Creating Community in the Midst of COVID
Bliss Tea & Treats owner Rushell Gordon stands with her brother, Alfonso Gordon, the chef who created the menu for the tearoom. Courtesy photo
Some of Rushell Gordon’s happiest memories were made over a cup of tea. As a child in Panama, she remembers sipping bush tea, which grew in most backyards. As an adult, her career took her across Europe, where she was dazzled by pristine tearooms and captivated by the pageantry of high tea.
“Americans are missing out on a cultural delight others have enjoyed for centuries,” she said.
But Gordon is working to change that. In May she opened Bliss Tea & Treats in Oceanside, her hometown for the last decade.
“I wanted to create a space where locals could linger over tea and make their own happy memories,” she said. “I wanted to give the community a new way to connect.”
Of course, she couldn’t have guessed she’d be opening her doors during a global pandemic — a time when gathering is frowned upon. But Gordon has rolled with the punches, and found creative ways to still build community through tea.
She’s leaned heavily on social media, hosting daily live Facebook events where she educates viewers about tea — which she’s sourced from around the world, sustainably and under Fair Trade. On the shop’s patio, there are monthly tea education events at a socially-safe distance, along with daily tastings.
She’s also put her years of formal tea education to work and hired an herbalist to offer tea blends to help people face the pandemic.
For example, there’s an anxiety blend that she says “will calm you if you are feeling anxious about life.” There’s also breathe tea, which is “excellent for your lung health.”
As a mother, Gordon believes kids can also benefit from tea during the pandemic. Popular blends for children include chunky monkey, snickerdoodle and sleep tea, which her daughter uses nightly.
To help folks fight loneliness, she’s launched community events — which are hosted out on the patio, per public health guidelines. Coming up, there’s a poetry night on August 21, a book club discussion on September 4, and a painting workshop on September 12.
Customers can also expect playful promotions. For example, August 28 is National Bowtie Day, so anyone who wears a bowtie gets a free tea tasting. That day, she’ll also be using Bliss’ Instagram and Facebook to offer a demo on how to properly tie a bowtie —along with some fun bowtie trivia.
“I’ve always believed that tea brings people together,” she said. “And that connection brings happiness, which I think we could all use more of these days.”
She said she sees that happiness most when people come to the tearoom, which is still open for retail and offering tea service on the patio. Many are having their first experience with a proper high tea.
“We bring out the tea cart, with all of the tea accoutrements, and people just go bananas,” she said. “Their faces light up and it’s the best feeling.”
Everything has been planned with the guest in mind. The menu—which was created by her brother, Alfonso Gordon, a trained chef—features artisan sandwiches and pastries that enhance the teas’ flavors. Even the teapots are glass so guests will consciously drink slower and visually appreciate the tea.
The Italian is a guest favorite. It includes prosciutto, capicola and hard salami, mixed green and havarti cheese. The sandwiches are all served with a side salad. The sandwich is photographed with a butterfly pea flower tea infused lemonade. Courtesy photo
“I think this pandemic is teaching us all to savor life’s simple treats,” she said. “I’m seeing friends share tea and really soak in the moment. That’s really the intention behind Bliss.”
As a business owner, Gordon says the past few months have been a crash course in tenacity.
“Obviously launching a small business during a pandemic is not ideal. But it’s taught me to stay positive, and to just keep going every day.”
Oceanside Economic Development Manager Michelle Geller said she’s been inspired by Gordon, along with many other local business owners who are finding ways to weather the pandemic.
“I’ve been blown away by the grit of our local business owners. What’s really impressed me about Rushell is that she’s finding new ways to create community, despite the pandemic. She’s finding ways to lift up spirits when our residents need it most,” she said. “We’re lucky to have her as a part of Oceanside, especially now.”
Bliss Tea & Treats is located at 301 Mission Avenue, suite 101 A, in downtown Oceanside. Operating hours are Thursday through Sunday from 11:00 am to 8:00 pm (Thursday closes at 6:00 pm). High tea service is offered all day. The tearoom is also open for retail and to-go orders.
There’s also an extensive online store and delivery service for the full menu. For more information about Bliss Tea and Treats, please call (442) 500-4796.