Local Tea House Revamps Their Business to Survive Pandemic

West China Tea House shares Gong fu cha culture with Austin

This year has tested the power of community and shed light on the things that truly matter, with the devastation that separates us also inspiring connection. Such is the story of West China Tea House.

This local minority-owned business imports farm-direct Chinese tea and works to share a different kind of socializing culture to Austin. But Covid-19 threatened to derail their goals.

Courtesy of West China Tea Shop

Since 2012, owner So-Han Fan has been working with his team to build up two tea houses, The Tea Spot and Guan Yin Tea House, before this year’s obstacles impeded their progress. Their ongoing focus is to share traditional Chinese tea service – Gong fu cha – with Austin. The practice, they say, “fosters a safe, cooperative, and fun environment where people can connect without the use of alcohol.”

For So-Han, it started with the desire to celebrate Chinese culture and bring people together. Gong Fu Cha is known to nurture connections between people. Strangers sit on the same table and share their stories over tea. And in a friendly city like ours, this concept and practice did well. Besides doing tea tastings and tea parties, they also hosted events such as dance parties and yoga classes. Businesses like theirs, that center around people coming together, came to a halt when the pandemic hit.

In the spring of 2020, Guan Yin was closed “to renovate, rebrand, and present Austin with the brand new and improved West China Tea House – and then Covid happened.”

But So-Han wasn’t ready to let go of his passion project. They decided to change up their business plan and launched a new website (the revenue helped them cover certain overheads). With that, however, came other bumps in the road: The website had functionality issues that cost them a lot more. That combined with the burden of paying full rent on a tea house they couldn’t fully use, in addition to other financial issues, the situation was dire. So-Han, along with fans of the shop, started an ongoing GoFundMe campaign that helped raise a fair amount of money, which they hope to utilize for their recent re-opening.

Courtesy of West China Tea Shop

Despite economic hurdles, So-Han is rolling with the punches and beams with pride as he speaks about the passion project. “Our goal was to preserve some of Austin’s unique community spirit with a beautiful authentic tea house, Texas style.” He says he refuses to let the pandemic steal his creativity, identity, and goal of spreading Chinese culture. In fact, they have now even begun producing a free educational series on the YouTube channel, Tea House Ghost.

“Austin has already lost so many small businesses because of the pandemic,” he says. “I think the way to survive this is if we all come together and support one and other. We have been keeping Austin weird for a while now, and we hope to continue for many more.”

In a world where coming together in person is ill-advised, small steps help small local businesses continue to make Austin a dynamic place to call home. After months of difficult renovations completed entirely by him and his team, the refreshed tea house is open (2-7pm, Tues. - Fri.; 12-5pm Sat.- Sun.; closed Mon.) and taking all COVID-era precautions. Additionally, their website offers many teas, teaware, and flights (including one for Hanukkah).

Maybe all the quarantine down time will help us as a community realize the importance of human connection, despite the roadblocks. And a good cup of tea is always welcome.

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tea, Chinese tea house, gong fu cha, West China Tea House, So-Han Fan

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