This all started back in the Spring…with Instagram. I was still fairly new to the site, and had one specific goal for it – make my blog pictures look prettier. I was a crappy photographer at best; a passable one at worst. Never did I expect to actually use it to network. Social or otherwise.
Sometime that season, I was “followed” by an outfit that caught my eye, simply dubbed Tea Bar.
It was exactly as it implied, a soon-to-be bar focused on tea in North Portland. I was intrigued and started interacting with the outfit. As far as I was concerned, Portland needed more tea bars.
Shortly after that, a young woman friend requested me on Facebook. Women never add me on Facebook. (Unless I’m related to them.) Her default picture depicted her sunbathing in Mexico. My initial thought was, Fake profile. I’d dealt with Facespam before.
Before I inched toward the “Deny” tab, I looked at her employment stats. She was the owner of Tea Bar, Erica Indira Swanson. That caused me to arch an eyebrow or two. The woman looked old enough to be my niece. Soon enough, though, she confirmed it. Either tea entrepreneurs were getting younger…or I was finally an old top hat in the tea community.
Erica messaged me seeking advice about what to carry on the Tea Bar menu. While I hardly considered myself a professional anything, I agreed to occasionally give my teacups worth of insight. We agreed upon a meet-up at a tea place downtown to discuss this further.
Despite her age, she was professional and optimistic in person – personable and radiating enthusiasm. I…came across as a guy talking about his comic book collection. Logistics of tea were discussed, but I couldn’t help thinking I was geeking out a little too much over tea. Even down to our choices of beverage while talking.
I had selected some Nan Nuo sheng pu-erh and a first flush Chamong Darjeeling for taste comparison. Just because.
While we kept in touch, I didn’t see her again until the Fall. It was a particularly busy summer. In the interim, I kept tabs on Tea Bar’s development. The look Erica had in mind was one of – what I would describe as – comfortable minimalism in aesthetic. The proposed interior was inviting but not too busy; modern but not urban. It reminded me of an art gallery I used to work for.
In September, I finally set out to see the progress for myself. Erica agreed to meet up to show me around. The interior was about two-thirds the way done. Her pictures of the development were great.
We’ll just stick with hers.
Of the helpful pointers I could give her were potential tea-related contacts in the Portland area. Over the ensuing months, I had encountered both Lauren Danson from Mizuba Tea and Nick Lozito from Misty Peak Teas. Tea Bar needed a matcha and a pu-erh. I pushed for those to be added to the menu, and “softly” facilitated contact with them.
A couple of months after that, Erica contacted me to finally taste-test their proposed menu. Said meet-up was the weekend before their opening day. I had never sat in on product testing before. As a blogger, this was well out of my paradigm. I usually product tested at home. In my pajamas. Shower optional.
When I arrived, there was a group of them discussing finer business-related minutiae.
Mizuba Lauren showed up as well. I was the oldest one in the room by a good fifteen years. Dear lord, I was an old top hat in the tea community, now. All I needed was a monocle.
Of the items tried, the highlights were no surprise to anyone.
We started off with some 2014 sheng from Misty Peak.
It was just as I remembered it – fruity, floral and forgiving.
Second off was a trial whisking of Mizuba’s matcha.
After three tries, an ideal technique was agreed upon. It was a frothy, green blanket of awesome.
Those highlights aside, there was one thing I wasn’t expecting. One particular item on the menu that solidified my continued patronage. And I found out about it by accident as the group were playing with the milk steamer.
“You should have a Lapsang Souchong latte on the menu,” I suggested, half-joking.
“Oh, we are,” Erica replied.
My eyes widened.
“You want to try one?” she offered.
“YES!!!” I think it was the first time I ever shouted in all-caps.
“Sweetened or unsweetened?”
It was…it was…*sigh*
And with that, I was sold on this place. The comfy bar stool, the farm-direct rari-teas, the smiling faces, the apparent camaraderie. This new haven, this Tea Bar had potential. And I was happy to see it grow from the bleachers.
As of today – Monday, Dec. 1st, 2014 – Tea Bar has opened its doors. I wish Erica and her crew much success.
Photo by Justin Bond