Gongfu Cha Bike

The Whole Leaf

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A bike-powered pop-up tea cart in Kansas City which possesses the most highway miles per capita in the United States and whose specialty beverage community veers toward coffee and beer? It makes sense to D. Shattuck, who’s been pedaling and pouring around the metro area for a year and a half now, spreading her fascination with the Chinese gongfu cha tea ceremony and building the Lucky Baby Tea brand. Tea, for this Kansas City native, isn’t just a pleasant ritual: she claims it saved her sanity.

At nineteen, fleeing from the Midwest for a time, Shattuck “got into tea” in the city of San Francisco. “At that age, most people pretty much only want to hang out while consuming alcohol, and discovering tea was my first time finding community in a lucid, grounded place. Tea brought to light new ways of communing with others that I needed at that time in my life.” There was a central gathering place, a teahouse, but Shattuck recalls that the members of the community often met in their own homes to practice private variations of gongfu cha.

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Guests joined at the heart of the City Ice Art building for the Lucky Baby Tea Cart’s premier in June 2013. Photo by D. Shattuck.

“In gongfu cha, traditional Chinese style, you use very small teapots—no more than six ounces—and depending on who’s pouring, tiny glass teapots or lidded cups called gaiwans are used,” says Shattuck. “The pouring is pretty consistent, but types of tea and the aesthetics of the room vary.” She recalls drinking tea with a Pakistani friend who had lustrous tapestries throughout the room, and fresh flowers all around. Her preferred vessel is a gaiwan, she adds.

Upon Shattuck’s return to Kansas City, she immediately founded a thriving tea community called, fittingly, “Communitea.” (“I love tea puns,” says Shattuck unapologetically.) The group meets weekly in the Tea Nook in her home for a four-hour gathering of tea and conversation. She also hosts two other regular meetings, FemininiTea and ManaTea. “It’s a pretty incredible thing. We’ve built a very like-minded community of people who are all interested in having real conversations,” she says. “Sometimes we are profound, other times we are silly. We learn about each other’s community projects, and try to help each other out.” She adds that January will mark four years for Communitea, and that having a mini teahouse in her home every week is just the beginning of her plans for the future.

“It’s really heavy, so I’m definitely moving slowly on the road. It’s a labor of love and meditation all in itself.”

For three years now, Shattuck has worked for Shang Tea, one of the country’s top tea merchants. She’s been taking classes in Mandarin, and plans to visit China within the next year or two to observe the country’s tea community firsthand. Lucky Baby was born from dual passions for tea and biking. “I’ve been really passionate about biking in Kansas City for many years now, so I decided to build setup specifically to fit in a bike cart. I set up at First Fridays and at various parks and art walks, as well as when I’m hired to serve tea at art openings and other events.” Shattuck’s “set-up” involves cushions, tray, tea implements, and various ritual items. She adds that Kansas City’s biking community gets better all the time, and on a quirky note that she’s not setting any records with the Lucky Baby cart: “It’s really heavy, so I’m definitely moving slowly on the road. It’s a labor of love and meditation all in itself.”

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The pop-up cart at First Friday in Kansas City’s Crossroads district. Photo by D. Shattuck.

In the past few months Shattuck has begun baking for Fervere, an internationally-recognized bakery that specializes in great bread, and she views tea and bread as inclusive products, finding it beautiful that by falling into these crafts she can reach a lot of people to whom tea, and bread, are essential for life regardless of culture.

“Lucky Baby is in the beginning stages of what will eventually become a teahouse,” says Shattuck. The symbol is auspicious, usually seen around the Chinese New Year and thought to bring good fortune in the year to come. It’s a fitting emblem for the hope-filled beginnings of Kansas City’s first mobile tea cart and a growing community centered around an earnest young woman named D. Shattuck.

—Emily McIntyre is a regular contributor for Fresh Cup. Featured Image by Ashley Anders.