By Charlotte Wallace
Coffee is not everyone’s cup of tea. As cliche as the sentence is, the bitter flavor disagrees with many palettes and the caffeine content makes some people unpleasantly jittery. Fortunately for coffee-haters or others who just need a Saturday afternoon beverage changeup, beans are not the only thing Portland businesses brew in great quantities. No, I am not talking about hops. I am talking about tea leaves. Although less numerous than coffee shops, Portland has some quality tea spots with products ranging from rose vanilla chais to potent Earl Greys. I will discuss the top four in ascending order.
Tea Chai Té (7983 SE 13th Avenue)
Tea Chai Té creates all of their own tea blends and offers 120 different options including 15 blends of chai. I have never had a blend that I disliked. Of all the tea spots, they do the best chais. I would recommend trying the rose vanilla, chipotle chocolate or latté style Kashmiri chai. You can’t go wrong with the other chai blends though. Their black, white and rooibos blends are also excellent. I regularly order the NW English Breakfast black tea. I would describe their blends as having strong flavors; even the rooibos blends are quite potent, and rooibos is generally associated with a muted flavor. Sometimes their Earl Grey can border on too bitter. Their milk teas with boba are alright but far from excellent: the problem lies with the boba and not the milk tea. The almond milk tea has a pleasantly strong almond flavor and the right amount of sweet but is often ruined by soggy, flavorless boba. In short, there are other tea spots with superior boba and milk tea beverages, like Tea Bar.
Behind the Museum Café (1229 SW 10th Ave)
Behind the Museum can roast beans but tea, and particularly matcha, is their specialty. A major plus to Behind the Museum is they offer excellent pastries to enjoy with your tea whereas Tea Chai Té only has typical, stale tea shop pastries, and other tea shops normally do not have food at all. Behind the Museum has the best matcha in Portland. The ceremonial matcha is prepared the traditional Japanese way by a woman in full ceremonial dress. If you’re in a rush, do not order a ceremonial matcha: it would be quite rude to rush the woman as she mixes your tea. They also offer great hot or iced matcha lattes. Their tea menu, however, is not as extensive as TCT’s. It is limited to imported Japanese teas, and they serve exclusively green tea blends. I would recommend the genmaicha: a blend of green and brown rice tea where the bitter of the green is balanced by the brown rice flavor. For the pastries, the chikara cake is an excellent gluten free fruit and nut cake. Their almond cookies and seasonal tarts are also delicious.
Tea Bar (1055 NW Northrup St)
Tea Bar offers a nice selection of pure tea blends but their specialty is more complex tea based beverages. Of their blends, the London fog — an Earl Grey and lavender blend — and the cardamom chai are the best. Of all the tea places, Tea Bar does the best milk tea bobas. The hot matcha and vanilla rose milk teas with boba are both excellent for a colder day. A drawback of Tea Bar is the price: a milk tea with boba is $6 and any bag of one of their blends is $20. Another drawback of the Tea Bar experience is the amount of narcissistic tourists who require photoshoots of themselves with their beverages.
Smith Teamaker (1626 NW Thurman St and 110 SE Washington)
When my family claims they are coming to visit me, I know they are only in Portland to stock up on Smith tea. Smith has two tasting rooms in Portland, and their tea is best in the city. Their blends are simplistic but refined. My personal favorites are their Lord Bergamot and their White Petal. They have a few blends of each type,in each category, green, black, and herbal, and having tried them all, I can conclude they are all excellent. In their tasting rooms you can order a flight of tea or just a cup or pot of your choosing. The Southeast location regularly has tea related events like tea affogatos with Salt & Straw ice cream. The tasting rooms are also shops where you can purchase Smith’s various types of tea for yourself or for your friends if you are feeling generous. However, Smith tasting rooms are what I would describe as purist. Other than during their special events, they only offer tea. Milk and honey are available on request but no matcha lattes and the like.