When I met Jeremy Lipkowitz, he was holding a glass of warm matcha tea at the Hummingbird Bakery off of East Campus.

Lipkowitz, a fourth-year Ph.D student in genetics and quantitative microbiology, has grand ambitions for the future of the Sangha Teahouse, a stand at the Durham Art and Food Truck Market that he owns. He hopes to turn it into a brick-and-mortar tea house this summer. The stand, which you can find in downtown Durham on Saturdays, sells a wide array of loose-leaf teas.

His idea of building a tea house started “as just wanting to sample everything and wanting to try all the teas.” He said his house is currently filled with “shelves and shelves of really high-quality tea.”

After listening to him share his passion for tea, I decided to check out the Sangha stand at the market. Right across from the taco truck, a couple girls were lining up before the blackboard that listed the Sangha market menu and waiting for a cup of Lipkowitz's most popular tea, a delicious coconut matcha latte.

Lipkowitz and his two assistants were busy preparing the matcha powder, stirring the mix and calculating the milk-to-tea ratio. The drinks were delicately prepared and elegantly served. After finishing my first cup of the iced coconut matcha latte, I could not help coming back for another one because of its special tastes.

Following his graduation from the University of California-Davis, Lipkowitz said he was really depressed despite his various successes. Top of his class and captain of a sports team, he was very accomplished on the outside, but on the inside he felt something was off. He realized that all his accomplishments had ultimately failed to bring him happiness.

Lipkowitz said his inability to find happiness largely had to do with the fact that his interpretation of happiness was wrong.

“So often we strive to achieve things and think that if we don’t achieve them, we are failures or that we won’t be happy,” Lipkowitz said, explaining the Buddhist philosophy of not attaching oneself to specific outcomes. For him, the key is to strive to achieve things without getting addicted to the outcome.

His new philosophical outlook sparked his interest in starting a tea house. He hopes that the brick-and-mortar shop will allow him to live in the moment and spread kindness to others.

He envisions the tea house to be a peaceful place, where a customer walks in and instantly feels calmer. Patrons could expect a lot of natural wood, a couple exposed bricks, some plants and hints of earth-toned colors, accompanying the calming smell of tea leaves.

In addition to the tea shop—where customers could sit down for a cup of tea or an hour of genuine and spontaneous conversations—there is also going to be a yoga studio that offers classes and meditation workshops. Besides being a tea connoisseur, Lipkowitz is also a avid meditator who hopes to teach others to embrace the present moment. Having taught meditation at Duke for three years, he ties his passion for meditation closely with his desire to start Sangha Teahouse.

Hoping to learn more about the man pursuing his Ph.D in tea, I asked Jeremy what his favorite kind of tea was. Surprisingly, he said that he does not have a favorite, that his preference changes from day to day.

“Each tea is so unique, and they just fit different types of emotions,” he said. At the current moment he prefers matcha because of the energy it provides, but he also enjoys the savory taste of oolong. When he is feeling grounded, he likes drinking pu’erh because of its earthy taste.

Choosing the collection of tea to sell at the tea house, however, could be a little daunting for him because there are many varieties. There are the Dragonwell, Silver Needle, Japanese matcha, Taiwanese Oolong, Yunnan Pu’erh, and many other kinds of tea for him to choose from for a menu of just 10-15 tea drinks.

“It is very subjective,” he noted about the process of sampling teas with importers from Japan, China and India.

It does not take long to notice the shortage of good authentic tea places in Durham. This contrasts with the growing population of tea-lovers in the area, which was part of the reason why Jeremy wanted to start the tea house.

“You can go to Whole Foods or Harris Teeter to get tea bags,” he said, “but if you ever open a bag of Lipton tea and look at it, literally it is just granulated dust, versus really high-quality tea you can see the leaves and you can see the freshness.”

He added that there are only two to three places in the entire Triangle that sell high-quality tea.

“What you get from high-quality tea versus teabags is a thousand times more flavor, a thousand times more nutrition and antioxidants, and overall a much more pleasant experience,” he said. “We are gonna be the spot in Durham that offers those kinds of tea.”

The future tea house will most likely not have Wi-Fi, Lipkowitz added.

“We want it to be more about the community, about being in the present moment,” Lipkowitz said, explaining that his vision for the Sangha Teahouse contrasts with the typical environment one finds in a coffee shop where people are typing away with their headphones on. The isolation from social media and the bombardment of information is a true interpretation of the term Sangha, which translated from Sanskrit means a community of monks who meditate together.

Lipkowitz prefers to enjoy his tea using different kinds of teaware. His favorites are the gaiwan, a lidded bowl used for the infusion of tea leaves, and the yixing pot that is traditionally used to brew tea in China. He plans on teaching people how to make tea when he opens his shop.

“Part of the fun of doing tea in the traditional method is the action of pouring water into the tea, seeing the leaves expand, and smelling the aroma because it is a very sensory experience that makes you really come into the present moment and get out of your head,” he said.

Getting out of your head embodies what Lipkowitz's teahouse is meant to represent. His hope is that the Sangha Teahouse will play a key role in spreading kindness to Durham tea enthusiasts.

“Happiness is something you cultivate from within, but I used to believe that happiness was outside of me, like accomplishing things, getting friends and proving myself," he said.

But Lipkowitz changed his mindset after taking a trip to India after college, which completely changed his outlook on life. He started to meditate every day as a way of training himself to be happy. The cultivation of happiness, for him, is the essence of meditation.

“You sleep better, your immune system is stronger, you have better relationships with your friends and better romances,” he said.

Unlike most fourth-year Ph.D students, Lipkowitz has no intention to pursue a career in the academic world. He realized that he is not that passionate about science and thinks that the academic world “has no emphasis on kindness and compassion.” One of his favorite quotes is from the philosopher Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “When I was young I used to admire intelligence. Now that I am old, I admire kindness.”

“Intelligence does not mean anything,” Lipkowitz said. “You can be the smartest person in the world but if you are evil, you are just a very smart evil person.”

Building the tea house and hosting mediation workshops mean much more to Lipkowitz than the Ph.D program, as he believes the ills of the world mostly arise from the people’s inability to deal with their emotions in a healthy manner.

He noted that the difficult and most important part about meditation is learning to be with oneself. Friends, Facebook, emails and Instagram distract people from being in touch with themselves. They also serve as outlets for people to resort to when feeling depressed instead of actively confronting their problems. The mental habit of turning to outlets like social media, food and sex, in his opinion, gives rise to problems like addiction and violence.

“If everyone just meditated a little bit, the world would be a much more peaceful place,” he said.