Evidently, she was right. The program has spread to 900 cafes in Britain and four in Canada, and hopes to soon expand in America.
Ms. Hoskyn recognizes that it is not a golden cure, especially for the meaningful connection some lonely people seek. “It’s very informal and casual, and there might not always be someone to chat,” she said. “But it’s about trying to make conversation part of the norm.”
In contrast, Mr. Shah’s program, Tea With Strangers, prides itself on facilitating deep conversation.
“We end up in bars and so many places where we’re asked conventional questions like ‘Oh, what do you do?’” Mr. Estrin explained. When he hosts teas, he asks questions like “What surprises you?” or “What’s your biggest fear?”
“It’s really more like a group self-examination session, and I’ve come to notice that I tend to be more honest in teatimes with strangers than I would be with my friends,” Mr. Estrin said.
Last month, in the quiet, fairy light-lined backyard of a Union Square cafe, I attended a teatime to find out for myself. Ordering a green tea for me and a nachos plate for the strangers, I was quickly greeted by Jaleel Adams, my host. We started out small, discussing our favorite cafes in New York and our preferences for chili.
When other “strangers” joined, the conversation turned to the potential of universal basic income, our favorite childhood video games, and a prompt from Mr. Adams: “What is the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself?”
Two hours flew by. I knew there was a chance we wouldn’t see each other again. But when we all hugged goodbye and headed separate ways, I left feeling less like a stranger and more like a neighbor.