Storm over a cuppa? World Tea Party promises a battle

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS
Monday, December 6, 2010

NEW DELHI - A battle is brewing over tea. The World Tea Party, a Unesco- ratified global cultural and public art project, is threatening to take on the Tea Party movement in the US for denigrating the spirit of tea ceremonies and reducing the concept to mere political mudslinging.

“I am trying to develop a case against some right-wing Republicans for ruining the tea party spirit. While the World Tea Party is trying to open doors, the Tea Protest movement in the US has become reactionary,” Bryan Mulvihill, the World Tea Party founder, told IANS here.

World Tea Party, inspired by the Buddhist rite of ceremonial tea parties, is a public and social art project that promotes human bondage and universal brotherhood and celebrates the diverse cultures of tea through elaborate public tea parties, usually in venues of art exhibitions across the world.

The Vancouver-based Mulvihill, who is working on an art project in India, is in the capital to host a World Tea Party, Russian style, at the Russian Cultural Centre. He will be here till February.

“I plan to sue the American Tea Parties for defamation against the tea parties of America. The idea of a tea party is to share an open communication rather than defend one’s narrow vision,” said Mulvihill, who has been practising Zen Tea Ceremony for the last 15 years.

In the US, Tea Party protests grew as a grassroots movement throughout 2009 partially to protest federal laws like the Emergency Economic Stabilisation Act of 2008, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and a series of healthcare reform bills.

The key demands were reducing government spending and lowering taxes. The US Tea Party protest harks back to the Boston Tea Party - a protest against British tax laws by Americans - seen as a symbolic rebellion against colonial forces.

“Of late, it has grown into the White Picket Fence movement against President Barack Obama,” said Mulvihill.

The first World Tea Party was held in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and lasted for two and a half months.

“I selected exhibits from different genres of art that had references to tea. The exhibits represented 37 cultures. We created a public tea room with butlers and tea makers who served different kinds of tea every hour. An estimate later said at least 250,000 people drank a cup of tea each over two and a half months,” he said.

The largest World Tea Party ever conceived by Mulvihill was in Los Angeles for 17,000 people at the Hollywood Bowl in 2000.

Mulvihill, who has been visiting India for the last 40 years since he was 20, has hosted World Tea Parties at the Kolkata Art Fair in 2007 and at the Travancore Art Gallery in the capital in 2008.

“Wherever tea has travelled around the world, it has been adopted into the local cultures in its own style. It is a ritual. I use it as a medium and a meeting place for cultural appreciation and understanding between communities. It is a community beverage,” he said.

Mulvihill’s diversity of tea parties has ranged from the English High Tea, French Salon de tea and the Japanese religious tea rite.

“Tea party in the Far East is a highly evolved tradition. I have studied the Japanese Zen tea rites,” he said.

“The Zen monks believe that each tea meeting is particular unto itself and will never happen the same way again. Each tea ceremony is special because life has changed since the last tea party,” he said.

The World Tea Party founder is trying to evolve a standard tea ceremony theme for India.

“There is no one India. You have Punjabi tea party, the Bengali tea party - each region has its own tea party. The British brought the tea to India and the Indian ‘chai’ is a legacy of the British army.

“I want to create a distinct tea culture. Indians are curious by nature and tea party is a place to relax, exchange and sort out differences,” Mulvihill said.

He is planning to host a Buddhist tea party with the help of the Mahabodhi Society in Kolkata and a private party at the behest of the minister of tourism.

“I am totally at home in India,” Mulvihill said. And when at home, tea cannot be far away!

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

Filed under: Fashion, Hollywood, Lifestyle

will not be displayed