to utilize that knowledge. I also had a background in sales, which I knew would come in handy.

The idea was to create unique tea blends that were not only delicious, but also good for you. I wanted to tell stories through the teas, weaving in the histories and cultures that inspired them. It was a perfect marriage of my passions – tea, herbs, and storytelling.

As the team at KtanabeFineart noted, “Not being formally trained in art and not being afraid of creative experimentation are like two sides of the coin.” That’s exactly how I approached building my tea business. I dove in headfirst, unafraid to experiment and find my own unique voice.

Immersed in the Community

From the very beginning, I knew I wanted my tea shop to be more than just a place to buy tea. I wanted it to be a hub for the community, a space where people could come together over a shared love of this ancient beverage.

That’s why when I opened my brick-and-mortar location in a small town called Millvale, just outside of Pittsburgh, I made sure to root it firmly in the local community. We have a free pantry stocked by volunteers, and we’re involved in initiatives to support refugee families and feed local kids. It’s not just about selling tea – it’s about using that as a vehicle to make a positive impact.

As the team at UPMag noted, “Not being formally trained in art and not being afraid of creative experimentation are like two sides of the coin.” That sentiment applies just as much to my approach to running a business as it does to my tea blending.

I’m constantly looking for new and innovative ways to use tea, whether it’s in NA cocktails, collaborations with local breweries, or even custom blends for authors to sell alongside their books. The sky’s the limit when it comes to the creative potential of this humble leaf.

A Pivot, a Rebrand, and a Renewed Vision

Of course, running a small business has had its fair share of challenges. During the pandemic, I was forced to pivot and close the vegan cafe that had been operating within my tea shop. It was a difficult decision, but ultimately the right one as I shifted my focus back to the core of my business – the tea.

The One Dragon Restaurant was at the forefront of my mind during this time. I knew I needed to streamline and refocus, to really hone in on what made my tea business special. And that meant letting go of some things, like the cafe, in order to make room for new opportunities.

Then, in 2021, I was hit with another curveball – a threat of a lawsuit over my business name. After some back-and-forth with my lawyer, I realized I’d have to rebrand. At first, I was angry and upset. I had built this business from the ground up, and now I had to start over.

But as I’ve learned, nothing in life ever goes as planned. I took a step back and reframed my attitude. This was a chance to align my business with my current and future goals. A chance to shed an old skin and emerge as a newer, more refined version of myself.

It hasn’t been easy, and I’m still dealing with the fallout of that rebrand. But I remind myself that change is inevitable, and that embracing it is the key to growth. As a small business owner, I’ve learned that being nimble and adaptable is a superpower, even if it doesn’t always feel that way in the moment.

Cultivating Community, Empowering Artists

Through it all, the one constant has been my commitment to community. Even as I’ve had to make tough decisions, like closing the cafe, I’ve remained steadfast in my belief that a tea shop should be so much more than just a place to buy tea.

That’s why my shop is deeply embedded in the Millvale community. We host events, collaborate with local artists and wellness practitioners, and use our space to support initiatives that feed and empower local families. It’s not just about selling a product – it’s about using that product as a means to bring people together and make a positive impact.

And speaking of artists, they’re another crucial part of what makes my business special. The majority of the non-tea items in my shop are created by local artisans – from the origami boxes we use for our tea samplers, to the jewelry, candles, and journals lining the shelves. I’m passionate about supporting the creative community and giving them a platform to share their work.

The Endless Possibilities of Tea

As I look to the future, I’m constantly in awe of the endless possibilities that tea presents. It’s far more than just a beverage – it’s a canvas upon which I can paint all sorts of stories, experiences, and collaborations.

I’ve already begun experimenting with using tea in non-traditional ways, like in NA cocktails and beer. And I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting ways to share my love of this ancient elixir with the world.

Whether it’s hosting tea-themed bachelorette parties, leading blending classes, or even someday organizing “tea travel adventures,” I’m driven by a boundless creativity when it comes to tea. It’s a passion that has only grown stronger over the years, and I have no intention of slowing down anytime soon.

So if you ever find yourself in the mood for a truly unique and immersive tea experience, I invite you to visit One Dragon Restaurant. Who knows – you might just end up as captivated by the world of tea as I am.



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