TEA JOURNEYS OF MELISSA HERRON, GENERAL MANAGER OF STEEP MOUNTAIN TEA HOUSE
The first cup of tea I tasted was in the first grade, we had a class unit that involved cups of chamomile tea with honey. My memory of the experience surprises me – I didn’t like the tea at all. Growing up, the only exposure I had to tea was through occasional holiday visits with my grandparents. They drank Lipton black tea at dinner, I liked it well enough, but wasn’t so impressed as to become a regular tea drinker. I drank coffee all throughout my teenage years. It seemed the right fuel for me at the time. I was always trying to catch up with myself, trying to beat sleep deprived nights and power through every extracurricular activity I could, and a continuous intake of coffee was my magic elixir for living fast and hard. I skipped over nourishment and chased a quick fix.
When I was a junior in college, my then boyfriend and now husband, Scott, began to turn our group study sessions with friends into tea parties. He’d show up with all sorts of tea accoutrement – tiny cups, little teapots of all shapes and sizes, a water kettle, and tins of loose leaf tea. It was his hobby and passion outside of school, and those tea parties enriched our study sessions in more ways than just caffeine. There was something new to learn about each tea, how it was processed, where it was grown, who picked it, what cultural history it carried. I was an anthropology major, and it was a treat to learn about multiple worlds at once – the content of my courses, and the story of tea. Sipping tea with Scott also helped me gain a new perspective – the benefits of slowing down.
Over a decade has passed since those initial tea parties, and now I’m a full on tea enthusiast. My husband and I pursued his hobby as a career, and we have been managing the Teahouse in Bozeman since its inception as Townshend’s Tea in 2014 and through its recent rebirth as Steep Mountain Tea in 2021. Having been surrounded by tea and herbs for the past ten years, I never made a blatant switch away from coffee, I simply discovered over time that the practice of making and consuming tea helped me shift from surviving life to intentional living. Tea inspires and heals. Tea takes time, teaches patience. Time for hands to tenderly harvest, time to travel across the world, time to boil the water, time to choose a remedy or flavor, time to pay attention to measurements, time for leaves to breathe and unfurl, time to sip and savor carefully, time to nourish the body and mind.
Since I’ve learned how to have slow tea, I can enjoy slow coffee, too (although now that I’m older it gives me the jitters and a stomach ache – but that’s nothing that chamomile can’t fix!). There is a tea for everything, an infusion for everyone, each leaf has a story and something to teach us. I am grateful for the purpose of my work, to be able to give the gift of tea to others every day.