Portland tea wizards create brews for you

We were both in the midst of stressful days when we stepped out of the Lyft and into the alley behind a sex toy shop. Thoughts of school work, internships and housing next year whirled through our heads, seasoned by a weariness from the day’s stimulations. But upon walking into Fly Awake Tea House, the incessant worries of our minds seemed to recede.

Our first impression of the atmosphere was “quaint,” but after several cups of tea, it began to feel timeless: a bubble of safety where our external concerns could be left behind. Though it was a small shop in terms of square footage, there was a loft, several alcoves and two bar-style seating areas to make the experience feel as private or social as you choose. 

Populating every available corner, decorations leaning towards Buddhist iconography whispered “tea shop,” while abstract art on the walls gave off an air of exciting energy. Warm and inviting lighting covered the room, and the music fluctuated from peaceful sounds to funk metal and back again, yet somehow never challenged the tranquil vibes of the shop. Cakes of fermented Pu-erh tea — disc-shaped and wrapped in decorated paper — were dotted here and there, stacked in corners, leaning against walls and on display on shelves. 

We were welcomed warmly by a staff member, Diana, who offered us a menu and encouraged us to ask any questions we may have. The menu was an experience in and of itself. Tea names such as “Princess with Dagger” and “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants,” were paired with vivid descriptions of how the tea would affect the body. 

“We give the tea the names, generally, to suggest an experience that you might have,” Diana said. “For example, we have this tea called Wizard’s Eyebrow and it’s really really focusing, so you kind of get this image of a deep furrowed brow and kind of moving things around and making things happen. Or like the Golden Buds of Joy — it’s really just, like, meditative and heartwarming.”

After admiring the tea names and descriptions for many minutes, we asked for recommendations. Diana asked in return if we wanted to be more energetic or mellow, then suggested a few options. I, Daniel went for a tension-draining tea called Strong 6 (which the menu suggested would melt your body like butter), and I, Max ordered The Empress, a Pu-erh purported to wake up its drinker without the jittery tension often associated with caffeine.

We sat at the bar in the loft, where Diana steeped our tea in a lidded porcelain cup, then poured it into a glass receptacle, using the lid to strain out the leaves. From there, she poured the teas into our respective cups, and let us know that there would be as much tea as we wanted before leaving to address other customers. 

Our teas were indeed experiences: Daniel’s was rich, earthy and chocolatey, and Max’s was light and delightfully mushroomy. The soft sounds of conversation wafting up through the plants drooping off the side of the loft assisted the tea in creating an almost otherworldly quality. It was supremely peaceful; when we spoke, it was with gentle tones, though much of the time we simply sat in silent quiescence.

Once Diana returned to make us another round of tea using the leaves from earlier, we asked her about her relationship with Fly Awake. She expressed an appreciation for the atmosphere of peace and gratitude the shop tries to foster, and said she enjoyed discussing teas with customers. 

“We joke that we’re certified tea wizards,” Diana said. “[A] lot of times in tea people will sort of take the title of ‘tea master,’ but we don’t necessarily feel like we’re doing anything masterful here. We feel a little bit more like we’re making brews and concoctions, so it has a little bit more of a sense of wizardry about it.” 

Regarding the purpose of the tea house, Diana explained that it was the owner Kevin’s vision that drove many of the decisions behind the atmosphere.

“This whole space, I would say, Kevin kind of created it to invite people to just come and hang out and have dialogue,” Diana said. “He kind of wanted to make a place that he wanted to hang out in, you know, that had interesting music. He loves reading Tarot, talking about lucid dreaming, and so tea’s kind of the facilitator for all of those things.”

After a number of hours and more cups of tea, we eventually forced ourselves to leave the shop, calmed and renewed.

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