Last Updated: December 11, 2019
When was the last time you took a breather?
To be entirely honest, I can’t remember the last time I had an actual break. I don’t mean five-minute breaks at work—I’m talking about the type of rest that allows you to slow down, relax, and reflect.
Through its tea drinking workshops, Hush TeaBar hopes to bring that type of immersive rest right to your doorstep. It’s Singapore’s—and most possibly the world’s—first silent tea bar, bringing the hearing and deaf together through something as simple as a cup of tea.
Started in late 2014 by Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong, Hush TeaBar is also a social movement that champions social inclusion and mental wellbeing.
Its sessions, which are held in workplaces, schools, and in public, are facilitated by the deaf and people recovering from mental health illnesses. This empowers their TeaRistas and integrates them back into society again. To date, Hush TeaBar has 38 deaf TeaRistas, and it has conducted 335 workshop sessions.
“PMEs these days are highly stressed and we recognise that,” said Chua Ning Pei, Hush TeaBar’s Lead Partner, Engagement & Growth. “It’s no wonder. They go through the same ol’ daily grind, but with little knowledge about what they are actually working for. We intentionally craft the [email protected] experience and bring it to them, so they can stop to literally smell the roses.”
What’s so unique about these workshops is that it’s all conducted in silence—everybody has to wear earplugs—and in order to communicate with each other, the TeaRistas teach basic sign language.
This little piece of knowledge goes a long way and helps PMEs and students practice empathy towards the disadvantaged and disabled in our society. Not only are they learning what is it like to live with silence, they’re also learning how to listen and speak without words—how meaningful!
All of Hush TeaBar’s teas are specially crafted by a tea connoisseur and imported from Sri Lanka.
They have five tea blends and they’re all based on moods. For example, its Freshly Tranquil tea has mint, chamomile, and lemongrass, while Sweetly Intimate has rosehip, apple, rose petals, vanilla, and more.
Though they don’t have a retail store, they sell their teas online (drop them an email to make an order) and at their workshops.
To see the Hush experience first-hand, I decided to drop by one of its corporate workshops, which had around 30 participants.
Each corporate workshop lasts around two hours and is split into four zones. After a quick introduction about Hush TeaBar, the participants surrender their mobile phones, plug in the foam ear plugs that are provided, and the session starts.
First, the facilitators taught the participants basic sign language.
For example, raising both hands in the air and rotating them at the wrist—just like jazz hands—is sign for clapping, while touching your chin with the tip of your palm and extending it to the other party is sign for thank you.
It was oddly disconcerting being in a room filled with silence.
I didn’t have to wear ear plugs because I was merely an observer, but everyone around me wasn’t talking. Instead, they were trying their best to communicate with each other using sign and body language.
I’ve been so used to communicating with the spoken word that I realised that I had forgotten what it must have been like for the deaf, who can only communicate with actions. It was a very humbling experience, and certainly one that made me stop in my tracks and be grateful that I’m able to hear and speak.
After that, the participants are invited to select a tea based on their current mood.
Interestingly enough, each of the teas is represented by an item. For example, Sweetly Intimate is represented by rose petals, Simply Romantic is depicted by baby’s breaths, Freshly Tranquil is portrayed by leaves.
Once the participants pick their teas, they are regrouped and ushered back to their seats.
Now, this is where the participants get their tea and are prompted to close their eyes, reflect, and sip on their tea.
Each participant had a cue card with reflection prompts, such as “Think of a current challenge. What emotions are you holding onto, and which are strengths that can help you get through the challenge?”
As I stood there in the dimly lit room, with a thick blanket of silence all around me, the loud snapping sound of my camera’s shutter almost seemed deafening. I felt uncomfortable, almost as if I had just stepped into a private space, and I fought the urge to exit the room.
Once the participants were done reflecting, they were invited to write their reflections down on a card.
As I took a quick glance over the room and peeked at their cards, I realised that all I saw were positive remarks which warmed my heart.
One participant wrote: “There will always be times where choices have to be made, but not making a choice is still a choice. Instead of moving forward, you are stuck at a crossroad, but that’s okay. Just try to live your best life by your own decisions.”
Participants were also asked to express themselves through drawing and writing. They were given a blank piece of drawing paper and ink made from tea, and they were free to draw whatever came to mind.
“During the silent reflection, the participants have better mental clarity because they listen to their heart. Usually, that’s where the answers just come to you,” said Ning Pei. “The answer that comes to you is very raw and fresh, so the drawing session is intentionally introduced for them to draw and let it out.”
It was a very tactile experience as participants didn’t have brushes to work with. Instead, they used their fingers, flowers, petals, sticks, pebbles, leaves, and anything given to them to draw whatever came to mind.
In the last part of the session, participants finally took out their earplugs and shared what they learnt with each other.
“More importantly, we get to share about what they drew or wrote about during their reflection period, because that is something very raw and pure,” said Ning Pei. “Most participants shared that this was not something they typically talked about during regular conversations, even if they were best friends.”
At the end of the entire session, the participants were asked to describe the session in one word. I heard words such as “touched”, “grateful”, “inspired”, “respect”, “sincerity”, connect”, “enlightening”, “engaging”, “unexpected”, “blessed”, and “relax”.
Even though I was a mere spectator in the workshop, I could feel that everybody was touched, humbled, and relaxed after having spent an afternoon reflecting and enjoying a cup of tea. All of them also learnt more about the deaf community and the daily challenges they went through, and gained some empathy in the process.
I left the workshop feeling calm, relaxed, and empowered, as if I just had a good night’s sleep and was ready to take on a new day.
Being around the deaf was a truly humbling experience, and being able to step into a safe and quiet zone, have a cup of tea, reflex, and take a breather, is a rarity in our hectic world. I encourage everyone to try the Hush experience for themselves first-hand.