There is something magical happening at Phoenix Pearl Tea. Maybe it is the chairs full of young people playing tabletop games; maybe it’s the 150 variations of tea, all with unique origin stories; maybe it’s the calming music and peaceful atmosphere; maybe it’s the overall sense of comfort; or perhaps it is all of those elements, combine – but the one person making this magic happen is general manager, Gwendolyn Gunn.

Gunn has an eclectic educational background in computer science, journalism and anthropology, just to name a few. She is the kind of person that dives into the history and mystery of all subjects – the kind of person that offers intellectual and compassionate conversation. Her approach in life translates itself into every aspect of Phoenix Pearl Tea.

The atmosphere evokes stillness in body and mind. With soft music drifting above, art canvases hanging from the wall and a glass of warm tea in hand, Gunn wanted customers to find internal stillness and solitude.

“Coffee shops are meant to be fast-paced. They are energized with loud music and often bare walls – people are on-the-go when in a coffee shop. Tea is different,” said Gunn. “I take time to brew my tea, some teas can up to 10 minutes. Customers stop, they sit and relax.”

For Gunn, the mission was to create a place that instilled the importance of relaxation. In our often hectic and busy lives, we simply do not make the time to find stillness and allow our minds and emotions to recalibrate.

“Tea has taught me the sense of calm,” said Gunn. “It has a sense of serenity, and I wanted to give people a place to feel the same.”

Phoenix Pearl Tea is a haven for many locals, as well. It is an alcohol-free option to going out for drinks. Gunn is there, at the bar, often a good ear and welcomed dialogue.

It is also a haven for many Red Lodge youths. Tabletop games happen on the daily/nightly and there are official game nights every Thursday. Children, teens, young adults, and old, gather to play Dungeons and Dragons, backgammon, cribbage, Stuffed Fables, Concept and the list goes on.

“I remember what it was like being a teenager – they can get into all kinds of trouble,” said Gunn.

Phoenix Pearl Tea is a hub that offers teens a safe and positive atmosphere to hang out and just be themselves.

The overarching sense of acceptance and belonging to all is a guiding light for many regulars. Gunn is often there, a tea bartender, telling stories of the varied flavors she imports from all over the world.

“Customers want to know the story behind the tea they are drinking. I find out every detail about the tea: the plantation it comes from, the tradition, the way it was made and why,” said Gunn.

The backstories are often more important than the taste of the teas, itself. Tea has a rich history dating back to the 3rd century AD. The stories, ideas and legends appeal to many of Gunn’s clientele.

Not only does Gunn offer the stories of all 150 teas, she names them, appropriately so, in accordance to the tabletop games and fantasy tales. Names include: “The Red Wedding,” “Mother of Dragons,” “The Ferryman,” “Van Helsing” and “Dwarven Ale.”

Non-tea drinkers are often surprised to find a flavor that changes their tone. From minty to fruity, bold to light, notes of coffee and hints of spice, there is something for everyone at Phoenix Pearl Tea.

Gunn also offers monthly subscription boxes featuring the newest and most popular blends, delivered straight to your door.

Whether she chose it or not, Gunn and Phoenix Pearl Tea has become a place of direction and security. For many, it has become the “third place.” There is home, work/school, and then the third place, often a chosen environment to connect, relax and find harmony – and in this case, with a warm glass of tea.

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Special Sections managing editor

Special Sections Asst. Editor at The Billings Gazette.