Our Four Favorite New Portland Tea Spots in 2017

Portland tea just keeps getting better, more refined and a little crazier

(Daniel Stindt)

Umami Cafe
In the Portland Japanese Garden, 611 SW Kingston Ave., japanesegarden.org.

(Daniel Stindt)

Can Kengo Kuma design everything in Portland, please? From Chef Naoko's Shizuku restaurant to those huge swaths of super-tall apartment towers on the Portland waterfront to this impossibly elegant cafe in the Japanese Garden, the Olympic stadium architect makes geometry seem organic and empty space elegant. Umami Cafe showcases, as it should, the garden outside, which cascades down from the hilltop crest where the cafe sits; a ribbed roof descending in triangular planes toward full-length windows looking out on lush greenery.

(Daniel Stindt)

The cafe itself, in true Japanese fashion, is operated by a multifarious company called Ajinomoto—known for, among other things, aspartame—and offers Play-Doh-texture matcha sweets from Yume and local Japanese bakers Oyatsupan, served with garnishes stamped in the shapes of leaves. The matcha or hoijicha tea sets are exquisite, and costly—a tea set with a sweet costs $12. But still: sooo pretty.

(Daniel Stindt)

At the Heathman Hotel, 1001 SW Broadway, 503-790-7752. Tea served weekends and daily during the holidays, reservations required.
At Vitaly Paley's seafood restaurant Headwaters at the Heathman, each weekend holds an experience that seemed lost in Portland: Russian tea service. At the center, there is always the samovar—a spigoted tabletop dispenser that's like a baroquely Old World trophy full of tea—used here for chocolate peppermint pu'er tea or a smoked Caravan tea made specially for Paley by Steven Smith.

(Henry Cromett)

It is all wonderfully civilized, served with walnut-stuffed eggplant rolls, smoked fish on rye, and piroshki filled with local mushrooms. Currently available only on weekends, the full $38 Russian tea experience will be served daily for the holidays after Thanksgiving.

Tea Bar Pearl
1055 NW Northrup St., 503-227-0464, drinkteabar.com.
Tea Bar seems to exist inside a pristine world created by Instagram. Its Southeast Division Street location, which opened last year, is an endless-seeming hall of blond wood and white walls so clean the whole place might as well be CGI, a vacant apartment in Second Life. Though the traditional Eastern tea menu offers broad variety and a lovely pu'er, the three-deep packs of young women come here for boba, floral and pumpkin-spiced teas served in the matte-pastel rainbow of eternal Easter. All is harmless loveliness, and always on-trend. The first Tea Bar opened only three years ago on Northeast Killingsworth Street, but after sipping a blue "Mint Majik" boba or eating vegan coconut-milk tea soft-serve made gentle by lavender and ink black by the addition of "detoxifying" activated carbon, it's hard to imagine how owner Erica Swanson doesn't have 20 of these things in Los Angeles by now.

Zero Degrees

(Liz Allan)

8220 SE Harrison St., 503-772-1500, zerodegreescompany.com.
If Tea Bar is taking boba to the design blogs, equally Instagram-obsessed Zero Degrees is taking the streets of the San Gabriel Valley to Portland. Virtually without English-language press—one expects the primary mode of publicity has been word of mouth on WeChat—the location just off 82nd Avenue of this Los Angeles-founded franchise has fans lined up out the door for wild, flavorful Mexican-Asian fusions like horchata frappe, mint chia-seed strawberry mojitos, Filipino-style purple yam shakes, and a killer tamarind-straw mangonada that may be served with tapioca balls. The Flamin' Hot Cheeto elotes—to our knowledge the only exemplar of the LA trend to make its way north except at a recent Korean Food Festival—is one of the best new junk-food snacks Portland's seen this year.

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