This British Ex-Pat Is Delivering 'Tea and Glee' in Portland
“I suppose it’s calming, comforting and a way to connect,” the tea lady says. “Making someone a tea is a way to make them feel cherished.”
Sure, Americans drink tea, but the beverage isn’t ingrained in our culture like it is in England. In the U.K., not offering a guest a cuppa is practically as rude as not shaking someone’s hand. But while the coronavirus pandemic has stripped us of many of the small ways we interact with people, a former London resident now living in Portland, Oregon decided that though many of the gestures that connect us have had to go, the tea should remain.
Nell (who prefers to only go by her first name) created PixPDX—a “tea-and-glee-by-bike-service” launched on the 75th anniversary of VE Day to celebrate “the victory to be found in kindness, compassion and joyfulness.” According to the site, “We offer personally-picked proper British-style tea, a rose and a handwritten note or poem to be delivered to your loved ones by a delightful English lady wearing a vintage-style tea dress on a beautiful bicycle within a few-mile radius of Ladd’s Addition in Portland, Oregon.” Also included are “songs from the 1940s (or ones that hold special meaning to your sweetheart)” and “a nice old chat with your darling about bygone days or somesuch smashing stuff.”
A freelance writer, editor, filmmaker, and photographer during her non-“tea lady” time, Nell said she came up with the idea while “thinking of the small moments of joy from interactions with our fellow human beings” during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“For a Brit, tea is something that seems to make everything just that little bit better,” she told me via email. “The kettle is constantly on in your home. Whenever you visit a friend, the first thing they do is make a tea. If you fall down and graze your knee as a child, you get handed a sugary brew as a soothing tonic.”
From there, she took further inspiration from her great-grandfather, who she described as “one of the hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers rescued by boat from the beach at Dunkirk during ‘Operation Dynamo’” in World War II. “Thus this service, which is free for the over 75s (those under 75 I would ask for a donation to cover supplies), is a bit of a homage to my great-grandfather, the power of collective community spirit and the little kindnesses that make us humane rather than just human,” she explained.
Offering tea is a small gesture and—in kind—the service has started small, too. Nell said that, so far, she “can count on the fingers of one hand” how many deliveries have been made. But that would seem ready to grow. “I’m hoping that with articles such as this, more people will find out about it, and people will order this as a gesture of caring towards elder relatives who have perhaps not been able to leave their homes or have much interaction with people during this time,” she said.
And yet, she’s also already found some support within the community. The Portland-based tea company Smith Teamaker (founded by Steven Smith, the same guy behind Tazo) has donated some boxes of its renowned leaves to the cause. Choose from the British Brunch, Lord Bergamot, or Bungalow blend.
Of course, in a country that runs on coffee, some people may wonder who is actually pining for a cup of tea. But Nell points out that tea—especially the way the Brits consume it—is fitting for this moment. “I suppose it’s calming, comforting and a way to connect,” she added. “Making someone a tea is a way to make them feel cherished. And there’s nothing that cannot be made even just a smidgen better with a cup of tea.”
If you know anyone in the Portland area whose life could stand to be even just a smidgen better, Nell says she plans to offer the service “on an ad hoc basis, as long as people would still like it.” Head over to her website—Pix PDX—to reach out.