He estimates he has served over 30,000 cups of tea across 35 different states.
“Most people have been told not to take free things from strangers in a white van,” Guisepi Spadafora joked. “But that’s exactly what I am.”
Spadafora — known to some as “the tea man” — travels around the country, serving free tea and offering conversation to anybody who stops by and sits in one of the camping chairs set up around his parked 1989 Ford/Thomas bus.
For the past 11 years, Spadafora has been the man behind Free Tea Party. In that time, he estimates he has served over 30,000 cups of tea across 35 different states.
It all started when he was a recent college graduate, living in Los Angeles and working as a film editor for no pay. He was living out of a truck and found that his interactions with people didn’t fill “his need for genuine human interaction,” he told Travel + Leisure.
“After work, I started going to Hollywood Boulevard,” Spadafora said. “I opened up my tailgate, put out camping chairs, and turned on my Coleman stove to cook dinner. After a while, people would ask what I was doing and I would say ‘Care to join?’”
A diverse group of people would join Spadafora’s dinners — college professors, tourists from around the world, “street punk kids,” etc. When the food was all done, Spadafora would put on a kettle of tea and people would stay to continue their conversations.
Spadafora said he was impressed by what happened when he took money out of the equation — people from all different walks of life would sit down and have meaningful conversations about universal human topics.
“It was never a conscious act to make a community,” Spadafora told T+L. “I was never like ‘I am going to fill this loneliness by going around the country and making people tea.’ I just found that when I took money out of the equation, it made interactions much more genuine. It all happened pretty naturally.”
After a few years, Spadafora took his van up and down the west coast. After about seven years of that, he started to criss-cross the rest of the country from coast to coast.
In the late afternoon, he will pull up to a random street and unpack his party: camping chairs, a giant kettle, and a sign that says “free tea.” He’ll brew a large pot (“generally non-caffeinated, herbal teas”) and wait with his bus, named Edna Lu.
It may take a while, but eventually one brave person will sit down for a cup of tea, Spadafora said. Then another will join. Then more and more will join until it’s a party, with an eclectic group of people sitting around and talking about subjects as varied as hometowns, funny stories, or the economy of the world. Spadafora said the Free Tea Parties are “reclaiming public space for noncommercial use.”
While traversing the country, Spadafora takes a “slow travel” approach. He may only stay in certain cities for one night, but he may stay elsewhere for a few months, often helping with renovation or building projects — and always serving free black, white, green, or oolong tea.
Because of the Tea Bus, strangers in the communities where Spadafora stops are no longer strangers. People exchange information and stay in contact. They have fallen in love, made friends, and even formed bands because of conversations in the Tea Bus.
His goal is to remind people that before currency was invented, humans had a sharing culture. “Relationships are the highest form of value,” Spadafora said.
Those questioning the bus's anti-monetary business model can learn how the project sustains itself on the Free Tea Party blog.
Spadafora and Edna Lu are currently on a writing hiatus in Arkansas. Later this summer, they will start serving free cups of tea again en route to Colorado.