Located 25 minutes east of Montpelier, Vermont, the Setting Sun Tea Hut exemplifies the beauty of nature and simplicity. The tea hut is set just off of a dirt road on 21 acres among rural Vermont’s rolling hills. It faces west so customers can watch the sun setting over the Green Mountains with Camel’s Hump, the state’s third highest mountain, at the focal point.
“I feel [the locale] lends itself to drinking tea in a traditional way,” said owner Ben Youngbaer. “All those stories that we read about people in the past, they were always hermits living up in the hills, drinking tea in the mountains. We can do that now.”
Youngbaer opened the tea hut in October 2015. After working as a filmmaker and at the Dobra Teahouse in Burlington, Youngbaer decided to open his own tea hut where he could share his interest in tea history and culture. He has devoted many years to the study of tea.
His business philosophy focuses on the teahouse as a community hub and a place for people to escape the demands of daily life.
The tea hut is a 10 feet by 10 feet square with minimalist décor that allows for flexibility when the space is transformed for tea ceremonies, classes and other events. Setting Sun hosts two events per month from April through October and is open by appointment year-round.
Youngbaer consistently keeps 20-30 teas in stock for selling to customers at farmers markets with additional teas in his private collection, which he uses for teaching. “I might get some first flush teas and have an event to share,” he said.
His classes have covered topics such as Taiwanese oolongs, Japanese teas and the history of teas in Yunnan, China. Attendance is usually limited to 15 people. Events are posted on Setting Sun Tea Hut’s Facebook page.
In July, Setting Sun Tea Hut hosts its five-day Summer Tea Retreat, during which herbalists talk about the properties and potential uses for wild herbs while on a nature hike up Spruce Mountain. Youngbaer teaches tea processing and customs, incorporating tea skills that range from the Japanese tea ceremony—Chanoyu, to Chinese Gongfu. Daily lunches include fresh ingredients from his garden.
Beginning in autumn 2016 and continuing through summer 2017, he also collaborated with local chef Richard Whitting to host a 53 course dinner series inspired by the Tokaido Road in Japan, a historic road that connected Ōsaka and Kyōto with Edo (now Tokyo) and its 53 post-station towns. The dinner series began in autumn and continued throughout the rest of the year. The winter dinner events were held at Stone Leaf Teahouse in Middlebury.
The next dinner series will focus on family style Chinese meals with cuisine from tea producing regions such as Fujian and Yunnan.
Youngbaer imparted what he has learned through the years, “I think you need to have experience as a worker to have a good idea of what customers need and also of how your employees want to be treated,” said Youngbaer. “If those two things are in line, then you can essentially get any tea and be successful because I think you’re building an experience and that’s what often brings people back.”