(Photo courtesy of http://www.beyondtheplate.net)
Oftentimes I wish I could live like Jane Austen did in England’s Regency Era. You know, setting aside a period of time just to drink tea and chat about life and marriage prospects. I’d sip daintily from a pretty porcelain cup, chew a piece of pound cake, then lean forward and inquire to no one in particular, “And how does Mr. Bingley fare today?”
If only the world would allow such a simple, leisurely lifestyle. And just to round it all off, this summer I’ve gone into an obsession with all things Jane Austen-like. Regency novels, lace and vintage clothes, you name it. I’ve even fantasized about hosting a Jane Austen tea party, to be completely frank.
Believe it or not, Portland has notable tea hot pots—I mean hotspots—that may just tickle your average fancy for a “cup of tea.” Steven Smith tea in particular stands as my utmost favorite, and this haven resides on Thurman Street near downtown Portland.
In the tea shop, I was impressed by how the atmosphere exuded tranquility. Peace. Zen. I could hear small patterings of tea leaves being shaken into cups and saw how the dim lighting highlighted impeccably neat rows and rows of tea boxes. Dear goodness, even the bathroom had a zenful air.
On a whim, my mother and I decided to enjoy the afternoon with a tea-tasting. From a brochure, we picked out four different teas to taste—White Petal, Big Hibiscus, Masala Chai, and Fez. (We tried them in that order as well.) The teamaker bustled around, boiling water and such while I attempted to maintain as lady-like posture as possible.
Turns out, there is a specific way to taste the tea. On a tray, there were four round bowls filled with a different kind of tea, starting from White Petal to end with Big Hibiscus in order to showcase the transition of colors—much cooler than ombre, I’d daresay. I was given a spoon to dip into the tea, sort of like drinking soup. The teamaker further insisted that slurping was perfectly acceptable, even necessary, to bring out the full bloom of flavors in the taste buds. So I basically abandoned all attempts for primness and slurped the tea with avid gusto. (Now when you’re in the midst of strangers you can impress all the folks by discussing the art of tea-tasting. Invigorating conversation, I think!)
White Petal tasted light yet richly floral, with hints of fruity peach in my opinion. Smith Tea’s description also included that this tea is “high in antioxidants” and serves as a “white tea”. I liked its clean, mild flavor, not as bold as a black tea.
Fez was a rare green tea spiked with spearmint. The spearmint definitely awakened my senses but that’s mostly all I could taste; the green tea came out a little in the aftertaste. Nevertheless, this blend is great post-meal or just for simple, blissful relaxation.
Next, the Masala Chai. I think that chai tea always tastes the best with milk and honey or sugar. The frothy milk lends a smoothness to the tea that I never stop craving for. Smith Tea’s chai impressively managed a subtlety in the flavors despite the complex number of spices (from cardamom to pepper) but I wouldn’t have minded an extra punch.
Big Hibiscus was a surprise! I’ve probably seen a million hibiscus flowers in Portland but never tasted it in a tea. Now this brew definitely packed a nice wallop of floral flavor, even to the point that it was a bit sour. But astonishingly, the aftertaste was quite sweet. After I got used to the powerful punch I found this tea quite nice. Capital, in fact. I also admired its deep shade of purple-red, and we even bought a two-ounce package of it to take home.
If you’ve got a lazy afternoon or you’re diehard tea lover, Steven Smith tea will definitely oblige to satisfy your passion for dried leaves and flowers that miraculously taste wondrous with a pop of hot water. I feel bad for Coffee, it’s got competition here!
1626 NW Thurman St
Portland, OR 97209