“A very, very unbirthday…to me?”

February 26, 2010

TeaZone & Camellia Lounge on Urbanspoon

“I’ll just have a cappuccino.”
“We only serve tea.”

Teapot, tea, and crumpets.

Chai tea and crumpets. FYI: Those are not actually crumpets.

I felt like the guy who walks into the neighborhood mom n’ pop coffee shop and asks for a frappuccino or a local eat-at-joe’s diner and asked for a “Big Mac.” Fact of the matter is I hadn’t mistook The Tea Zone for a coffee shop as much I had actually mistook the sound of a blender for the sound of an espresso machine. I was corrected simply, and without offense. None was necessary, since their menu speaks for itself: the Tea Zone does as much with tea than all but the most resourceful coffee shops do with coffee…and the food is pretty good too.

Now, I have no issues with Starbucks, but when you’re serving coffee to a healthy chunk of the developed world, you’ve got to make certain compromises with flavor. Not being a seasoned tea consumer, I opted for a chai—the tea everyone can agree on—and I got a chai. Comparing the Tea Zone chai to a Starbucks chai is like comparing orange juice to orange kool-aid. So this is what chai tea tastes like when it’s not beating you over the head with flavor. Perhaps it’s a fine print thing. Does Starbucks ever really say they’re serving you chai tea, or are you getting chai drink?

I guess you all probably wanted to see the swank in the back. Sorry, I like being near windows.

But I digress. If you come for the tea, stay for the vibe. All of my visits to the Tea Zone thus far have been business-related (please tip the musicians, by the way), but if I found myself in downtown Portland and in the mood to sip tea lattes while debating the aesthetics of neo-proto-post modernism with my art history grad-student associates more often I’d probably drop in regularly. The front end has limited seating, but if you’re there for the vibe you’ll want to head to Camellia Lounge in the rear anyways. They’ve got a full bar, some fantastic artwork, and much more seating in the lounge, and they host an assortment of live music six nights a week with a sweet jazz jam on Tuesday nights.

In short, if you really like tea or if you want to feel pretentious but don’t have a Mac Book Pro, treat yourself to a visit. I love the place, but how can you not feel high falutin’ when you’re served a glass of tea, a mini tea kettle, and a mini hourglass to tell you when your tea is ready? There’s also the impeccably dressed gaggle of twenty-somethings behind you sipping fresh mojitos which made me self-conscious about busting out my recently purchased Marvel Secret War graphic novel.

Sigh. I should have brought my Machiavelli biography and moleskine notebook.

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