|Tao of Tea Teahouse|
|Overall||Service||Food Quality||Atmosphere||Vegan Options|
|Location: 3430 SE Belmont St. Portland, OR 97214|
|Hours: 11am-11pm daily, final seating at 10:20pm||Times Visited: 2|
UPDATE 12/30/2008 – We have been notified that the great Green Tea Tofu is not vegan! We intend to look into this and report back, but for now – be aware!
There is something that makes me feel special while sitting in the Tao of Tea. Maybe it’s that I finally decided to become a loose leaf tea person a couple years ago and the menu makes me swoon with choices. Maybe it’s that the majority of the food is vegan and the aromatic interior pulls you in from the moment you open the door on SE Belmont. Or maybe it’s the fact that it’s so damn peaceful with wood carved seats and I feel like a fancy elf sitting near their in-house mini waterfall. Yeah, it’s all of the above.
Just like a cup of from their expansive tea menu, the Tao of Tea provides a calming environment to relax with and in. It’s a spot to go by yourself and a book or with one other person and chat softly. Naturally, order yourself a cup of hot or cold caffeine-friendly or herbal tea from their twelve varieties, including multiple selections of Chai, Japanese Greens, South American Yerba Mate, Taiwanese Oolongs and more. This Stumptown Vegan was at peace with her Roasted Green tea and Coconut Mint iced blend on her visits. The iced tea was cool with the refreshing taste of coconut water and pure mint leaves, noted for the warmer weather.
Food choices are from around the world as well, with nearly all menu items suitable for sharing. Order two or three dishes from the “Bite” section to share, or one for yourself and then see if you’d like some more. There are also entrees and desserts, and most dishes are served with a small portion of steamed and salted edamame. And like tea, the dishes are generally warming to the palate with East Asian spices and loads of ginger across the menu. It is not a place to go if you’re hungry for a veggie burger with fries type of meal, it’s a restaurant where smaller appetites have many options and those with a larger hunger should opt for an entree and “bite” or two.
There are two dishes that vie for most memorable: the Green Tea Tofu ($4) and the Spinach Rolls ($7). The stand out is the definitely the tender, thinly sliced, tea’d tofu. The light flavor combination of green tea (from matcha powder), lime and cayenne joined with freshly grated ginger on top of each bite makes it unforgettable. I first tried it months ago and can still taste the memory. If you are into tofu and trying new things, you can’t hold back the $4. The Spinach Rolls can be easy to overlook on the menu, but their novel enjoyment lies in their simplicity. Try thinking of it as a deconstructed spinach stir fry. The small platter comes with spinach leaves, minced red onions, peanuts, toasted coconut, grated ginger, a delicious mango chutney and minced lime. The menu recommends trying a different flavor combination with each roll, and I’ve found my favorite to be ginger, peanuts, lime, and a drop of chutney. You can try to roll the leaves but don’t feel bad if you find yourself making pockets or folds .
The Yam with Lime and Black Sea Salt ($4) was intriguing. It is one steamed and peeled yam at room temperature, decorated with dried cranberries, cilantro, and and a dusting of eggy, sulfuric black salt, which is really pink. I knew I could handle black salt but didn’t know how it would sit with the naturally sweet yam, but silly me to doubt, because it worked. I have mixed feelings on the temperature of the dish and found it on the unexciting side of simple, but it had character. The Lemongrass Age ($5) was another dish with no surprises, once again served at room temperature. It consisted of fried tofu triangles, cut in half, smothered with shredded lemongrass, and served with a soy ginger dipping sauce. Overall a very tasty dish but I couldn’t get the celebrated Green Tea Tofu out of my head while sampling. The final dish I tried was the Somosas ($6). Sadly, these came with a non-vegan dipping sauce beside the vegan chutney that my dining companion and I ushered to the side. The menu describes them as ‘mild’ but there was a bit more spice to that. They were basic fried somosas with an earthy, potato filling, and were the warmest (and least healthy) item to grace my plate, but not something I’d specifically order again, as I prefer the bad boys at India Chaat House.
While you dine and sip, you’ll likely find yourself satisfied, I know I have – even while hopped up on caffeined tea. Certainly don’t go with a large group, as service is not what I would call speedy and the seating is just not there. Go with one or two others and cherish some special tea time. If you don’t like tea, I’m sorry. I hope you’ll at least consider trying the Green Tea Tofu.
This is the original Teahouse and sole food serving location of the Tao of Tea. There is also a Tower of Cosmic Reflections Teahouse inside the Portland Chinese Garden and a Tea Bar at Whole Foods in Bridgeport Village.