Disclosure: Travel Oregon covered my expenses for this trip. I have not, however, received any compensation for writing about it.
Portland, like its big sister Seattle, is a serious coffee town. On this third morning, we had the handsome, tattooed hipsters from Water Avenue Coffee pouring us our morning cuppa. I wanted to crawl into the cup. Even some of our most notable roasters here in the Bay Area roast a little much for my taste. Water Avenue's brew was smooth, mellow and rich. Best of all, we got a half-pound bag to take home, so I got to savor it for days after my return. (DPaul is not a coffee drinker, so MORE FOR ME.) Seriously, this stuff was so good I wanted to suck the beans.
But it wouldn't have been prudent for me to overcaffeinate. This morning's activity was a trip to Steven Smith Teamaker, where we got rockstar access.
Smith knows a thing or two about tea. He was one of the cofounders of Stash Tea, and then the founder of Tazo, both of which were acquired. With his eponymous brand, Smith set out to leverage his expertise and connections in the global market to create a superpremium collection of teas.
After a tour of the facility, they set us up with a tasting of three groupings of teas: Green, black and herbal infusions.
Our tea sherpa took us through the basics of making tea. Much of the tea you buy in the stores uses minute particles of tea leaves. This imparts a lot more flavor, but it's coarse. Smith uses whole-leaf teas for richer, more subtle flavor. When making tea, a bag or infuser should only be about 1/3 full. The water should be between 180-195ºF. Always add tea to water, not the other way around, lest the hot water scald the tea and give it a toasted flavor. Steep green tea for 3-4 minutes, black for 5, and herbals for as long as you like.
Now, here's my guilty foodie confession: I have a habit of making a pot of tea, whatever I have on hand, pouring the hot water over the tea, and then forgetting about it. Then, an hour or three later, I come back, notice the tepid pot of overextracted tea on the counter, and proceed to drink it anyway. I'm not saying I'm going to change my habits, but after this experience, I will at least know what I'm doing wrong.
Smith's teas are exquisite. We started with White Petal, a white tea with chamomile and osmanthium blossoms, which gave it a peachy, fresh flavor. (For this tea, they use only the petals of chamomile, the byproduct of their chamomile infusion, which uses only the heart of the flower.) Of the green teas, Mao Feng Shui was light and faintly kelpy. Jasmine Silver Tip was delicate and floral. Unlike most jasmine teas, Smith adds fresh flowers to the dry tea leaves, which absorb the aroma. The flowers are then separated and discarded, leaving only an elegant perfume. I swooned for Fez, a green tea with Oregon spearmint and Australian lemon myrtle. It's fresh, citric and totally refreshing.
In the black tea category, the Bungalow Darjeeling was nutty, toasty and faintly fruity. The Kandy Sri Lanka, a blend of three regions, had a balanced flavor and soft mouthfeel. By contrast, the Brahmin Assam was astringent, floral and leathery. And the Lord Bergamot is Smith's take on Earl Grey, with a refined citrus aroma.
But the herbals really blew me away, quite unexpectedly. We started with Meadow, a chamomile base with fragrant hyssop and lavender rooibos that had a honeyed flavor like moscato. Red Nectar combined rooibos and honeybush with fresh raspberries for a soothing brew. Blood-red Hisbiscus Flowers slapped you upside the head with bright acidity, notes of berries and hints of spice. I wanted to drink it forever. But the showstopper was the Peppermint Leaves, entirely from Oregon. The first sip instantly filled the mouth with intense coolness and a creamy texture. It blows every other mint tea out of the water, so to speak. Since the trip, I have made the peppermint, Fez and chamomile part of our regular rotation of teas.
At the end, our guide demonstrated a Chinese method of steeping tea in small pots, to pour a cup at a time, constantly refreshing the tea as you pour it out. It was a delicate ballet of cups and pots.
He explained that this was great for parties, as you could keep your guests' cups always full. All I could think was that our friends, who already think we're crazy enough, would find this endlessly amusing at our expense.
Now fully jacked up on caffeine, it was time to start drinking again. The group reconvened at KitchenCru, a community kitchen and culinary incubator, where we met Rollin Soles, the muchly moustachioed winemaker of Argyle Winery. With him were several bottles of their sparkling wine at the end stages of the bottle fermentation. Unlabeled, they had bottle caps instead of corks. He explained that as the bottles rest upside-down during the fermentation, yeast settles up at the bottleneck. There's quite a bit of pressure in the bottles, so when it's time to decant, you have to do a quick and fluid motion of popping the cap, quickly plugging the neck with your thumb, then turning the bottle right-side up at a 45º angle to release the yeast. In short: Flip, thumb, 45.
After a couple glasses of bubbly and some nibbles, it was time to settle in for our first major feast of the day.
Who could complain about family-style dishes from three up-and-coming chefs accompanied by more sparkly from Argyle and Spanish-inflected wins from Abacela? That's a fantastic, hardy, fresh frikeh salad with corn, cucumbers and cherries (adorned with borage flowers; recipe here) on the left by Scott Dolich of Park Kitchen and The Bent Brick, and grilled summer squash and trout with green herb sauce by Chris Israel of Grüner and Kask on the right. Not pictured but no less delicious: Grilled octopus with mizuna, cucumber and pimenton by Jenn Louis of Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern.
For the final interactive event, I was fortunate to be on the group that got to be with Eric Finley and Paula Markus of Chop Butchery for a charcuterie demonstration. Warning: There are animal parts ahead. And I don't mean shrink-wrapped ones. If you're squeamish about seeing pig parts, move on.
First up: Chicken liver bourbon mousse. Get some bacon in a pan.
Then some onions and apples.
In a separate pan, melt butter and saute the chicken livers. Careful, they splatter!
Deglaze with bourbon. Set on fire.
Once everything's cooked, pour it in batches into a food processor.
Puree until smooth. Pass through a fine-mesh sieve.
Pour into a loaf pan lined with cling wrap and chill.
Or just eat it warm. We did, and it was delicious. Get the full recipe here.
Next, Tuscan pancetta. I've made pancetta before, and it's dead simple. Really, it's just a matter of salting and seasoning pork belly and allowing it to cure. You can do it in your fridge. Easy peasy. Get the full recipe here.
But then there was some unexpected excitement: A fresh pig was delivered for the Chop crew.
Code red! Code red!
I don't think he's gonna make it.
There were shenanigans.
For the grand finale, we headed out to Penner-Ash Wine Cellars in the Willamette Valley where we would indulge in a multi-course grand feast from esteemed chef Vitaly Paley of Paley's Place. First, we had a little time to mingle in the gardens.
Helene explores the garden.
Sundresses in Oregon at dusk. Cuz that's how it is every day. Isn't it?
The meal itself was, of course, exquisite. But what made it all the more enjoyable was that we were joined by all the people who grew and made the food and wines we were enjoying. At each table there were maybe four bloggers, but perhaps twice as many others. I sat to a lovely couple who grew most of the vegetables in the meal on their farm just a few miles down the road. Anyone who shops locally knows that your food tastes better when you know where it comes from, and who grew it.
Needless to say, upon my return home the next day, I announced to DPaul that we were moving to Portland. The entire trip opened my eyes to the qualities of the city, offering a variety of foods and food experiences that rival San Francisco's. There may be fewer of them, but they are not inferior in quality. And while we haven't packed up and moved yet, I cannot wait to return and pick up my fork and glass in Portland once more.
Be sure to check out some of the posts by other bloggers from this trip, who managed to do so much more promptly than I!