In the foothills of the Himalayas is the tiny tea producing region known as Darjeeling. Darjeeling is a town, born from an old army fort in West Bengal, renowned for producing some of the most captivating teas in the world. Their teas are often regarded as the “Champagne of teas”and are protected with the same “designation of origin” as many wines and cheeses found in Europe. The characteristic taste for Darjeeling tea is bright and floral with a medium body and a clean finish. First flush teas from this region have a refreshing, almost green note to them and produce a light coppery liquor. In contrast, the second flush will have more nutty and floral notes with a more pronounced buttery finish.
March marks the beginning of the first harvest season, known as the flush, in Darjeeling. The “first flush” of the season takes place over a period of 30 to 45 days, during which each plant is harvested every 7 days or so. All the leaves are hand plucked, with the skilled “pluckers” only taking the first two leaves and leaf bud. This labor-intensive process helps ensure only the most palatable portions of the plant are used. The tea leaves are then carried in large baskets across the garden to be processed into a finished product.
The traditional “cup and bowl” is the core tool for every tea taster. The size, shape, and materials are highly specific to ensure a consistent taste no matter where one is sampling. In fact, the United Kingdom actually has documented regulations on the dimensions and materials for cup and bowl sets. Traditionally, 2.5 grams (or about one heaping teaspoon) are added to the cup, along with filtered hot water. The tea is left to brew for its customary brew time. Lastly, the cup, with lid still on, is tilted into the tasting bowl. The lid stays snug against the cup and helps to strain the liquor from the leaves. Once the tea is drained, the cup is inverted and given a good shake. The lid is removed and turned upside down, revealing a neat pile of brewed leaves for presenting with the tea. The beverage is traditionally sipped with a deep bellied silver spoon, one gustatory slurp at a time.
Our “deconstruction” of our Bungalow blend includes 2oz of our first flush Darjeeling, 2oz of our 2nd flush Darjeeling, 2oz of our loose leaf Bungalow Blend, and a professional tea tasting cup and bowl. Check out the details here.
We first met Lauren as a customer in our tasting room. Traveling around the globe and back, she now brings her eye for beauty, lilting South African voice and appreciation for tea to our customer service and sales team here at Smith.
Q: What was your happiest time drinking tea?
A: As a little tot, everyone gathering for early morning tea in my parents’ room. I’m sure I had way more sugar and milk in my cup than actual tea… perfect family ritual all the same.
Q: Which famous figure in history would you most like to have tea with?
A: Last week I might have said Miyamoto Musashi… famous Japanese Samurai and Zen master… This week I’ll add Madiba Mandela (call me patriotic) and Cesaria Evora… something about the combination of her bare feet and unreal exotic voice makes her the perfect tea companion to this eclectic tea party.
Q: What would you most like to read in the tea leaves? (more…)
“Thank you very much for the opportunity to taste teas with you. I really appreciate the knowledge and care that goes into your work. Having the chance to come into your shop and experience this firsthand was eye opening! I am especially struck by the parallels between what you do to make exceptional teas and what I do to make wine. The obsession with sourcing the right raw materials and the thought behind each blend is very similar to making a fine Pinot noir. The results are similar also – each tea has its own personality, yet they all show a balance of tannins, textures, and flavors. And when I am to busy to notice all of those things, they are still delicious and satisfying. Please come by the winery some time and allow me to return the favor.”
Bergamot baths, chrysanthemum scrubs, lavender steams, it all sounds so luxurious. This month’s Organic Spa Magazine takes us on a tour of the Anatart Spa at the PuLi Hotel Shanghai. This mini-resort located in the heart of Jing’An Park offers a carefully curated selection of tea and herbal infusion based spa treatments meant to lift the spirit and brighten the complexion.
For those of us unable to pop over to Shanghai for a weekend of pampering, the article mentions the wonderful Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder and the Wild Berry Tea Spa in Jacksonville as great places for tea and tranquility. Author Sandra Ramani also invites readers to come visit our “shop/studio”, though we like to call it the Teaworks. We may not have on-site masseuses, but a steaming cup of Lord Bergamot is enough to brighten anyone’s day (as well as their complexion).
At long last, we bring you Alex; our kind- hearted, tech savvy, tea guru. Always ready to tackle the next problem with a genuine smile and can- do attitude. Aficionado of all things Japanese and a pleasure to work with.
Q: What was your happiest time drinking tea?
A: Drinking Maté as a child in the back of my dad’s auto body shop. Something about the frosty garage, the hot Maté, the smell of old cars, and the taste of the metal bombillá always stands out in my mind.
Q: Which famous figures in history would you most like to have tea with?
A: Sun Tsu. I bet he would have access to great tea and great advice. (more…)
Aside from a few choice Teamakers, not many people would fly half way across the world after a sip of tea. Bruce Schoenfeld did not get the memo, as he takes us from a tea shop in Arizona to the rocky cliffs of Wuyi mountain all in search of a delicious cup of da hong piao. The article is a great read, particularly while sipping Fez here at the Teaworks (which Bruce recommends as one of the best places to drink tea in America).
This past July, Alex from Steven Smith Teamaker, and Gena Renaud from Yume Confections hosted a summer tea event. Pairing traditional Japanese sweets with complementing Smith teas.
Gena, who’s background is in design, became a wagashi chef when she noticed there were no local Japanese dessert providers. Gena mentioned “I thought, Portland is ready for the taste of traditional tea house treats”, and she was right. From exotic Kanten to the richness of sweetened adzuki, Gena’s desserts have been well received all across Oregon.
Alex and Gena came up with a menu of five different teas and desserts. The first course was Sencha served with a roasted soybean mochi. Next came Fez, our green tea with spearmint and lemon myrtle, paired with Sea Glass candies. Our Big Hibiscus was served with a steamed manju, each one branded with decorative irons. Mao Feng Shui, a steamed Chinese green tea, came with the amazing Summer Stream dessert as the fourth pair. The Summer Stream resembles a slice of a river, complete with tiny edible river stones. For the last course, Lord Bergamot was served with beautifully ornate baked manju.
We were thrilled with the success of the event. While this was our first official pairing event, it is certain not to be our last. If you want to be in the know for our next event, sign up for our Teamail.
This year, The Willamette Weekly featured us in their annual Devour Guide. We were honored to be among other fine Portland eateries as “The ultimate tea experience”. While we prefer to be sipped rather than devoured, we are flattered nonetheless. Pick up your copy this week, and perhaps peruse it over at the Teaworks. If you miss it at the news stands, you can check it out at www.wweek.com.
Oregon School of Art and Craft hosted a not so ordinary Tea Party last Friday to celebrate the works of 3rd. year metal arts students. Five students completed the very complex project of designing and constructing a teapot in metal. Each one an absolute unique piece of functional art. Prior to the unveiling, our own tea master, Steven Smith, was invited to meet with the students to discuss their inspirations, process of their work and to pair each pot with a tea blend best suited for the maker’s vessel.
The students, dressed in their tea party finery, humbly answered questions and described their creative journey while preparing and serving tea to their guests. It was a beautifully crafted event coordinated by Development Director, Roma Peyser, well attended by families, faculty, board members and fellow students of the collage. The tea party celebration was also sponsored by Cupcake Jones, Geranium Lake Flowers, OCAC metals Department, West Coast Event Productions and Steven Smith Teamaker. The five teapots will be on display at Smith Teamaker sometime this summer. Until then, they can be viewed in the OCAC Art Gallery at 8245 SW Barnes Road in Portland.