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SMITH TEAMAKER CAFÉ IS A CALMING RESPITE FOR A NEIGHBORHOOD ONCE SHAKEN BY A NATURAL GAS EXPLOSION

By Rachel Gallaher Photographed by Andrew Vanasse


The counter of Smith Tea Cafe. The walls are green and the counter is surrounding by wooden casing.

Osmose Design was tasked with interpreting the Smith Teamaker brand into a new café concept in Portland.



At 9:38 am on October 19, 2016, a large explosion rocked the intersection of NW 23rd Avenue and NW Glisan in Portland’s Northwest neighborhood. Caused by a natural gas leak at a nearby excavation site, the blast caused extensive property damage and toppled the building on the corner. Five years later, a freshly constructed contemporary mixed-use building, designed by Allied Works, rises in place of the one lost to the explosion.


Sitting on the ground floor, acting as a beacon for neighborhood residents and visitors to gather, the newly opened Smith Teamaker Cafe is a jewel-box space with interiors crafted by Andee Hess of local firm Osmose Design. Guided by Smith’s branding—for inspiration Hess mined everything from the existing packaging boxes and visuals of the tea blends and even the tea sachets themselves—the design evolved with a series of abstracted visuals twisted into a modern, minimal 18-seat café.


“This project is a new prototype for the company to explore the Smith Teamaker lifestyle further,” Hess says, “integrating incredible food as a full experience. They are doing exciting new things with their teas, and we were thrilled to capture that adventurousness with the design of this space.”


Wooden casework with rows of tea boxes. A counter in the forefront and two stools beside the counter.

Design elements such as the color scheme and the wall graphics took inspiration from the company's product and branding.



Central to the café is the tea-tender station, which Hess compares to a DJ booth—it’s the heart of the space and the stage for beverage preparation. Surrounding the station is dramatic wooden casework by UnCommon Cabinetry; at one end a quote from company founder Steven Smith, “The perfect cup of tea is one shared with others,” is wood burned into a panel that serves as the community-focused mantra for the café.


Walls are painted a soft mint-green (the hue is similar to that of the packaging for the brand’s Rose City Genmaicha tea) and abstract “vines” run from the casework across the ceiling and down the front windows. Evocative of growth, the graphic pattern is an embossed element that appears during the manufacturing process of the tea sachets. It is also used on most of the product boxes and tin packages as well.


Suspended over the Gaiwan preparation counter (a traditional Chinese or Taiwanese method for brewing tea) is a custom, Osmose-designed light fixture made from amber-colored glass and curved white oak. In profile, the fixture’s shape references Smith’s shield logo, and the stained glass is reminiscent of steeping black tea.


A counter with wooden casework holding tea boxes behind it. The walls are light green with a dark green striped graphic. Tables sit against a window.

A custom light fixture designed by Osmose hangs over the Gaiwan tea preparation counter.



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