Enter the new Smith Teamaker tea room in Portland, Oregon’s Eastside District and you’ll find a light, bright and serene world of luscious, earthy aromas. You’ll also catch a glimpse of a state-of-the-art tea business.
Smith Tea is part of the evolving story of Portlander Steven Smith’s passion for teas. Smith managed a natural food store and co-founded TazoTea Company. He sold Tazo and co-founded Stash Tea Company, which he eventually sold as well. Then, in 2009, he developed the David Smith Teamaker brand shortly before his untimely death in 2015 at age 65 from cancer. Head tea maker, Tony Tellin, now leads the company with Steve’s wife, Kim DeMent, and they are clearly carring on Smith’s passion for tea.
We met with Tony in the new tearoom on SE Washington Street. Where there were once just rows of declining warehouses, the area now boasts innovative and hip shops, offices, restaurants and tasting rooms. Across the street, you can visit Olympia Provisions for charcuterie and House Spirits Distillery, home of the popular artisanal Aviation Gin.
Teas from Origin
As we tasted a typical flight of four fragrant teas, Tony explained that Smith Teamaker imports its teas and botanicals directly from origin, and in most cases, from farmers they have worked with for more than 15 years. Smith Teamaker goes overboard when it comes to sharing the origin of their teas. You can even go to their website to look up the provenance of your cup of tea by entering the batch number found on the bottom of the carton. All their teas are natural and GMO-free.
Behind the counter there’s a workroom where small batch teas are packaged. They package teas in oversized sachets, wrapping each individually or in loose tea tins and packs. The attractive packaging makes for great gifts.
At the Washington Street tasting room, you can easily find a place to park or lock up your bicycle. Many visitors opt for the four or eight tea flights and spend an hour or more enjoying the quiet atmosphere and chatting with the knowledgeable staff. The shelves are stocked with freshly packaged teas and selected tea paraphernalia for sale.
As I tasted one tea after another, none of the teas had an acidic or bitter taste. I learned how important it is that tea be fresh and carefully blended for just the right taste.
I also took the plunge and tried something completely different… a creamy version of Japan’s matcha green tea. The ground leaves were artfully whisked as hot water was poured into a handmade, thin-walled pottery cup designed to be held with two hands. The tea was frothy, very smooth, and mildly sweet.
Not in the mood for a simple hot cup of tea? You can also savor a decadent handcrafted tea latte or grab a glass of one of their new, always rotating, kegged products (yes, they serve tea on tap). Or you can try Kombucha, fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened black or green tea.
There is always something new to try and something new to learn about tea at Smith Teamaker. I left with boxes of new local varieties… Rose City Genmaicha and Portland Breakfast Tea. Who knows? A visit to Smith Teamaker may just tear you away from your beloved coffee habit or at least add to your beverage repertoire. —by Elizabeth R. Rose, RFT Contributor
If You Go
110 SE Washington St, Portland, OR 97214 (map)
1626 NW Thurman St, Portland, OR 97209 (map)
Monday through Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.