Toward the end of August, my mother asked for my aid in helping her drive from Wyoming to Oregon. One can hardly turn down such a request from their mother, but I added one condition. I would gladly assist…just as long as we made a stop through Red Lodge, Montana. The small town was a mere hour away from where we were staying, and I had a particularly personal reason to go. Tea Expo friends of mine ran a bookstore/tea bar.
I emphasized to her that this was mandatory.
I had encountered the Family Robson at World Tea Expo back in June, but I had yet to behold the place they called “work”. I’d seen some photos, heard them regale their experiences in quixotic anecdotes, and I wanted to experience it firsthand. I informed their kilted patriarch, Gary Robson, to prepare for my coming. And he said he “might consider wearing pants”. (Spoiler alert: He didn’t.)
I flew into Billings that morning, and Mum picked me up in short order. By around noon, we had arrived in Red Lodge. Finding the downtown area wasn’t hard. The town, maybe, had two major roads.
The bookstore was…well…
The moment you walked in, it was like going down a dungeon made of books. I made my presence known to Gary, who was working the counter – kilted, of course. I asked him where the tea bar was, and he directed me to the back.
At the end of the tunnel o’ books was the tea bar.
Mum and I grabbed seats, and I made my presence known to Gary’s son, Doug, who was manning the bar. He was zipping back and forth like a plaid-shirted squirrel, handling three or four requests at a time, and somehow finding time to acknowledge my presence with a, “Good you came now; you missed the rush.”
I’ve always said I would like to work at a tea bar, but there was no way I could do it with as much deftness as Doug. The dude was a machine. Albeit a (possibly) very caffeinated machine.
After Mum ordered her Earl Grey standby, I inquired about the Darjeeling Bai Hao oolong they carried. Doug informed me that there was maybe a cup’s-worth left. I nabbed it.
I’ll be damned if it didn’t taste like the Taiwanese Oriental Beauty style it was trying to ape. Same honey-sweet taste and creepily creamy texture. Very little muscatel intruded upon that.
After that, I simply sipped and observed. Gary and Doug’s banter was half the reason I came. The other half? Tea, of course.
Case in point:
Gary: (to me) “Oh, you need to try my masala chai.”
Doug: “No, that’s my masala chai.”
Gary: “They’re my ingredients.”
Doug: “…Which I blended.”
Gary: (to me) “We tried to build up his confidence, but I think we overcompensated.”
It went on for a good hour like that, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Alas, all good things had to come to an end. We were on a bit of a deadline, and we said our farewells. Before I left, though, I made it a point to pick up a stash of a few things. Included among them was a blend dubbed “Odin’s Armpits”.
The blend was of Doug’s devising, but Gary named it – Lapsang Souchong, cinnamon, safflower and lily petals. It smelled wonderful, but I didn’t dig into it until a good few days later back in Oregon.
I never would’ve thought cinnamon and smoke would work so well together, but – hooo-boy – does it! It’s like putting your head in a fireplace for breakfast. A perfect wake-up tea. Given Gary’s prowess with Lapsang and Earl Grey, I wasn’t too surprised Robson the Younger could handle such a blend.
I hope to see them, and their tea plant again someday soon.