In case you’re not familiar with the brand, Steven Smith is also the tea maker behind both Stash and TAZO teas. Recently passed, his wife Kim is still part owner of the well-loved artisanal tea company launched here in 2009.
Their newest space in Portland’s Central Eastside Industrial District includes a tasting room, small retail space, production room and tea workshop.
The team sample a new tea several times before purchasing, receiving teas from around the globe (at this point, tea expert Tony opens a foil package from Sri Lanka for me to whiff, exciting for me as my husband and I honeymooned in Sri Lanka and visited a tea plantation and processing plant in Kandy, the country’s lush tea-growing region).
After a brief walk through the production room (where teas are blended and packaged), we congregate in the workshop room. Here teas are tasted for the first time. Tea cuppings, seminars and education also take place in this cozy room adjacent to the tasting room, opened late last year.
At nearly half the size, their original tasting room location (1626 NW Thurman in a former blacksmith shop) remains open, containing a cozy tea bar.
Both locations offer tea flights, allowing customers to choose from either four or eight teas from the collection (currently topping 50 teas) and sample at leisure. The signature collection includes 13 teas, from white to herbal.
Each tea comes with a tasting card, so you’re able to learn about its origin. Steven Smith’s team embraces both tea culture and history wherever possible, aiming for different flavour experiences.
A new service – Gong Fu – is about to launch here, replicating Taiwanese and Chinese tea-preparation and serving methods. For my visit, the soon-to-be-released Alishan oolong tea is awoken by way of a warm-water steeping process that lasts for about 10 to 30 seconds.
These tight buds are then repeatedly steeped for the same amount of time, making for a slight variance in taste with each successive steep.
Alishan is a light, sweet tea with a vegetal character. The beauty of this particular tea is that it can be repeatedly steeped via a special Chinese lidded cup called a gaiwan (or zhong). You start with three times the amount of tea that you’d normally use.
This traditional brewing method typically yields about seven steeps per teaspoon of tea. In case you didn’t know, teas are generally named after the origin of their source.
Steven Smith’s biggest-seller? Lord Bergamot. A few new additions to the tasting room include teas on tap: Masala Chai on nitro and a South African Honeybush tea brewed with whole vanilla bean and strawberries, what Tony refers to as “summer in a glass”.
I’m also given a few practical tea-brewing tips for brewing green and white teas:
Once water’s boiled, allow it to cool off for about a minute before pouring it into an EMPTY tea pot. About 30 seconds to one minute later, add the tea. This results in a less bitter component to the tea. And yes, water temperature does make a difference.
In Portland, find Steven Smith Tea in Whole Foods or at their two tasting rooms: 110 SE Washington and 1626 NW Thurman. You can also purchase the teas online in tins, boxes and loose leaf.
In Vancouver, a limited selection of boxed Steven Smith Teamaker teas are available at Whole Foods, 1675 Robson Street.