Speaker: Giuseppe Spadafora

Serving Up Community One Tea Cup at a Time

Giuseppi Spadafora, a/k/a Guisepi, also known as the tea-time-traveler, Tea-sippi, G-sips, and G'steepy, has been adventuring the land since 2006 when, while living in a truck on Hollywood Boulevard and working as a video editor, he accidentally stumbled upon the power of serving free tea in building community.

"I discovered that when my interactions with people had money taken out of them, it made them much more genuine," Guisepi wrote in describing how he came upon the concept and lifestyle of the traveling free tea party. "There was something about unconditional sharing that created trust in a way that no interaction based around profit maximization could. And no wonder, because people have been using free tea for thousands of years as a way to create bonds between people."

In 2008, Guisepi's Free Tea Party changed from a truck to a bus, and from Hollywood to elsewhere. He bought a short school bus to turn into a mobile free tea house. For the past eight years, Edna Lu the Tea Bus, also known as the tea-time-machine, has done its job while traveling North America and getting a complete sustainable makeover.

As noted in a New York Times profile about Giusepi and The Free Tea Party, Guisepi bought the vehicle in San Diego for $2,900 then modified it with mainly salvaged materials to include a skylight, rooftop solar panels, an engine that runs on used cooking oil obtained from restaurants, a bed that lowers from the ceiling, a wood-burning stove and a guttural horn that sounds like a submarine’s klaxon. He was influenced by do-it-yourself and "permaculture" aesthetics and by systems of thought that included the so-called slow movement, which asserts that many people experience stress because the world is moving too quickly. Above all, he said he wants to challenge Adam Smith's notions that people are universally motivated by self-interest and the unyielding pursuit of maximum economic return.

Guisepi estimates he has served close to 30,000 cups, including black, green, white, herbal and oolong, since embarking on the free tea project.  Typically, he shows up in a city or town with his bus and begins offering tea to passers-by, hoping to engage in conversation and form relationships — "the highest form of currency" — that revolve around trust, collaboration and reciprocal altruism. He will not accept money for the tea but includes some currency, along with stickers and herbal tinctures, in a drawer full of items that visitors are allowed to take with them.

He works every day, but rarely does so for pay. He has said he is occasionally hired to do video or building work and earned an average of $6,000 to $9,000 per year. Much of his food is donated or comes from discarded supermarket or restaurant provisions, and he does repairs on the bus himself.

"Serving free tea is an experiment in service. The main thing that serving free tea does is bring people together over a non-monetary exchange. In this way there is nothing expected in return other than genuine human interaction. We feel that community is the first step towards any kind of positive social or environmental change."

Guisepi’s influences include Woodie Guthrie, Peace Pilgrim, Sen no Rikyu, the Dalai Lama, the Diggers, Jack Kerouac, Jack London, and Mahatma Gandhi.  He blogs about his tea party adventures and travels extensively, including about his thoughts on money and struggles to operate a gift economy within the constraints of the material world, and on applying the wisdom from the hikers' world to his quest.


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