How a Cup of Tea Can Change the World
Tea, one of the oldest beverages in the world, plays a central role in Becca Steven's Thistle Farm Cafe
"We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean,” Mother Teresa once said. “But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.” Well, if Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest at Vanderbilt, had not founded Magdalene in 1997 and Thistle Farms in 2001, the ocean would be missing entire buckets. Magdalene is a residential community for women escaping prostitution, trafficking, and addiction and Thistle Farms is a social enterprise that employs residents and graduates of Magdalene's program. From coffee to candles, bath salts to books, and lip balm to lotion, Thistle Farms is in the business of community.
And what better way to celebrate community than over a delicious plate of food and a perfectly brewed pot of tea? Edible of Nashville recently sat down with Becca Stevens at Thistle Stop Café, the social enterprise coffee and teahouse Thistle Farms operates, to chat about her love of food and the kind of human connection it can inspire. The beautiful, little cafe is a perfect venue for such a conversation. Fresh, colorful flowers on the tables compliment the various shades of brown of the lustrous hardwood floors and cascading “chandeliers” made from teacups sent by women from around the world in support of Magdalene's mission provide the illumination, both literally and spiritually.
Edible: Mmm...the tea is delicious here. I can see why this cozy place is known as one of the best places in the city for a cup of tea.
Stevens: Tea plays an important part in the Thistle Stop story. Tea is healing. Tea is old. Tea is universal – there's only one tea plant in the whole world and all the varieties come from that one plant. It's actually the oldest cultivated plant in the world, and it's the perfect plant for our mission at thistle farm because tea heals and tea endures.
Edible: The tea that's brewed at Thistle Stop is not just any old tea, right?
Stevens: The whole tea industry is full of exploitation – it's not like fair trade coffee. Justice tea is organically-grown tea that is planted by farmers who are paid fair wages, and processed by workers who are paid fair wages. The perfect preparation for a great cup of tea is justice tea with hot water and good friends to share it with. We had one woman who drove here all the way from Kentucky just to have a cup of our tea.
Edible: So what was the thinking behind creating Thistle Stop?
Stevens: The cafe gives us the ability to interact with the community. We're all people who are hungry and thirsty for love and meaning in our lives. We're launching a capital campaign to double the entire size of space including doubling the kitchen space in the cafe. For the cafe, this would mean a full commercial kitchen where the ladies could learn to be restaurant cooks. Right now you can be trained as a barista or a server, but not as a cook.
Edible: How has your role as the founder of Magdalene and Thistle Farms given you a unique perspective on food?
Stevens: One of the ways I'm most valuable to our mission is to share with communities around the world our story of hope. As I share the story, we sell our products and we create sister programs that open up new homes to women who are survivors of trafficking. Logging all those miles has given her a very unique perspective on food.
Edible: What do you eat when on the road?
Stevens: (smiling) I call myself a 'freegan.' I travel all over the country and I eat what's offered to me. It's kind of a lifestyle – you're grateful for whatever is put in front of you. I've had African food. I've had English food. I've had lots and lots of church meeting potluck food.
Edible: And when in Nashville?
Stevens: I love the food in Nashville! I love craft beer. I love hot chicken. But even more than the food, it's the community around the food that I love. When my family and I are at home, we love to barbecue in the backyard. But I've got three boys and they're all six feet tall and 180 pounds so when we go out its usually some place they love: Taco Mamacita or Hattie B's right here on Charlotte.
Edible: You have accomplished so much. Your list of accolades – named by the White House in 2011 as one of fifteen Champions of Change for Violence Against Women, named 2014 Humanitarian of the Year by the Small Business Council of America, an induction into the Tennessee Women's Hall of Fame – could be divided among a dozen people with lots of laurels left over, any parting words of advice on inspiration?
Stevens: What I've learned from my kids is that they don't care if I'm inspired – when they're hungry they want to eat. It's that way with everything. You can't depend on inspiration. I try to just do the work and trust that the inspiration will find me once I get going.
Tea for two... or 4 or 6
Afternoon tea is a fairly new tradition at Thistle Stop Cafe. It is available Monday through Saturday from 2-3pm. It includes a unlimited hot tea, a tiered display of finger sandwiches, fruit, sliced brie, and assortment of sweet snacks, and cucumber-lemon water for $20 per person. If you cherish drinking tea from a tea pot and old-fashioned tea cup in a relaxing space, Thistle Stop Cafe is a must.
Thistle Stop Café 5122 Charlotte Avenue
Monday through Saturday
THISTLES GROW on the streets and alleys where residents and graduates of Thistle Farms walked. Considered weeds, thistles have a deep root that can shoot through concrete and survive drought. In spite of their prickly appearance, their royal and soft purple center makes the thistle a mysterious and gorgeous flower. "The tea industry is full of exploitation – it's not like fair trade coffee. Justice tea is organically grown tea that is planted by farmers who are paid fair wages, and processed by workers who are paid fair wages. The perfect preparation for a great cup of tea is justice tea with hot water and good friends to share it with." –BECCA STEVENS
Join the movement. #LOVEHEALS