Globetrotter Erica Indira Swanson started packing at 6 years old, and arguably never fully returned. Her teen summers spent abroad, Erica returned to her hometown of Portland, OR each year with memory-shaping souvenirs, the multitude of which she’s now formed into her very own business. Despite its global influence, Tea Bar offers its clientele an atmosphere of home, where connection and quality are paramount, both in the beverages it serves and the relationships it encourages. “It’s just been me and my dad since I was three. Every summer I would get out of school and we would pack our bags and go, typically to a third world country, up until the day school started.” Whether it was biking from Paris to Toulouse, France with nothing but paneer packs, hiking Torres del Paine, or a near-death cruise through the Galapagos, the two were never far from the next unexpected twist of fate. Erica spent her early high school years in the Chinese school system, one of only three other foreign students in her school. It was during this time that tea would make a lasting impression. “I lived with a Chinese family and was immersed in the culture there. Tea was a very big part of the culture there, and we would have it at almost every meal.” Because of her ability to communicate with tea shops at the source of her inspiration in China, Tea Bar can come as close to traditional Chinese tea as the customer wants to get. Alternatively, Erica continues to experiment with new blends and expressions of these traditional elements. She’s taught herself how to mix and match flavors to create something entirely unique. She’s experimenting with matcha, hibiscus, and countless spices with a personal sensitivity to their properties and origin. This artistry and propensity for blending tradition with a modern twist, she’s learned from a multitude sources, but primarily from just diving in. “By doing it, reading, and traveling.”
“There are days where I’m exhausted, and tired, but when I’m in here, and I’m able to walk from table to table and I know everyone and can say hello..I love that.” Those neighborhood connections offer more than a cup of tea, but extend an invitation to experience the world in a way you may never have dreamt before. The influence of global friendship, admiration for a distant culture, and a receptivity to try, to keep learning and expanding what we know about the world and one another make Tea Bar much more than a beverage counter.
Words & Photography by Jeremy & Christi Barnes – Excerpted from Woven Magazine
1615 NE Killingsworth St., & 4330 SE Division St., Portland, OR