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Umami Café: Sharing the Experience of Tea

Photo by Bruce Forster

The Portland tea scene kicked off in the late 1990’s after the emergence of several companies that focused on whole loose-leaf tea. However, Portland’s gardens have always been an important conduit for tea enthusiasts. With a dedicated tea garden and traditional teahouse, Portland Japanese Garden has fostered a unique environment for presentation and education around Japanese Tea Ceremony (chanoyu) for decades.

The Umami Café is Portland Japanese Garden’s next step towards sharing the art of tea with a broader audience. Guests are able to engage with friendly and knowledgeable staff, and experience world-class tea and sweets in a contemporary setting.

Photo by Bruce Forster

The Umami Café is seeking part-time Café Servers who hope to bring the simple beauty of Japanese tea culture to our guests through thoughtful pairings, respectful preparation, and attentive service. When the Umami Café first opened its sliding doors to guests in April, server and host Dana was among the original team.

“Especially when you’re hosting, I watch people who are sometimes coming in frazzled, hot, and hungry. You’re helping them get over the hump and then they get it all of a sudden; they realize it’s an experience. They’re not just getting a cup of tea at a Café. When they leave they see the ceremony behind it, the ritual, the aesthetics, and the intention. It’s something they haven’t experienced before. That’s the part that I enjoy most.”

Dana has always been interested in tea. She first started learning about English tea, then Chinese, then Taiwanese tea.

“What I’ve been most excited about in working at the Garden and the Umami Café is tea but with a service component in the mix. It’s the Omotenashi (Japanese hospitality) part of it, turning people onto tea. I like getting them excited about it because it has brought me so much in my life; I keep wanting to share it with others.”

Photo by Bruce Forster

Café server Laurel also helped open the Umami Café to the public and has been a friendly face for guests since day one. “I thought I knew about Japanese culture – turns out, I knew mostly about food,” said Laurel with a laugh. “If you are used to working in food service and are looking for something where you want to feel a little more valued and part of a bigger team, a bigger organization, and a bigger purpose than this would be a good fit for you.”

Laurel said she likes working in food service but admits there are certain things about it that can be unpredictable. “If it’s slow season at a regular restaurant, you’re going to get your hours cut. There’s nothing you can do about that and that’s very normal. You’re also going to work long shifts without breaks and that’s just the nature of the beast. At the Garden, since you’re a part of a larger organization, you have the organization to advocate for you and that doesn’t happen,” she said.

“I would say come work at the Umami Café if you’re interested in learning about Japanese culture. It’s a crash course in a way. Tea and especially tea ceremony is the root of Japanese culture and the reason for why we do a lot of things here in the Garden in general. So, this is a good place to start. Also, being able to walk around the Garden and seeing your co-workers in the other departments. They are all so welcoming and sweet. One of my favorite things about working for the Garden is that people that aren’t in my department wanted to learn my name right away and they actually care. That has been really, really cool.”

If you are interested in joining our Umami Café team and working at Portland Japanese Garden, click here.

Garden admission or membership is required to visit the Umami Café. The Café is open during regular Garden hours from 10:00am until the Garden closes and member only hours from 9:00am-10:00am. Last seating is 30 minutes before the Garden closes.