Tea unites womenWritten by Laura Nelson
Big Timber , Mont. – “This isn’t tea that’s about holding your pinky up,” Riza Gilpin smiles.
Indeed, with names like “I’m Your Huckleberry,” “Gunpowder,” “Restful Rancher,” “Rollin’ With The Wind,” “Cold Winter’s Night” and “Cowgirl Confet-tea,” it’s easy to imagine the sources of inspiration for Tumblewood Teas products.
“It’s about bringing the finest products to the West but in our environment,” she says.
From their home and headquarters in Big Timber, Mont. – a town of 1,700, nestled in ranching country at the base of the Crazy Mountains, just 2.5 hours north of the Wyoming border – the sights, smells and flavors that have been woven into each variety of Tumblewood’s loose leaf teas are all around Gilpin and co-owner Laurie Rennie.
“Big Timber Beauty,” “Chico Cherry” and “Paradise Valley Vanilla” each pay homage to the rural communities that surround the growing entrepreneurial dream, and their reach is expanding.
Just six years after the company was founded as a dream in Gilpin’s garage, their teas can now be found in restaurants, retailers, college campuses and national parks across their home state, and their southern sisters are next.
It was a natural fit to grow distribution to Wyoming, Gilpin and Rennie agree – the Cowboy State and Big Sky Country share the same “essence of the West” that inspires their seemingly unconventional small-town start up.
Part of life
But it’s always made sense to Gilpin – it’s the pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit of the men and women who explored and settled the rugged West that has always captivated her imagination. When she and her husband began vacationing in Montana more than 20 years ago, that enthrallment with the West’s history and heritage began to brew stronger and stronger, until they decided to move to Sweet Grass County full time in 2003.
“Tea has always been a very big part of my life, from learning to enjoy it with my grandfather as a young girl,” Gilpin says. “This part of the country, too, has intrigued me over the years. ”
When they landed in Big Timber permanently, her lifelong enjoyment of fine teas finally fit into her business dreams. Much like the early pioneers on the camp trails of western history, she found fine tea was a scarcity in her isolated, yet idyllic, home. So after years of the dreams and ideas tumbling around the back of her mind, Tumblewood Teas was officially born in November 2009.
A different tradition
“The pioneers who moved out here – they brought all their stories, histories and tea accessories with them,” Gilpin says.
While most think of western traditions with cowboys gathering around their campfire with coffee percolating, they continue to discover fascinating stories – many from women pioneers – that center around tea time traditions.
“They were so limited in what they could bring, yet often, it was their tea sets that remained intact,” she says. “After facing all the things they did, working and laboring on the land and in the elements – that many women in the West still face today – to sit down together for a cup of tea was very special.”
As Gilpin dug deeper in the western heritage and developed an identity for this unique product – fine, loose-leaf tea – Rennie’s curiosity was piqued in her friend’s new endeavor.
The Montana native became a partner and co-owner in the company in 2012. The “tea twins,” as they are often known around their home town, have worked, laughed and grown in their friendship and business as a dynamic team ever since.
That same year, the industry newcomers were honored at the World Tea Expo when one of their signature blends, “Cowboy Creamcicle,” was selected as a winner in the Black Flavored Tea category of the North American Tea Championship.
Today, they offer a variety of more than 50 fine, loose-leaf black, green, white, oolong, pu’erh, herbal, rooibos, flowering and organic teas, in addition to a diverse lineup of tea accessories.
In those accessories, the Tumblewood duo again reaches to western roots and regional agricultural ties.
They work closely with a variety of local agriculture producers to outfit their western tea line, including a Gallatin County wool grower for their Travelin’ Tumbler Cozies, the Tumblebees of Sweet Grass County for their pure Montana honey line, Yellowstone County bison producers for their Bison Hide Cozies, plus contracting a neighboring Wheatland County company to carry out all of their product packaging.
“We import tea from all over the world and then blend it with the freshest ingredients,” Gilpin says.
But, the most important component of the company is found and continues to flourish in their home on the range.
“The West is our focus, and as I get to know more agriculturalists – particularly women in this business – they’ve continued to share with us the wonderful values that drive our business, too,” Gilpin comments. “They’re strong and beautiful and spirited – that’s what we love about being in business in the West.”