If you go

What: Rocky Mountain Tea Festival

When: Aug. 2-3

Where: Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, 1770 13th St. Boulder

Cost: Varies by event

More info: 303-442-4993, boulderteahouse.com

If you love tea, you live in the right place and time.

The Rocky Mountain Tea Festival will mark its 15th year at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse on Aug. 2 and 3.

But in Boulder and its environs, it's pretty easy to have tea on your mind just about anytime. The town first made its mark in the tea world in 1969 when Mo Siegel started Celestial Seasonings. The Dushanbe Teahouse, which was hand-crafted by Tajik artisans, brought communal tea drinking to town in a prominent way and, with its tea festival, helped make tea accessible. And our fair city was was an early adopter of kombucha — a beverage made by fermenting tea sweetened with sugar — and boasts one of the first kombucha taprooms in the country, the Rowdy Mermaid.

With tea, it truly seems that what goes around comes around; its modern iterations reach back to time-honored traditions. Not a big surprise when it comes to the world's most consumed beverage, after water, but a bonus in a health-driven community that also likes to enjoy its food and drink.


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Gary Berg, owner of Boulder CrossFit, was something of a late convert to the kombucha community.

"The first time I had it was a couple of years ago," he says. "I didn't like it. It tasted like a sweet soda. A Mountain Dew almost. I forgot about it till four months ago."

That's when Jamba Dunn, owner of the nearby Rowdy Mermaid, brought some of the stuff to Berg's studio. Although skeptical, Berg decided to try it.

"He sent over the Living Ginger," he says. "From that point on, I thought there must be more to this."

Jamba Dunn, owner of the Rowdy Mermaid, left a tech job to make and sell kombucha full-time.
Jamba Dunn, owner of the Rowdy Mermaid, left a tech job to make and sell kombucha full-time. (Paul Aiken / Daily Camera)

Now he drinks 6-8 ounces a day, as well as sometimes stopping by the taproom to taste Dunn's seasonal blends such as strawberry. Berg says the kombucha aids his digestion, makes him feel better and allows him to take in probiotics without eating dairy, which bothers him in larger quantities. Many fellow Crossfit devotees feel the same way.

"About 10 of my regular athletes are customers of Jamba's now," he says.

The lure of kombucha

The blossoming of a love for kombucha was familiar to Dunn. Previously he worked building online language learning video games at Rosetta Stone. But he was an ardent brewer of beer, too.

The daily menu of kombuchas at the Rowdy Mermaid taproom in Boulder.
The daily menu of kombuchas at the Rowdy Mermaid taproom in Boulder. (Paul Aiken / Daily Camera)

"I always had a fascination with fermentation," he says. "It turned out there were a lot of brewers working at Rosetta Stone. We would all go into a meeting and start talking about yeast."

He started making kombucha for his daughter.

"I realize I was hooked and fascinated by the whole process," he says. That, in turn, led to the realization that he wanted to leave his tech job to make kombucha for a living.

On a trip to a hot springs near Buena Vista with his wife and daughter, he told his wife what he wanted to do. Their daughter, who had been playing mermaid all day, was particularly rambunctious as the serious conversation went on.

"I told her to calm down, that she was the rowdiest mermaid I'd ever seen," Dunn says.

With the company name in hand, Dunn pressed forward, opening the taproom in the fall of last year. He worked hard to make it a beautiful place with a 100-year-old bar and a view into the brewing room.

Customers can order flights of kombucha, with flavors such as Flower Grow, a decaf blend made with rooibos, chrysanthemums, rose petals and chamomile; Deep Forest, with reishi mushroom, sassafras and vanilla, and Morning Dew with green tea, honeydew melon and violets.

Dunn offers classes and is happy to talk about the ins and outs of making kombucha to both pros and to those who need to be educated about the SCOBY, the mother blob of bacteria and yeast cultures that start the fermentation process in the tea and sugar.

He points out that kombucha is always an expression of place. He uses filtered Boulder municipal water, which he points out is mineral-rich mountain snowmelt. The bacteria, yeast and climate also interact in a unique way.

"It's different because of the altitude, the fact that our door opens south and gets winds from the Flatirons," he says.

Celebrating tea

If you love tea in all its cultural manifestations, the Rocky Mountain Tea Festival is the place to be. There, you can take a class to learn to cook with tea. Not in the mood for preparing food yourself? There's a tea dinner. For parents and doting relatives, there's the Teddy Bear tea party for children — an adult may bring up to seven young tea lovers in their finest gear, accompanied by a stuffed animal for tea with scones and other goodies, as well as children's games.

If you'd like to try to blend your teas, Sara Martinelli, co-owner with her husband, Lenny, of the teahouse and several other restaurants will assist you. Martinelli sources the tea for the teahouse and is a certified herbalist.

"People have an opportunity to taste a lot of different teas, as well as botanical additives such as rose petals or jasmine," Martinelli says. "They get to come away with their own personal tea blend."

New this year is Devan Shah, who is presenting a workshop on the teas of India, the second-largest tea-producing country after China. Other workshops include the Japanese tea ceremony, Chinese tea appreciation, a tasting of teas from Taiwan and a workshop on the rare teas of China such as Puerh.

"Tea is so important on so many levels — its history and influence on world trade. Wars have been fought over this plant," Martinelli says. "It's really amazing how this one botanical around the world is so enmeshed in a variety of cultures."

Including, in its non-ancient way, Boulder, Colorado.