By Sarah Davin
Like a mystical call to destiny, the idea and design for the Setting Sun Tea Hut in Plainfield came to Ben Youngbaer in a dream. The small, wooden structure, which has an incredible view of the mountains from East Hill Road, was designed by Youngbaer to resemble a traditional Japanese tea hut, with 4 and ½ tatami mats covering the dimensions of the floor.
Together with his father, Youngbaer constructed the tea hut on his family’s property, a few dozen feet from the home in which he was born. Youngbaer said, “We didn’t know how to build in a Japanese way, and we didn’t know Japanese architecture, which can sometimes be very specific. They do a lot of butterfly joints and complex things beyond my and my father’s skill level, who has built houses in the past.”
Although the tea hut is designed to look like it would fit in well in a traditional East Asian landscape, there are some details that reveal its Vermont foundations. “Basically we framed as you would normally frame a wall and the floor. The roof was a little bit more complex. It’s a hipped roof, with cedar posts on the corners that were cut from our woods. It’s not very precise, but I think it works well with the atmosphere of a tea ceremony,” said Youngbaer.
The Setting Sun Tea Hut not only its gets its name from its excellent view of the setting sun, but its location on the globe. “The name Setting Sun Tea Hut comes from the beautiful sunset views, but also from Japan being the land of the rising sun, and we’re basically on the opposite side of the Earth, so I felt Setting Sun worked well for that—this East meets West vibe,” Youngbaer elaborated.
Youngbaer’s business differs from others in that it does not primarily focus on selling teas, preferring instead to emphasize the educational experience. But he does make an effort to make sure his students have the opportunity to access the teas he teaches about. “I do purchase tea, and I sell some tea, but it’s not my primary income. My focus is education, not sales, but if I’m teaching something about tea, I want to be able to offer some and not just give information.” Since the tea hut’s opening in 2015, Youngbaer has taught more than 30 classes about tea making.
As a young person growing up in Central Vermont, Youngbaer’s first exposure to real loose-leaf tea was thanks to Perennial Pleasures’ tea garden in East Hardwick. “I never developed a taste for coffee, so I was always seeking out other options. At a cafe or coffee shop, what else do they have? So, rather than blindly going in and ordering something I wasn’t going to like just to feel like I was using their space, I started drinking tea and learning a little bit more about it. I started thinking, ‘Oh, what tea do I like? What’s going on here?’”
In 2007, while a student at Burlington College, a visit to Dobra Tea on Church Street in Burlington gave him an opportunity to explore a wide variety of teas. “I went to Dobra Tea for the first time with some friends. I started going there every day or every other day. I tried to learn as much as I could about tea. Then, I started working there in 2010 and continued for four years. It really took off from there.” In addition, Youngbaer has traveled to China to learn about tea first hand, including visiting tea gardens and production facilities.
Youngbear hopes Setting Sun will bring new tea enthusiasts into the community. “I think when you have a teahouse space that is cultivating the education, then it just grows that network even further. I’ve had some people come here who have not exactly started their own tea practice but have become more daily tea drinkers.”
Luckily, tea fanatics and initiates are in good company in Vermont. Youngbaer says that there is a wonderful community and recommends the Stone Leaf Teahouse in Middlebury, which is run by his friend, John Wetzel, as a place to find fellow enthusiasts. “He has had a lot of people who worked with him over the years who are passionate about tea and have done some traveling to further their education. Closer to home, North Branch Cafe on State Street in Montpelier offers an impressive menu of high-quality global teas, and there’s a fine selection at Grian Herbs on Elm Street, as well.
For those interested in learning more about tea, Youngbaer will host an open house at Setting Sun on April 20, from
10 am to 2 pm. Snacks will be available and donations will help cover the cost of the event. For a more expansive experience, there will be a five-day summer tea retreat from July 8 to July 12. Youngbear also appears weekly at the Plainfield farmers market on Friday, where he serves tea and sells tea and tea wares.
For more information about Setting Sun Tea Hut, visit settingsunteahut.weebly.com