Big-Hearted Business Highlight: Twilight Tea Lounge

By Andee Bingham

Anneka Kindler, owner of Twilight Tea Lounge in Brattleboro, Vermont, describes herself as a former “fairly committed coffee drinker”, though she has always liked good tea too. As an extension of her vegan practice, she was initially drawn to herbs and teas by her excitement about their health and nutritional properties. She envisions her shop as a mini refuge from a world that tends to be noisy and chaotic – a place where her customers can relax and recharge. “While it’s important for me to offer great teas and yummy vegan treats,” Anneka says, “if there is a real mission, I’d have to say it’s more about offering this kind of restorative space.” The Twilight Tea Lounge – with its cozy nooks, mismatched saucers, and chai-spiced air – does just that.

Making a great pot of tea is a bit of a science. The quality of the water is just as important as having a good quality tea. “We always use filtered water,” Anneka says, “it really makes a huge difference in the flavor.” Timing is also important, as different types of teas need different handling in order to get the best flavor. “Except for green and white tea,” Anneka notes, “most teas and herbals give the best result with boiling water. Green and white teas are more delicate and should be below boiling, when the water just begins to steam. You can experiment with what works best for you, but the general recommendations are 5-10 minutes for herbals, 3-5 for black teas and oolongs, and 3 or less for greens and whites. Tea leaves can get pretty bitter if they’re steeped too long, so once you have a flavor you like, be sure to remove the tea bag or infuser.”

Though Anneka inherited a well-vetted tea menu from Twilight’s original owners, she upgrades when possible by adding more organic, fair-trade, and local options. Expanding the local tea menu has been hard, since, like coffee, tea just isn’t something that grows in the northeast. There are a several herbs that thrive here, though – like lemon balm, dandelion, nettles, and raspberry leaf – that she gets from Vermont and regional growers when in season. The Twilight Tea Lounge has about 75 teas – that is tea from a tea plant (black, green, oolong, and white). There are also 125 herbs and herbal blends. When you consider that these loose teas can be mixed and matched in whatever combination you desire, the variety is almost endless!

When Anneka took over the Twilight Tea Lounge in 2004, “it wasn’t particularly vegan-friendly”. Other than the tea part, the baked goods were traditional. “This was the Dark Ages,” she says, “before the vegan cupcake revolution”, referring to a time when vegan baking was still mostly based on hippie health food recipes. Luckily that era is long gone and we live in a world teeming with delicious vegan treats. Twilight Tea Lounge now gets its supply from Oh Sweet Mama’s (now a part of Cafe Evolution) in Florence, MA. Far from old-school hippie health food recipes, the average person would never suspect that the creme filled cupcakes, hand-sized scones, or cowgirl cookies are vegan. The shops House Chai (which is made with a secret formulation involving soy and rice milk) has also managed to wean many a milk-lover off of traditional milky chai. “Most people say it’s the best chai ever, and who am I to argue?”

Visit Twilight Tea Lounge at 41 Main Street in Brattleboro Vermont, or virtually at