Refined Tea in the Rugged West

TLBP Tumblewood Teas -- Big Timber, MT

Tumblewood Teas is the name of the tea company in Big Timber, Montana, founded and run by Riza Gilpin & Laurie Rennie. But what does the name mean? Channel John Wayne’s voice here—I reckon the gals wanted somethin’ western, like tumbleweed and Dead Wood. Thanks, John.

The reason for a western-sounding name is not solely because Tumblewood is based in a small agricultural town on the banks of the Yellowstone River, but because Gilpin and Rennie are in defense of tea, a product of the Far East, as a western drink. With their high-quality product, workshops, savvy branding, and persistence the women are generating a tea revolution. It has nothing to do with the political movement; it is a transformation of our appetites and mindset.

Tumblewood Tea Collage 1

Photography by Lynn Donaldson

When I visited Tumblewood headquarters at 403 McLeod St., Gilpin, a life-long tea lover, and Rennie, a shy but fanatical convert, made for me a delicious and aromatic cup of loose-leaf Rooibos with spring water. They then sat me down to teach me about varieties of tea, the reasons why it is a superior drink, and the proper way to brew it: 195° water for Oolong, 208° for black and herbal. Tea parties, I discovered, are serious business.

Tumblewood Teas Collage 2

I was semi-prepared, as I have a little tea cred. I lived in tea-drinking Scotland when I was a kid. My Scottish, paternal great-grandfather owned and operated tea plantations in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the 1800’s. And I have a maternal ancestor who was a member of the Sons of Liberty and participated in the Boston Tea Party. I thus respect the beverage. My tea of choice? Loose leaf Earl Grey blended with the Lapsang souchong, served with milk and honey. But I digress…

Since that wild night in Boston in 1773, tea has been associated in the recesses of the American psyche with the British, thus un-patriotic. That’s total malarkey, of course. As the Tumblewood gals will tell you, the American West was “won” by tea drinkers: Europeans, Russians, and Chinese. Settlers drank green and Ceylon (black) tea according to steamship manifests Rennie saw at the museum in Fort Benton, Montana. Tea, it turns out, is as western as it gets.

Interestingly, according to Gilpin, the Chinese who built western railroads escaped dysentery because they drank tea. Smart. It was the Chinese, after all, who began drinking leaves from the evergreen shrub, Camellia sinensis, 5,000 years ago for medicinal reasons (green tea, like Rooibos, is rich in antioxidants).

Tumblewood Teas Collage 3

Real tea grows throughout Asia. The leaves and buds are harvested then processed to varying degrees of oxidation. White, green, black, yellow, Oolong and Pu’erh are all from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, where as Rooibos is a shrub from Africa, and herbal teas are made from flowers and herbs.

Tumblewood sells 60 flavors of tea. Some are single origin (un-blended leaves grown in one location). Some are blends. All are sourced from the highest quality plants. With their beautiful packaging and fun names like “Black Bart” and “Galloping Green,” Tumblewood products make fantastic gifts.

Tumblewood Teas Collage 4

“These are very serious teas. We name them fun names because Tumblewood is about really enjoying tea,” says Gilpin.

Tea is tasty and versatile. The chef at the Timber Bar in Big Timber now uses Tumblewood’s Lapsang in his prime rib. Yumm! Even the old men ranchers who gather at Big Timber’s Frosty Freez (pronounced freeze) now drink loose-leaf Tumblewood tea. They are proof that Gilpin and Rennie are successfully converting our palates and debunking stereotypes one hot cup at a time.

TLBP Tumblewood Teas -- Big Timber, MT

Tumblewood Teas is sold in most Montana grocery stores and served in retail establishments throughout Montana. You can buy online at Tumblewood Teas.

Follow Tumblewood Teas on Facebook and Twitter.

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