Before he died, Steven Smith — the co-founder of Stash tea and founder of Tazo — thought Smith Teamaker would develop a food program. His namesake brand was his passion project, developed after he sold Tazo to Starbucks and intended to retire. Smith died of liver cancer in 2015; years later, chef Karl Holl started making food for Smith events, incorporating the shop’s various teas. “We’ve always wanted to do a food component,” Holl says. “I try to think about how we build a tea when we’re building a dish; it’s a lot of the same characteristics.”
Smith has a long history of collaborating with chefs — designing a tea with chef Gregory Gourdet, for instance — but there is no chef that has been more connected to Smith than Holl. Holl is known for his late pop-up at Park Avenue Fine Wines and his highly sought-after catering company, Spatzle & Speck, which relies on produce and pork from their Oregon farm. Holl was the reader favorite for Eater PDX’s Chef of the Year in 2018, thanks to his menu of foraged produce tucked into lasagna and seasonal salads. In 2019, he hosted a series of tasting menu dinners with Smith Teamaker and collaborated on dishes for the food festival Feast; last year, he designed a lunch takeout menu for the Southeast Portland cafe. Starting May 29, however, Holl’s tea-infused dishes will be available every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., served in Smith’s shiny new NW 23rd cafe.
In certain ways, the new Smith Teamaker cafe will be the most ambitious project the brand has tackled. The food menu, designed by Holl, uses several of the cafe’s teas in numerous ways, whether they’re ground into a powder to spice a pastry, infused in a jam or sauce, or sprinkled on a vegetable before it roasts. The shop’s jams for pastries are all made with organic Oregon fruit and various teas, from strawberry with Red Nectar to the Lord Bergamot with boysenberries, blackberries, and Marionberries. “We try to not over-steep the teas, so we use it right at the end,” Holl says. “Just fifteen minutes.” The floral Meadow tea appears in a granola in an overnight oats bowl using oat milk yogurt, as well as butter for baguettes. Even savory dishes use teas — Holl infuses sheep’s milk cheese with White Petal tea for a rainbow carrot and barley bowl, and a quinoa bowl gets an infusion with sencha and chai-and-sugar-coated walnuts.
“It’s this library of spices,” Holl says. “Even if we’re not using the whole tea, our turmeric noodles are using the turmeric from our Golden Light with buckwheat. It’s about comfort, something that’s familiar to people.”
Still, as Holl built the menu for Smith, he wanted to challenge himself — and diners — to think about food in new ways; for him, the menu at Smith is meant to accentuate both the versatility of tea as a spice but also the versatility of meat-free dining. For example, he roasted beets with jasmine and sliced them thin, to mimic deli meat in a sandwich. The Smith menu is completely vegetarian, with several vegan and gluten-free options as well. “We can have a really diverse menu that’s inspired by plants and has less of an impact on the earth,” Holl says. “Even if I’m doing it in a small cafe, I hope it shows people we can do more with less.”
The shop’s tea menu will be similarly adventurous. For many years, Smith Teamaker has experimented with its brewing techniques, from sparkling teas to tea cocktails. The new cafe will be similarly varied in its tea preparations: Yes, Smith will serve 30 teas brewed hot, but the shop will also pull black teas from an espresso maker for tea lattes, offer tea flights, and sell non-alcoholic tea cocktails; those tea cocktails will change seasonally, but examples may include the Camelia sour, a blend of Portland Breakfast tea with lemon and aquafaba meant to mimic a whiskey sour. The shop will also provide traditional Gaiwan tea service, which some Portlanders may have tried at places like Ichiza Kitchen; the tea briefly steeps multiple times during the service, meant to highlight the different expressions of the tea.
Andee Hess of Osmose designed the cafe; the design firm has worked with a number of food and beverage brands and restaurants, including Salt & Straw and Stumptown. The shop — like the food menu — pulled inspiration from the shop’s teas, from the amber glass in a light fixture meant to resemble steeping black tea to the shop’s tea-green walls. “The perfect cup of tea is one shared with others” appears on the menu wall, burned into the oak; the phrase is a quote from Smith.
Smith Teamaker’s new cafe will open for takeout and delivery via Tock, as well as outdoor seating, at 500 NW 23rd Avenue. Take a look inside the cafe below:
• Smith Teamaker [Official]