As someone who prefers lighter teas with subtle flavors, I'm partial to the Fez, a rare green tea with a speck of Oregon spearmint, as well as to the delicate petals of the Chinese osmanthus flower in Smith's White Pearl blend. If you want to know what it's like to drink a spiced cumulus cloud, try the chai latte. But don't let me fog your judgment. Tea selection is very personal, so you'll have to sample them for yourself. Flights of four teas cost $5.75.
Other Teas to Try in Portland
In addition to Smith's, there are nearly as many locally owned teahouses in Portland as there are neighborhoods. While his shop offers refined discernment and education, other businesses bring their own approach to the drink, from honoring traditional customs in Asia and Britain to emulating coffeehouse culture and other modern twists. So while you're out and about experiencing the town, make a point to tour all the teas, too. Here are a few excellent options:
If you've started out at Steven Smith Teamaker, a good next stop in the Northwest area is the Tower of Cosmic Reflections located in the Lan Su Chinese Garden. Built in 2000 by more than 80 artisans, the teahouse is run by Tao of Tea and offers a menu highlighting Chinese varieties, many of which can be ordered ceremony style, like the famous Gong-Fu for oolongs. You'll feel transported back to 16th century China as you relax with your cup and gaze out toward the tranquil garden.
Across the Willamette River, Tao of Tea's Original Tao, built in 1997, is Portland's oldest tea house (according to the company's website) and is a standout among a row of coffee shops and cafes on Southeast Belmont Street in Sunnyside. The tea room and adjacent shop stock teas from all over, plus offer a comprehensive list of herbal infusions and ayurvedic teas. Reading through pages of single varietals and blends requires patience but is half the fun. With Buddha statues, Tibetan prayer bells, and nooks shielded by gauzy curtains, you'll feel as if you've traveled across the globe and landed somewhere in Asia.
Townshend's Northeast Albert Street location reflects the funky flavor of this strip of neighborhood restaurants and shops. Inside, local hipsters chat with each other or fret away solo on their laptops, all while sipping the latest concoction made with maté (a South American infused beverage), which could include "matéjuana," a mixed of maté, lapacho, and kava root that's said to be as mind altering as the name implies. Another shop favorite is chai and its dozen or so variations.
For something more "proper," head downtown for a delayed lunch in the form of a traditional British afternoon tea. The historic Tea Court at the Heathman Restaurant and Bar hosts this Victorian indulgence with white tablecloth service under a crystal chandelier. For $32 per person, each guest gets a whole pot, finger sandwiches, scones, and an assortment of mini-cakes and other sweets like house-made marshmallows. Weekday seatings are at 2:00, and advance reservations are a must.