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Tea Empire colonizes campus

Dedicated group of students meets weekly to talk and share tea

In the process of becoming an official student organization, Tea Empire has been meeting weekly for several years. The growing group recently moved into the Harbor Cafe, where they are devoted to sharing a few friendly moments over a hot cup of tea.

In the Harbor Cafe, half a dozen tea drinkers mingle around a table. One guy is playing something on the piano. He doesn’t seem to be part of the gathering, but the relaxing chords add a nice touch.

Three plastic bags perch on the table in the center of the room, each of them full of tea. There are pouches of loose tea leaves, metal tins in different shapes, and a still-sealed box of Lipton that expires in a month.

Maxwell Weinberg, senior computer science major and the current “tea emperor,” stands at the table with a mug in his hand. It’s black, with “meh” written in white. A small rubber man reclines on the edge of the mug, holding the loose tea leaves that are steeping in his cup.

Weinberg has been serving as the Tea Emperor for the past three semesters. When the old leader stepped down and left UMBC, Weinberg was promoted. “[The old leader] said, ‘Since you show up the most, you might as well,” said Weinberg. “So he gave me a lot of teas and some mugs and teapots.”

The impressive spread of tea leaves on the table goes back to this time. “About a third of this stash was donated by the previous Tea Emperor,” said Weinberg. “Another third was donated by me, and the remaining third was donated by club members.”

According to Weinberg, Tea Empire has been going strong for years. “I can’t say exactly how long it’s been around, but our Facebook page has pictures as old as Spring Semester of 2006,” he said.

The group has also had its on-and-off periods. After Weinberg became the head, Tea Empire initially died off. “Then I got a bunch of angry emails asking me, ‘Is this a thing still?’” said Weinberg. Since its revival, the organization has been meeting more regularly.

However, despite its history Tea Empire is not an official student organization. Weinberg says that it was a registered club at one point, but he’s not sure when it lost its status. Under his leadership, the group will regain its official recognition.

“We actually submitted the form last week to be a legit organization … with officers and everything,” said Weinberg. “When school starts back up again in the fall we’ll actually be a thing and have our own little table at Involvement Fest.”

Part of Tea Empire’s resurgence has been fueled by new support from Residential Life. Thanks to Harbor Hall Community Director, Joshua Belice, Tea Empire is able to meet in the Harbor Cafe every Thursday afternoon.

The Retriever Weekly has reported previously on Belice’s free coffee initiative, which provided students with a cup of joe on their way to class. Weinberg and Tea Empire are familiar with the program, and they fill a different niche in the community. “[I’ve talked to Josh] a little bit, mostly to congratulate him, because it’s really popular,” said Weinberg.

In giving the Cafe to Tea Empire for their meetings, Belice has helped both the community and Weinberg’s student organization. “Josh has been doing a lot to make Harbor the best dorm on campus,” said Weinberg. “That’s why he did the coffee thing, and that’s, I think, why he reached out to us to give us this room.”

With its new space and its upcoming status as student org, Tea Empire still has a basic mission: to bring people together over a cup of tea. “You took a cookie so you have to stay and do an icebreaker,” Weinberg said. That’s the group’s goal — to build a community on campus.