Not long ago, an acquaintance suggested we meet for a pot of tea at Mountain Gate, the new teahouse in town located just north of the Free Box on Pine Street. A casual consumer of tea but certainly not a connoisseur, I arrived with little in the way of preconceived expectations other than perhaps an hour or so of conversation and a steaming beverage to sip on.
Four hours and many pours of tea later, we’d watched the evening light show of angled sunbeams blushing the face of Ajax as our conversation ranged across myriad subjects. Colin Hudon, the owner, popped in and out, sharing his vast knowledge of the complex world of teas, adding context and providing a glimpse into a fascinating and ancient world. The crockery was handmade, the snacks simple yet scrumptious, and I didn’t look at my phone once. It was lovely and unexpected.
Of course, Asian traditions of drinking tea date back to a time long before the United States was a twinkle in the eye of some rebellious colonist testily tossing crates of tea into Boston Harbor. In these ancient traditions, tea was, and still is, not merely a beverage, but a medicine, a spiritual philosophy, an invitation to slow down and savor the present moment, and the connection shared with a fellow human being.
Hudon, who has nurtured a passion for teas since he was a teenager, explained the connection of the new teahouse’s location just off Main Street to the Japanese concept of “roji,” which literally means “dewy ground” but used as the term for the path leading to the tranquility of the tearoom.
The term refers to the “small path leading from the ‘world’s dust,’” Hudon explained. “Throughout the vast majority of history, the roads, before they were paved, were extremely dusty and dirty. You would step through a gate, and then you’d follow a winding path to get to the door. The idea of it was you’d step out of the world of dust; you’d remove your shoes and your outer garments and enter into this quiet, pristine, peaceful environment where the concerns of everyday life could be left behind for a short time. The idea of being able to step out of the craziness of life for a minute and then step back in, in a different state, was an important cultural part of life in those parts of the world.”
That sense of stepping out of the thrum and flux of the modern world and into a space of peace and presence is a key part of what Hudon is passionate about offering at Mountain Gate.
“Tea evokes a deep sense of calm,” he said, noting that traditional, living teas, unlike plantation-grown teas, come from wild, often old-growth forests of tea trees, with unique microbiota and fermentation processes that can result in a tangible physical effect. “Tea is an incredible social lubricant. It drops everything down to where you feel comfortable, but it puts things in a kind of high definition.”
The opportunity to foster community connection and to introduce those unfamiliar to the wide world of traditional teas is also essential in the teahouse’s mission.
“I’ve seen communities created all over the world through tea. It's such a powerful and potent tool for bringing people together. For me that’s as much a part of medicine and healing — being together, being heard, being seen — as a medical procedure,” Hudon said, who is also a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. “And introducing people to these teas is really exciting to me. The world of tea is vast and diverse. I love finding teas for an individual that they just fall in love with.”
Beyond the current hours of operation from 1-9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, Mountain Gate will be offering a free morning tea ceremony followed by a meditation a couple of times per week. Hours may change to include mornings. For more information about hours and events, visit Mountain Gate’s website at livingtea.net. The teahouse also offers light fare, including tea-based baked goods, dried fruits and an artisanal plant-based cheese plate.
Regardless of one’s experience or knowledge level, the teahouse offers a way to engage with an ancient tradition that is much more than a simple beverage.
“The tea at the shop is appropriately dubbed ‘living teas,’ and why that is so accurate is because it’s such a dynamic affair,” observed Wiley Holbrooke, an employee at Mountain Gate. “Every old-growth tree used for making the teas is different, every tea blend is different, and even every steeping is different from the last. This dynamism is also shared by the quality of customers who enter the space. Some people come to the shop, to look at the views or read books, others come for the tea alone, some are just looking for good conversation, and regardless, their experience is facilitated by the tea.”