25,000 Cups of Free Tea – Flagstaff, AZ

The recipient of the 25,000th cuppa free tea, Ward, and his gifts.

The recipient of the 25,000th cuppa free tea, Ward, and his gifts.

Another milestone is upon us! On Friday evening we served our 25,000th cuppa free tea at the First Friday Artwalk in Flagstaff. As we set up for the evening, we only had 30 cups to go, and I was a little nervous.

Tea on the streets of Flagstaff.

Tea on the streets of Flagstaff.

We had had a little run-in with a local teashop owner, who wasn’t too stoked on the “competition” that the free tea bus brought to town (read about it soon here). He had contacted the city and the county in regards to our operation, so I thought we might have to be a little careful – we were indeed probably breaking some laws. Flagstaff has some of the strictest anti-homeless and anti-camping laws in the nation. Regardless, I read up on local health code (as I often do), and printed out some signs stating that “You are engaging with a private individual in their private home. Please note that any food (e.g. tea) is prepared in this home kitchen, and is not subject to regulation and inspection by any regulatory authority.”

Tea passing.

Tea passing.

As the Artwalk started to pickup, and we got closer and closer to our 25,000th cuppa, the bus filled with a bunch of college-aged folks. Earlier, I had seen some of them walk by and heard them say something that included the word “sketchy.” I made a fun comment like “Didn’t you ever hear: Don’t take candy from strangers in a van?” After a bit, they came back to see what it was about. They came aboard and the bus became packed (14 people inside and a crowd outside).

Ward opening his tea certificate.

Ward opening his tea certificate.

 

I secretly tallied each cup I served, and eventually gave a refill to a Belgian fellow named Ward, who was sitting on the floor. “With that cup of tea, you should also grab that envelope hanging up there.” He grabbed the envelope and opened it up. Inside was a certificate that said: “You have received a RANDOM CUPPA TEA. Which just so happens to be our 25,000TH CUPPA FREE TEA! This certificate entitles you to: one tea mug, one jar of tea, and one piece of non-integral tea bus memorabilia of your choice.” He was excited, and the more he and others thought about it, the more ecstatic he became. His excitement and the inspiration that this project was to him, showed me that he was the perfect person to receive such a thing. He spent hours on the bus, and finally picked the smallest teacup I had, a bag of Winter Spice tea, and a small handcrafted copper seal on a necklace as his piece of memorabilia (it, itself, was a beautiful gift from the Lopez Island tea goddess, Kyra – don’t worry, I’ll still think of you!).

Serving tea outside the Orpheum Theater.

Serving tea outside the Orpheum Theater.

Each time we reach a landmark like this, I insist that it’s about quality and not quantity, but I do have to say that even with this quantity, we have managed to maintain quality. It is the guests, the people who have sipped all 25,000 cups of tea, who are the heart of the tea bus. Thank you!

This don't make no cents.

This don’t make no cents.

I also just wanted to note amongst some of our other tea parties around Flagstaff (Herb Folk Gathering, at Wheeler Park, at the Sunshine Rescue Mission, and downtown), that we had an awesome experience with the owner of the White Flag Laundromat. After Herb Folk we had done a bunch of laundry here, but I had somehow managed to forget my three small beautiful rugs – one of which I had just purchased at an antique mall. It had been a couple weeks, but I called them as soon as I realized. They had kept them safe, and after I identified them over the phone, I went in to get them. Earlier in the day I had expressed that I wanted to pay the Laundromat back for saving the rugs. Ally had asked me what it was worth to me. I immediately said $50. Ally told me I should offer them that out of the Gift and Take. I was hesitant, as I seem to be a little protective of the Gift and Take. Yet, as we arrived, it felt like the right thing to do. John took one look at the money and said, “no way.” His mindset was that people should help each other. “Jesus doesn’t like money,” he said as he referenced the story of Jesus getting angry at people trying to make money in the temple. “I can’t take your money. Only the Lord can pay me back.” Yet, we continued to offer the money. “No, you keep it. It’s just enough to me that you acknowledge it and offer your gratitude.” When he had pulled the rugs out of the dryer and was folding them, someone even offered to buy them on the spot, but he said “no,’ believing that the owners would come back for them. I was blown away, and by the end we were hugging. I thank you sincerely, John!

Cheersing the 25,000 cups of free tea!

Cheersing the 25,000 cups of free tea!

Now, we sit at the Arizona-New Mexico border, sipping Earl Grey, and enjoying a nice desert morning. As for now, we are Albuquerque-bound. Look out, New Mexico – the Land of Enchantment!

Arriving New Mexico!

Arriving New Mexico!

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