Style, simplicity, and the joy of boba tea
Having served its first drink in early December in a bright, minimalist space inside the sleek Cosmopolitan tower, the already wildly popular Tea Bar (1055 NW Northrup St, 503-227-0464, drinkteabar.com) continues to solidify Tanner Springs Park as one of the Pearl’s focal points. The south-facing floor-to-ceiling windows of this streamlined café let in plenty of natural light, and on warm days you can sip your cool and refreshing boba tea at one of the outdoor tables overlooking the Tanner Springs scenic wetlands.
“I love living within a few blocks of our Pearl location,” says Tea Bar’s young and well-traveled CEO and founder, Erica Indira Swanson, who’s in her mid-twenties but has already built an impressive mini-empire that includes additional locations on Northeast Killingsworth and Southeast Division. A key to the company’s success is Swanson’s elementary approach, not just the eye-catching branding and appealingly uncluttered décor (blonde-wood tables, rush-seat chairs, and bare cement floors), but the discerning, manageable selection of first-rate drinks.
Less is more at Tea Bar. The pared-down tea menu highlights premium-grade ingredients—from Egyptian rose petals to hand-picked matcha from the Uji foothills of Japan—sourced from small family farms around the world. Lightly sweetened boba milk teas—a house specialty—are served in Mason jars on ice with tapioca balls and delicious, sometimes unexpected, flavors like cocoa-cinnamon or lavender.
“Boba began in Taiwan and has become increasingly popular in the US,” says Swanson. “Many boba shops use processed powders or syrups, but we are adamant about serving a quality product—even if it takes us twice as long to prepare each drink.” Tea Bar sweetens drinks with raw sugar and local raw honey, and boba teas feature only high-grade tapioca. You’ll also find a full selection of traditional organic teas—green, black, herbal, oolong, and several others—which you can enjoy hot or chilled. Whatever you end up sipping, you may find it difficult to resist the delectable pastries, including rose-petal croissants and stroopersch (a mouthwatering Dutch warm-caramel cookie).
The company recently launched a line of take-home bagged teas, and the Pearl location hosts a number of community events, from calligraphy workshops to organic mini-doughnut pop-up parties. Whether during Portland’s long summer days or on dark and chilly winter evenings, Tea Bar glows with welcoming warmth and makes a perfect stop for a refreshing pick-me-up. –Fernando Nocedal | Photos by Stuart Mullenberg