We have recently updated one of the rules of the tea house to:
“Photo taking is limited to decoration, the tea or the sweets. Please refrain from taking selfies or photos with people in. And please spend less time in photos but more time to enjoy this space with your senses”
Since the opening of the tea house, it has attracted a lot of attention for photographs taking. As time goes by, we have noticed some people only care about what kind of photographs they can get inside the tea house, so they may order the same items as other people who had posted pictures online, in order to get the same photo. And instead of briefly taking photographs, we have witnessed customers spending more than 20 minutes on placing the tea or sweets items at their best angle. When tea, especially matcha, is left on the table, even for a few minutes, some of the particles start to sink. Matcha does not get any better with time, so it makes us really sad when this happens. And when we see ice cream (our summer menu) left melting or zenzai (our autumn/winter menu - red ben soup) left to get cold because of the time spent being photographed, it is quite upsetting.
Then there are times when people come with big cameras and tripods. At a few occasions, I had cameras above my head when I was preparing matcha, because apparently the angle was best for them. I could not concentrate or be calm at all to prepare the matcha.
And then there are times when we see people visiting just to take photos of themselves with tea or sweets that they ordered with little interest in actually eating/drinking. It does not happen very often, but there have been times where we had to throw a table of sweets away - each one having one bite taken out of it (we offered to wrap the items for take away but that idea was refused), and the tea untouched.
I understand that some people may argue that they want to take a photograph for their memory, which I do too. But we hope that these photographs can be taken briefly and not in a disruptive fashion. For example, we take pride in explaining the carefully selected tea menu, especially given that green tea is often portrayed as one type of tea by supermarkets/adverts. It is frustrating to be ignored when explaining the drinks menu, when people are busy taking countless photos and not listening at all. Manners are more than photographs. They are not something we can display in a photograph no matter how beautiful the photo looks. That’s my personal opinion.
We have also been challenged by customers who questioned “what’s the point of coming here if I can’t take photographs”? Or when they travel a long way to visit and feel entitled to take selfies. I was speechless. It’s almost like photographs have become more important than treasuring moments with your eyes and your heart.
So we ask kindly, please keep photographs taking as brief as possible and please keep it to only decorations, the tea, the tea ware or the sweets. Please do not take photographs with people inside, other guests have not given permission to be included in a random person’s photograph. Please do not take selfies as it may encourage future visiting guests. You can take as many selfies as you like elsewhere (or even in our bathroom!), just not the main seating area of Cha-ology.
Having said all of this, the majority of our visiting guests are really respectful, not only to the atmosphere but also to other guests. They are the reason why Cha-ology can continue to exist. We have regular guests visiting weekly, monthly or when a new season begins. We have guests coming from different parts of the UK, even some who have finished their studies and returned home. In particular one guest wrote to us after a year of returning to her home country how much she misses the calm and peaceful atmosphere which she can’t find at home. We have guests introducing Cha-ology to the whole family. Even when the whole family visits us and sits at different tables, they were respectful of the tea house and other guests.
Lastly, I would like to explain that I have declined every single offer from magazines who asked to take photos of Cha-ology. The last time was a few weeks ago when a man showed up at the door asking to come in to take a few photographs, just before our usual 2pm opening. I immediately declined. Whether he understood the concept and the rules of the tea house or not, for someone who had not even had an experience inside and just wanted to come in to take photographs and printed on their magazines, it might end up damaging the tea house. Perhaps because of that we are still quite under the radar, in fact, in the last matcha workshop, one of the guests said that she was really surprised to find out the tea house had been open for two years! We quite enjoy our small space.
The only exception to date is when we received an email from Haarkon a while ago, later we found out that they use photographs to document their adventures and have a huge follower base. They visited us as normal guests on a normal opening day, never brought the big camera and was very respectful of what we do. It took us some time to reply when they asked to come back to take some photographs of the tea house. We were very hesitant as we had never said yes to photoshoots. In the end, we invited them back, had a conversation and some photographs were taken. I think they spent more time understanding the tea house than taking the photographs. We really respect them and enjoyed meeting them.