If you’re drinking tea in the basement of the Ritenour Building, don’t be afraid to slurp.
It’s actually encouraged by the members of the Tea Institute at Penn State, a small group of students dedicated to the art of drinking and serving tea who make their second home in a small corner in this unassuming building in the middle of campus.
Ryan Ahn, the executive director of the institute, tells visitors that slurping actually improves your ability to taste the flavors in everything from the oolong to the green tea being served up there.
The institute is a hidden gem of the Penn State community — it’s a place where the traditions of Chinese, Japanese and Korean tea ceremonies are kept alive and passed down, and where the university community can come together and enjoy handpicked, tea-master sourced teas.
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Three days a week, Ritenour turns into an eclectic tea house where you might have a Korean tea prepared in a Japanese cast-iron pot and served in traditional Chinese vessels.
“It’s a cross-cultural experience,” Ahn said.
Members of the institute, themselves Penn State students, are trained in the art of tea. Ahn and his friends can tell tea is done steeping just by the smell. They serve customers a wide selection, including some rare teas, from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.
It’s quite an undertaking for the 20-some members of the group, who largely run the tea house in their spare time.
“We do it on our own time,” said Adelaide Edgett, the institute’s director of marketing and communications. “We choose to make it part of the Penn State community.”
The institute has come a long way since a student started it as a club just four years ago. Now, they send students to learning abroad programs in Korea, Taiwan, Japan and China.
The institute offers research opportunities in all fields of study relating to tea. Its members have even proposed the creation of five academic courses that would be under the group’s direction.
Students in the institution get the opportunity to study Japanese, Chinese and Korean tea ceremonies and are trained by masters in those disciplines when they come to Penn State every year.
The group’s members, too, have come a long way.
“I drank tea here and there, but never loose-leaf tea until I came here,” said Nick Hood, the institute’s co-director of operations. “It’s almost one of those clubs that you have to check out.”