Since I’ve been paying lip service to tearooms lately, I thought I’d finally tell a story I’ve been meaning to for a long time. That tea tale being about a teashop I frequent regularly, but haven’t covered extensively on this blog. It’s a place I visit about as religiously as I do Smith’s, and I support them fully for one reason in particular. They are one of the few tea places that strike a near-perfect balance between blended/flavored teas and small batch, single origin offerings. Plus, their origin story is adorable. I – of course – am talking about the husband-‘n-wife op, The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants.
The inkling to start a teashop first occurred to Chuck Bauman and Heather Agosta (the hubby-wifey team) on a 2002 trip to Spain. Both had quit their respective jobs and chose to gallivant around the globe for a spell. One such stop was the small region of La Coronada, where Chuck’s parents owned a house. While there, they were inspired by a small “teteria” (teashop) they visited, as well as blends in the region that used native herbs.
Upon returning to Portland, they began seriously discussing the idea. Originally, they wanted to open a teashop specializing in single origin teas, but they both felt they lacked the know-how to launch one. Instead, they decided to go the wholesale route. The name for the start-up occurred to them after a period of brainstorming. (At one point, even “Tea Brothel” was discussed as a potential name. I would totally visit a tea brothel. )
Eventually, The Jasmine Pearl stuck, due to Chuck’s fondness for the strongly, floral-scented blend. It was the first one he was introduced to that truly grabbed him. Oddly enough, the domain and name weren’t taken – not even by Chinese companies at the time. They officially launched the wholesale end of their business in 2004.
I personally met Heather Agosta through a mutual friend in 2006. Around the same time, I caught her husband’s name mentioned at just about every tea place I went to when I asked for something completely esoteric.
“Do you have [insert weird tea name here]?” I would ask.
“Oh, that? No.” Would be the common reply. “You should speak to Chuck.”
It was like he was some shadow-veiled tea wizard or something.
In 2010, they moved their base of operations from the basement of their house to an actual brick-‘n-mortar store. And I’ve been a permanent staple there ever since.
While it was a difficult drive from my berg; it was well worth it. Since they did their own custom-blending in-house, the shop always smelled like an herbarium. Plus, they blended and brewed one of the best Earl Greys in Portland. I think I’ve lost track of the number of times I went in this summer for an Earl on ice.
Blends of awesomeness aside, what I really wanted to emphasize was there commitment to small batch, single origin teas. Since opening their shop, they’ve made it a point to carry a fair amount of eso-“tea”-ric offerings for the more discerning palate. One of the first Yunnan Golden Needles I ever lusted after was through them.
However, even before their retail space, they dabbled with the weirder side of tea. They carried pu-erh tongs as early as ’04. Well before “the pu-erh bubble” came and burst. The first “sticky rice” tuo cha I ever sampled was one of theirs. More recently, they even began carrying their own Jasmine Pearl-branded pu-erh cakes. I tried the Dehong Ye Sheng, and it was…to die for. Especially for a young sheng. Still need to pick one up.
A second, more recent item that grabbed my attention was the addition of their first yellow tea. It was from a private grower, and it was done in a style that was completely unique. I had the pleasure of sampling it before it went on the market. It was neither a Jun Shan Yinzhen, nor a Huang Ya. The name that was given to it described it perfectly – Yellow Mu Dan. Seriously, it was a yellow tea with white tea traits, if you – fair reader – can imagine such a thing.
A bit of an aside: At World Tea Expo this June, Chuck and Heather were the first people I ran into on the show floor. On the second day of the event, the following occurrence happened:
I was wearing my “Pot Head” tea-shirt, one I purchased from The Jasmine Pearl. It is an epic shirt. Grabs attention every time I wear it.
When I was wandering around, I heard Heather behind me, “That’s a nice shirt. I wonder where you got it?”
Within minutes, four people came up literally begging me for info about the shirt. I had to point at Chuck and Heather to handle further inquiries.
As I write this, I’m currently on steep…oh…seven of an aged, charcoal-roasted Dong Ding – eleven years old.
The notes are hickory, slightly coffee-like, and strangely medicinal. The latter trait being a common occurrence in decade(s)-old Taiwanese oolongs. Such items aren’t that easy to come by, yet I was able to “yoink!” some from The Jasmine Pearl. It’s nice to know there’s a place nearby that’s “wise” enough to cater to eccentrics like me.