Wallet of the Month – Erica Swanson
Wallet of the Month
If you go to Tea Bar you won't find flavors like kiwi, blueberry or watermelon made with processed powders or other artificial ingredients. You won't be handed a big book of options when you get to the counter and, if you order boba tea, it won't be served in one of those to-go cups with the wasteful plastic seals. Instead, you'll find a creative, well-curated menu of organic, freshly brewed teas that taste amazing.
They'll be served in reusable mason jars or to-go canteens and you'll find yourself in a bright, urban oasis where less feels like more and everyone feels welcome. Sounds nice, right?
We sat down with Tea Bar’s Founder and CEO, Erica Swanson, to hear her story over tea. She was having a Ginger Lemon Tea Toddy made with fresh ginger, lemon, cayenne, herbal tea and raw honey. (Pro tip: she adds turmeric and sparkling water...we both ordered one to-go. It’s great. You should try it.)
From "Science Experiment" to Down to a Science
Erica admits her business wasn't always the clean, pristine tea-making machine it is today. "In the first few weeks after I opened my first shop on Killingsworth, it almost looked like a science experiment," she explained. "In the back, we had scales and measuring devices all over the place. We were experimenting with so many recipes and there was just a lot to juggle in general. Now everything is very structured."
Since she launched in 2014, Erica has grown Tea Bar methodically to the four-shop operation (one for each of Portland's quadrants) she has today. Her upbringing helped; she was raised by a single father who earned a living renovating and leasing apartments in a Mississippi Ave building he bought after selling their family farm in Canby. He did most of the work himself while they lived there, flipping one unit at a time over a 15-year period. Erica remembers helping in many ways – from painting and laying down flooring to showing apartments at just 11 years old. She even fended off a few raccoons in the building's crawl spaces. Needless to say, she was exposed to construction, design, planning, customer service and scrappy-savvy entrepreneurism from a young age.
Erica spent her teenage years in China, immersing herself in the culture to learn the language. Two other things stood out from that experience: the people's strong work ethic and the traditional tea culture, both of which inspired her to bring her own version of the craft back to Portland.
Her attitude about growth is smart. She's working within her means and with a clear vision, but she's also not afraid to try new things so the business can evolve.
She empowers her brick and mortar teams to cook and infuse the teas rather than do it herself. This brings her staff closer to the products and the brand, which improves the customers' experience while allowing her to focus on the bigger picture. All of this helps her business grow.
Re-crafting Tea for the Modern Consumer
We appreciate seeing another young entrepreneur with a fresh perspective in an age-old industry. Tea drinking has been around for more than 3,000 years and Erica works hard to make the experience simple and approachable for today's consumer. When you stop by, you might not find your standard tea drink but there's sure to be something compelling on the menu that you'll be happy you ordered. Tea Bar is an example of how to build a successful business that breaks from tradition without giving up even a drop of quality. We can relate and we're inspired.
Introducing the Boba Half Wallet, inspired by one of our favorite Tea Bar drinks. The "Hong Kong" is made with an organic Indian black tea combined with sweetened condensed milk and boba. We used undyed leather for the outer pockets to match the drink's milky color. The big, scattered perforations with black leather on the inside give the effect of boba (tapioca balls) floating at the bottom.
Design Your Own Wallet
You can design your own handcrafted wallet using our built-from-scratch online wallet customizer, WoollyLab. Mix and match leather colors, stitching, patterns and inscriptions until it's perfectly yours. Or you can give the experience to someone else with a mailed or digital gift card.