Tea Talk with Tony Tellin
Tony Tellin, director of operations at Steven Smith Teamaker in Portland wasn’t born with a worldly sense of tea. “I grew up on a small farm in Iowa. We drank iced tea, heavily sweetened. You only drank hot tea when you were sick.” With 14 years in the business, Tellin now spends a lot of time with high quality hot tea — tasting, smelling, brewing and dreaming up new blends. Tellin knows from experience that once people taste a good brew, they’ll be hooked. “If they try it, they will love it.” Here are some tips from Tellin for novice tea drinkers who want to start sipping.
What is the basic range of teas?
In the tea world, you have green, oolong, black, white, pu-erh and that wild card known as herbal. Within each of those categories you have sub-categories, sometimes hundreds or thousands.
What does a tea newbie need to know about tea?
The taste and flavor is going to depend on the tea itself and how you made it. With tea, the temperature of water, the type of vessel you brewed it in, the type of tea in general, how long you steeped it — it all matters.
How do you get people started in your tasting room on Thurman Street in Portland?
I start by asking what kind of teas you enjoy or what kind of beverages you enjoy. Then I would find something in that zone and something outside that zone. I’d brew it up, and when you are tasting it, tell you what you are tasting. With better understanding comes better appreciation.
What should beginners know about brewing tea at home?
Don’t pay attention too heavily to the rules. Whatever you like is all that really matters. Develop a standard way that you make tea so that you can taste the differences. Experiment and play around to find what you like. (For example, if you brew Darjeeling and it is too strong, it is not as appealing. Just a little bit of water can help a lot.)
How would you describe the tea culture in Portland?
Here in Portland it seems like more and more people appreciate tea. People are walking through the door with a better understanding of tea.
What is your favorite tea for fall and winter?
This time of year I find myself naturally drinking more black tea with lots of dairy — creamy, indulgent black tea.
What is new for the fall and winter season at Steven Smith?
We’ve got some fantastic holiday plans. Steven Smith just finished creating a unique blend for Eddie Bauer using Douglas fir needles.
We have a pinot tea (the idea is to incorporate the aroma and flavor into Sri Lankan black tea blends using aged pinot barrels from Adelsheim Vineyard), as well as a Pacific Northwest blend we are still working on. It will be wintery and indulgent — something that just reminds you of winter and holidays.
about author Eileen Garvin
Eileen Garvin lives and writes in Hood River. When she’s not hunched over her keyboard or digging in the garden, you can find her mountain biking, kiteboarding, hiking, skiing or camping somewhere in Oregon.
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