Nestled in Colorado’s Sunshine Canyon about six miles northwest of Boulder is the Sunshine Springs Tea House, a traditional Japanese tea hut that melds with nature seamlessly. It was built to be a sanctuary that honors tea traditions while drawing people together for respite and community.
Lopa and Stephan van der Mersch built the tea hut over the course of two and a-half years and construction was completed in Autumn of 2018. In the short period of its existence, it has already begun to serve its purpose as a community space. The van der Mersches view tea ceremonies and tea drinking as a spiritual practice and want to share tea’s positive impacts with others. “We’ve been profoundly impacted by tea as a spiritual practice, [the tea hut] has been a way of creating a place and an offering, a thank you that we can share,” said Lopa.
The van der Mersches were inspired during a trip to Taiwan where they participated in their first tea ceremony at the Global Tea Hut. This encounter brought Lopa to tears as it introduced her to experiencing and appreciating tea in an entirely new way.
They decided to build their own Japanese chashitsu-inspired tea hut on a piece of property that envelopes the structure in nature, buffering it and any ceremonies that happen within, from the urban bustle of Boulder. The hut has a traditional small, square nijiriguchi door at which guests remove their shoes and crawl inside. On the opposite wall, where there is usually a tokonoma (scroll alcove) holding a painting, instead there are double doors that open up to reveal a stunning view of Colorado’s Front Range mountains.
Stephan said the tea hut was built to last a thousand years. “We made it beautiful because then people will take care of it,” he said, adding that most construction is not undertaken with this mindset anymore.
He sees tea as a connection with self, a connection with others and a connection with nature.
Lopa has learned age old and detailed process of the Cha Dao tea ceremony and occasionally hosts guests at the tea hut. “It’s an expression of kindness,” she said. Zen Buddhist priest Bu Nan Brown also hosts events there.
During a recent ceremony, Lopa brewed tea for Stephan and six guests who sat in a circle seiza-style on the tea hut’s floor. Each recipient’s tea bowl was first cleaned with hot water, made from melted snow from outside. Then, she brewed loose leaf pu’erh tea from Yunnan, China and made friendly eye contact with each guest while handing their tea bowls to them. Though the group consumed three bowls of tea in complete silence, a communal bond was in its nascency.
After the tea ceremony, everyone opened up about the significance of tea in their lives.
“We’re so busy these days with devices and things, so just to be able to sit down clear out space for a communication of a leaf that is hundreds of years old is a good bridge for all things in life, whether you’re learning how to create space to turn towards your children, or someone you love,” said guest Eli Buren. “Tea is so regenerative in its nature.”
“Tea gives me the ability and the flexibility to be in a meditative space while remembering the elemental—instead of disassociating,” said guest Lisa Larn. “There is something really normal about drinking tea and it just keeps connecting you back to life.”
“There aren’t many things that are social lubricants but also deeper tools for connection,” said guest Colin Hudon.
Sharing tea experiences blossomed into sharing life experiences and laughter. Then people hugged before parting for the day.
“Tea is the gift that keeps on giving,” said Stephan.
Those who want to experience a tea ceremony at the Sunshine Springs Tea House can email Lopa and Stephan at Boulderteahut@gmail.com. An Instagram account chronicling the tea hut’s construction can be found here: https://www.instagram.com/sunshine_canyon_tea_house/