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Totem Tea, Portland

Totem Tea, Portland

This post is in collaboration with Totem Tea.

Some people don’t realize this, but quality tea is just like fine wine. Every tea has a story to tell, and that story doesn’t begin in your teapot. It can be traced all the way back to the tea farm where the care and artistry of the farm’s workers, as well as the terroir of the farm influence the tea’s scent, taste, and texture. As you sip and savor tea through each infusion, it evolves in appearance and on the palate.

I recently met up with the owners of Totem Tea, Phillip Sauerbeck and Dan Pappas, who are both incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about tea. Sourced from small tea farms in Taiwan and China, Totem Tea’s products are extensively researched and carefully selected. Only one in at least twenty teas make the cut. Their next trip is in October, and they’ll be visiting Taiwan before an oolong immersion experience in Fujian and Guangdong provinces of China.

Totem Tea, Portland

Phil and Dan consider themselves tea connoisseurs, not tea merchants, who enjoy sharing tea and storytelling through tea. During my visit, we shared a flight of three teas with distinct flavor profiles. It’s almost like a 3-course meal with an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. I realize that sipping hot tea in the middle of summer might not be appealing to everyone, but it was a very calming and zen experience.

For now, the teas are only available through their website, but fingers crossed… maybe a small tea shop with a tasting room will be in store for Totem Tea in the future!

White Jade Phoenix Green Tea, Totem Tea, Portland

We started our tea session with the anji bai cha 安吉白茶 brewed in a clay kyusu with a no fuss, easy to use handle. Delicate with floral aromas, this White Jade Phoenix Green Tea had a subtle, barely there quality on the first infusion, but began to reveal its cooling green tea flavor on the next two infusions.

White Jade Phoenix Green Tea, Totem Tea, Portland

It’s fascinating to watch the tea leaves slowly uncurl themselves over each infusion. After the second infusion, there was a scent that seemed very familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until Dan mentioned steamed spinach. Ah hah!

Totem Tea, Portland

Brewed in a pure silver teapot, the Gui Fei Oolong 貴妃烏龍 falls into a category of tea known as leaf-bitten oolong. No pesticides are used in the tea farms, and cicadas are encouraged to bite the leaves as the nibbling results in the plant releasing more sugar.  This trick to cultivating sweeter oolong was discovered by chance in 1999 after cicadas had overrun a tea farm while farmers had evacuated during an earthquake. Now the cicadas are an integral part of the tea production process.

Gui Fei Oolong, Totem Tea, Portland

This oolong is bold enough to pair with heavier foods, while its sweetness entices you to enjoy cup after cup. The first infusion was light compared to what comes to mind when I think of oolong, but the next few infusions offered a rosy, roasted mouth feel and sweet honey flavor. The lively smell reminded me of the Portland rose gardens.

Snow Honey Chrysanthemum, Totem Tea, Portland

Next up was a caffeine-free herbal tea, which is almost like a drinkable dessert. White and yellow chrysanthemum is most common, but this high altitude Snow Honey Chrysanthemum 雪菊花茶 is different. All the familiar chrysanthemum aromas and flavors are there, but this one is richer and bolder. Plus, there are earthy, peppery notes in mixed in too. Imagine pairing this tea with a summer berry tart!

Snow Honey Chrysanthemum, Totem Tea, Portland

Note: This post is in collaboration with Totem Tea. I was invited to meet with this business and received complimentary samples. This was not in exchange for a positive review and all opinions expressed here are my own.

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Mitzie Mee
    August 18, 2016 at 3:10 am

    The work, the research and the history behind tea production is truly fascinating. I’m always in the mood for a good sencha not to mention the sweet taste of oolong. The photos from your visit are really beautiful.

    • Reply
      wazwu
      August 20, 2016 at 4:34 pm

      Thank you! I think I’m slowly getting the hang of this camera. I learned so much from the Totem Tea team on this visit. We’ll have to stop by a tea house if you ever visit PDX!

  • Reply
    sileas
    August 18, 2016 at 5:10 am

    Nice, I’m an absolute tea lover and enjoyed your descriptions and photos! I’d love to attend a tea tasting like that :)

    • Reply
      wazwu
      August 20, 2016 at 4:35 pm

      Thanks so much! It was lots of fun, and seeing and learning about how much care is put into tea makes you appreciate it so much more.

  • Reply
    PinaySkattebasse
    August 21, 2016 at 10:55 am

    Wow! Love this post. I don’t think we get to read blogs about tea often. Or is it just me? :D I love tea but really don’t have the knowledge about types of teas, how it is cultivated, etc. Your photos make want to have some tea now. I have different kinds of tea but my favourite is chamomile. :)

  • Reply
    What Blogs to Read this Month in Tea // August Round Up | The Cup of Life
    September 1, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    […] Nom Nom | Totem Tea, Portland – This has been one tea company that has been on my radar lately thanks to Instagram. I was […]

  • Reply
    Geoff (Steep Stories)
    September 1, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    I was just at Totem Tea HQ today!

    • Reply
      wazwu
      September 9, 2016 at 9:52 am

      Cool, I hope you had a nice time chatting with Dan and Phil and enjoyed some tea. Such a great way to spend an afternoon!

  • Reply
    Notes on Tea | Georgia
    September 1, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    I can’t wait to drink the gui fei!

    • Reply
      wazwu
      September 9, 2016 at 9:51 am

      Hope you like it!

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