While in Portland several days ago, a certain family member brought me to this little tea place on Alberta Street called Townshend's. I don't usually expect much from these sorts of shops, but I was pleasantly surprised.
It is a contemporary tea house, as opposed to the stereotypical dusty/overstuffed Chinese tea shops and doilies-and-pinkies Victorian tea rooms. I thought it worked well; it's the same sort of design that Starbucks had their way with, but I don't mind. It was peaceful (it seemed to be a nice spot for studying or reading, for those of you who go places to do either), comfortable, and the staff was friendly.
Oh yes, and the tea isn't bad either. From what one of the employees told me, the place used to be focused on chai and bubble tea, but they have recently developed a pretty decent loose leaf tea list. Don't get too excited-- I doubt there is anything there that you couldn't find online for a better price, and there isn't a ton of variety (I don't remember if they have any puerh actually, probably just some cheap shu), but their selection was very good for a small brick-and-mortar store.
We ordered a Tie Guan Yin and a Wuyi yancha (probably a Shui Xian), which were served in gaiwans (large ones-- probably 7 oz) with cups to decant into. Also provided was a reasonably-sized kettle over a tea candle. It is hard to see in the photo, but they actually gave us a lot of leaf! The little tea light didn't keep the water very hot, but I imagine that is one of the more difficult challenges in serving tea to customers. Even Imperial Tea Court (the Ferry Building location, anyway) doesn't take any measures to keep your water warm, though I'm sure they would reheat it for you if you asked.
The employee I was talking about earlier (Sadly, I forgot his name) came over to talk and we chatted for a bit about the teas we like and what vendors we buy from. I was happy to find someone really interested in tea working at this place. I've heard the horror stories about Teavana employees and assumed the worst, but this store seems to employ people that are genuinely interested and pursue tea as a hobby on their own time.
Overall, I had a great time, and this place exceeded my expectations. Check it out if you are in the area.
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