Retail Profile: Steven Smith Teamaker

By Geoffrey Norman

Portland is no stranger to tearooms. The city was home to at least five mainstays prior to 2009, but in October of that year, a new outfit opened up run by an old hand at the tea game. Steven Smith, of Stash and Tazo fame, returned to Portland with a vision in mind: a tearoom sans doilies.

Smith OutsideSmith Teamaker thrives in a literal brick-‘n-mortar building blanketed in ivy. In Northwest Portland’s old (but renovated) warehouse district, situated under the Fremont Bridge, visitors are treated to a relatively cozy tasting room near the fringe of downtown. Finding it is relatively easy; parking is even easier.

Most tearooms and/or bars are laid out in one of three ways – urban hip, Asian chic, or English. Smith Teamaker resembles a wine bar in aesthetic. Three tables line the back, tea-related memorabilia are displayed on the left wall, product adorns on the right wall, and front and center is the bar and “herbal smelling station” itself – complete with smiling staff members.

It is one of the more modern tea bars out there. Plus – as far as I know – they’re the only bar in the Northwest with two Alpha Dominche Steampunk tea brewers. But what of the tea itself?

Smith BarThe Smith approach to tea differs from other related tearooms because of its emphasis on small batches, single origin offerings, and blending transparency. Of the variety of teas on Smith’s roster, the drinker is treated to information about the blend, the origin of the ingredients, and even additional extemporaneous anecdotes about the day the tea was packed. (Take a Smith box, look up the batch number on the website, and read the notes. They’re hilarious.)

In the shop, customers have a choice of either purchasing loose tea in bulk or by boxes with loose-leaf-filled sachets. Tea served in the shop proper is done with sachets by the pot, or by the taster flight. Customers are also offered a complimentary tasting spoon to go along with the flight experience.

A third of Smith Teamaker’s sales are distribution to natural and specialty food outfits and another third for direct wholesale. Online sales, tasting room sales and general export round out the business at about a 10% take, each. Their top selling tea is their Earl Grey variant – Lord Bergamot.

Smith Product WallDesigned originally as a small storefront with an exposed blending room, Smith Teamaker has expanded to another building, and sometime in 2015, a second tasting room is scheduled to open up in downtown Portland. Both Steven Smith and his wife (and partner) Kim DeMent owe their success to cultivating a close-knit staff educated in the product, sourcing the freshest ingredients, and remaining open-book about their tea.

On October 12th, 2014, their tasting room celebrates its five-year anniversary.

Smith Teamaker
 – 1636 NW Thurman St. 
Portland, Ore. 97209

About the author: Geoffrey Norman is a tea enthusiast and blogger in the Pacific Northwest. You can find more of his writing at Steep Stories of the Lazy Literatus.