I need one cup of coffee with a generous amount of Hazelnut creamer to get going in the morning. But tea is my choice of beverage in the evening, often when I’m working at the computer or binge-watching Netflix. For me, tea is a soothing elixir best enjoyed by sipping slowly. Having seen first-hand tea plantations in the far-east and knowing what tedious work it is to pick tea leaves, I appreciate a steaming cup of tea. So it was my pleasure to stop in at the Steep Mountain Tea House in Bozeman to see what was brewing.
Steep Mountain Tea House was formerly Townshend’s Bozeman Tea House, owned by Scott and Melissa Herron and their business partner Matt. After college, Scott and Melissa worked at Youngberg Hill Vineyards and Inn in Oregon before moving to Bozeman and bringing to life Scott’s secret dream of owning a tea house. The doors to Townshend’s Tea House opened in 2014.
When the trio made some life changes and Matt moved on, the Herrons approached their friends Serena Rundberg and Nick Garbiel about buying the business, with the offer of staying on as managers. The sale finalized in November 2020. Serena and Nick are owners of Inspired Madness, which they describe as “a small but mighty company based in Bozeman.” Mighty they are with owning Feed Café, Lot G Café, Daily Coffee & Eatery, and now the Tea House.
The good news for former customers of Townshend’s is the products and service live on, with just a name change and interior makeover of the Tea House. Serena and Nick say their vision for the Tea House “is to create a connection between people through gathering and sharing a great pot of tea.” From what I’m seeing with a steady stream of customers, some choosing to sit and sip, while others stop for grab and go, their vision is alive and well.
Melissa, a native of Livingston, describes her current role as staff manager. Scott, originally from Salt Lake City, is the leaf manager, carefully researching and sourcing the teas and various natural ingredients used in their products. Steep Mountain features over 115 choices of tea. Some of the selections are unique blends created in the Tea House blending kitchen, while other options are straight out of tea plantations found worldwide.
Tea choices at Steep Mountain for enjoying in-house or buying bulk include black, green, white, rooibos, herbal, and oolong tea. Chai is available in several flavors, as is Yerba Maté. The menu describes Maté as having been part of the culture of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay for centuries. It promotes good health, stimulates the nervous system, and detoxifies the body. The Yerba Maté plant contains caffeine, so this drink may give a bit of a caffeine buzz.
Melissa brewed me a cup of Glacier Blend that paired nicely with my slice of Lemon Layer Cake. This particular blend was commissioned by the Extreme History Project in Bozeman, seeking a juniper tea they could rebrand and sell. Their description of the tea, in part, reads, “This smooth tea has hints of Montana history with juniper berries and cedar tips. Juniper berries are native to Montana and have been used for thousands of years by Indigenous people living in this area, as they believed in the juniper’s cleansing and healing powers and used it to keep away infection, relieve arthritis, and cure wounds and illnesses.” On their shelves, they call this tea “Steeped in History,” while Steep Mountain calls it Glacier Blend. As Melissa explained, “When a retailer purchases a product from the Tea House to resell, they are welcome to change the name and use their labeling/branding.”
I didn’t want to leave without trying Bubble Tea, which originated in Taiwan in the 1980s. It’s a funny drink, consisting of milk tea with tapioca pearls (boba in Chinese) at the bottom of the glass. It’s generally served cold, but Steep Mountain can make it hot on request. Bubble tea is consists of four parts: tea base (black, green, or rooibos), flavoring, tidbits (tapioca pearls or aloe jellies), and milk (whole milk, coconut, rice, or soy). The drink is served with a wide straw, large enough for the boba pearls to be sucked up through the straw while sipping. Alternatively, the drink can be served with a spoon and the boba pearls can be eaten after drinking the milk tea. The pearls have a gelatinous texture that I tend to roll around in my mouth before chewing them. To be honest, the pearls remind me of fish eggs! I chose the colorful brown sugar bubble tea, with striations of brown sugar tinting the milk a caramel color.
Steep Mountain’s tea menu reads like a short story, with vivid descriptions of each tea. Melissa shares that these tea narratives, written in-house, are crafted in part from an aroma lexicon. Lexicon? That’s a new word for me. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, lexicon “is a list of all the words used in a particular language or subject.” This new term proves there is so much in life I don’t know, even at my seasoned age!
The Inspired Madness eateries support each other. Steep Mountain supplies tea for the cafes, Feed Café bakes the bread used with the sandwiches, while Daily Coffee & Eatery provides an assortment of pastries and desserts for the Tea House. Savory options, such as chicken salad sandwiches on challah and chickpea and black bean hummus sandwiches on focaccia, are made by Lot G Café. Quiche, chia pudding, and date protein balls are made in-house.
Steep Mountain features monthly specials. For May, a Honey Chrysanthemum Silver Needle hot tea is the highlight. The blend features white tea and Chrysanthemum blossoms, both native to China. These plants support heart health, reduce cholesterol, regulate blood pressure, aid digestion, and calm the nerves. On my next visit to Bozeman, I’ll stop in and try the Sticky Rice Pu-erh, as I’m fond of sticky rice. The narrative reads, “Bird’s Nest style Pu-erh. Smooth black Yunnan tea is scented with an herb called Nuomixlang, which tastes exactly like the aromatic sticky rice. Surprisingly habit-forming.”
Before COVID, tango lessons, live music, poetry readings, open mic night, and community fundraisers were spirited events at the Tea House appreciated by the community. Plans call for resuming these offerings when safe. When the weather warms up, outdoor seating will be available.
Donnie Sexton, who retired in 2016 after a long career with the Montana Office of Tourism, currently freelances as a travel writer and photographer, covering destinations around the world.
TheLastBestPlates.com is a digital destination that serves up Montana's tasty food, travel and culture stories … one bite at a time.