Townshend’s Tea Company began as a college project in 2002 with a mission to serve top-grade tea in a relaxing, casual atmosphere. That college project has now evolved into five teahouse locations — four throughout Oregon and one in Montana.
The name of the company refers to Charles Townshend, the man responsible for tea’s runner-up status to coffee in America.
Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the British Parliament, conceived of the Townshend Acts of 1767, which imposed taxes on tea imports. The boycotts leading up to the Boston Tea Party ultimately influenced Americans’ tastes, as more people turned to coffee.
As coffee culture has blossomed, so have countless international mega-chains and yuppie, artisanal roasters. Townshend’s Tea Company, though, creates its own culture — one steeped in delectable tea.
The menu boasts over one hundred tea varieties, eleven Chai blends, customizable bubble tea and tapioca and several flavors of Brew Dr. Kombucha. All teas are as fresh as can be, only a few months old at most. Nearly every item on the menu is available iced or hot. Customers are invited to walk up to the teahouse’s cubby wall, which is filled with petite, numbered canisters of tea. You may feel overwhelmed (or just giddy from all the choices), so feel free to ask a knowledgeable tea tender for recommendations on what to sip.
Part of the challenge of an ever-emerging tea culture, says manager Jake Gano of Portland’s Division Street teahouse, is educating the consumer. Extracting the most flavor from fresh tea leaves, blending chai drinks from scratch and adding natural sweeteners or milk takes time. Customers should expect to wait six minutes for a chai.
Loose-leaf tea and herbs or spices are steeped directly in the milk and water, and then sweetener, like honey, is added by hand to match your preference. Through handcrafting, the beverages become completely customizable. Cayenne, for instance, makes an excellent addition to a Dark Forest Chai. Less sweetener makes a warming tea healthier, even awakes savory notes.
Sip ‘O Chai
The word chai means ‘tea’ in numerous languages. In India, chai is simply black tea brewed with whatever herbs or spices are available at the time, like cloves or anise. Chai fans can enjoy sampling Townshend’s eleven varieties of chai.
The Alberta Street Chai, named after the flagship teahouse, is a blend of teas and spices from around the globe and has a smoky, caramel-like flavor.
The festive Pumpkin Spice Chai uses spices, no pumpkin and is undoubtedly pumpkin pie in drinkable form.
The Roasted Coconut Máte is one of the shop’s most popular; made using rice milk, this latte is creamy and just sweet enough.
Tastes Like Portland
In addition to an already tremendous menu, Townshend’s continually promotes creativity by inventing and testing new ingredients. The most recent of these inventions is the Candy Cap Latte, a brew of loose-leaf tea and mushrooms. Dried Candy Cap mushrooms, commonly used in sweet baked goods or pastry, offered a good opportunity for a little early winter experimentation.
The latte begins with Yunnan Hong Cha, a bitter black tea. Dried candy cap mushrooms are steeped along with the tea, and then honey and real or non-dairy milk is added. The result is light beverage with warm caramel notes.
Townshend’s continues to innovate. This season, the team is working on a drink “decidedly Portland” that involves cedar pine tips. The cedar tips tea is not yet perfected, but tea fans should keep an eye out for it soon!