Unveiling True Tea: A Culinary Journey with Katherine Harris

  • Published on:
    January 31, 2024
  • Reading time by:
    6 minutes
Unveiling True Tea: A Culinary Journey with Katherine Harris

Portland, renowned for its culinary excellence, finds its heartbeat in the visionary Katherine Harris—founder of Upper Left Roasters and True Tea. Opening Upper Left Roasters in 2016, Katherine revolutionized Portland’s coffee scene, delivering the finest beans and quality java. Now, with True Tea, she is redefining the city as a hub for premium, authentic teas. The collection is a global odyssey, with Katherine meticulously selecting farmers committed to chemical-free practices, authentic tea-making traditions, and sustainability. From the hills of India and Japan to the vibrant fields of Malawi, Taiwan, and Oregon, True Tea embodies a commitment to quality, sustainability, and authenticity.

In an exclusive interview, Katherine Harris shares the inspiration behind her ventures. Growing up in Portland’s food and beverage industry, she immersed herself in the world of specialty beverages, leading to the inception of Upper Left Roasters in 2015. True Tea, an extension of this journey, was born out of her passion for specialty tea and a desire to share exceptional teas globally. Katherine delves into the meticulous process of selecting tea suppliers, emphasizing relationships, community, and the paramount importance of tea quality. True Tea’s mission to connect consumers with small farmers worldwide is not just a business goal but a fundamental pillar, with tea education playing a pivotal role in creating awareness about the origins and stories behind each variety.

As the conversation unfolds, Katherine provides insights into staying innovative in the competitive beverage industry while staying true to values. She hints at upcoming projects, including private tea tastings in 2024 for Portland residents. Join us as we explore the world of True Tea, where every leaf, spice, petal, and person contributes to a storied collaboration celebrating nature’s bounty and the artistry of its cultivators.

Daily matcha tea by True Tea

1. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind starting Upper Left Roasters and True Tea? What motivated you to enter the coffee and tea industry in Portland? 

I grew up in the food and beverage industry in Portland and those childhood experiences heavily influenced me. I started Upper Left Roasters in 2015 and I immersed myself not only in specialty coffee, but specialty beverages, which led me to my curiosity for tea. I imported coffee with Upper Left Roasters so it felt like a natural progression to begin importing tea and True Tea was born. 

2. True Tea is known for its unique collection of premium teas sourced from around the world. Could you share some insights into your process of selecting tea suppliers and the criteria you use to ensure sustainability and authenticity? 

First and foremost, I value relationships and community. I want to work with people who I genuinely want to do business with and who I think are contributing to their respective communities in a productive and positive way. I know the first names of all of the farm owners who we work with directly. 

Quality of the tea is also very important. Most of the multi-generational farms that I source tea directly from, are certified organic in their respective country. Most of the farms are small producers and specialize/experts in the tea/herb they’re growing. 

3. In the competitive world of beverages, how do you stay innovative and keep True Tea relevant to consumers’ changing tastes and preferences? 

I believe in staying true to your values and not wavering too far from your initial goals. I focus on sourcing teas that I personally enjoy. Trends come and go so it’s important that I source teas that will stand the test of time. Earl Grey isn’t going anywhere so let’s find the best Earl Grey anyone has ever tasted 🙂 

4. True Tea is all about connecting consumers with small farmers worldwide. How do you bridge this gap and create awareness among your customers about the origins and stories behind the teas they enjoy? 

Tea education is a True Tea company pillar. I offer private tea tastings with each new wholesale account where I share farm information, as well as, information sheets for the accounts to take home. I’ve spoken at several tea tasting events focused on tea education, including the origin stories. We provide tea farm information on our True Tea direct-to-consumer website, as well as, the True Tea wholesale website. I will also begin offering private tea tastings/education series to the public in the coming months. 

5. Can you share any upcoming projects or plans for both Upper Left Roasters and True Tea that our readers can look forward to? 

For readers located in Portland, OR, I will begin offering private tea tastings in 2024. The tea tastings will range between beginners who are interested in learning tea basics to more experienced tea drinkers who want to explore rare teas together. Subscribe to our newsletter or follow along on Instagram (@truetea.pdx) for updates!

6. Balancing a successful career and personal life can be challenging. How do you manage your time and find moments for self-care and relaxation? 

To be completely frank, my initial answer in my head was, “I don’t.” I’m definitely a “yes” person since I don’t want to miss out on a potential business opportunity. I need to combine saying “no” more with delegating certain responsibilities that I know I don’t need to necessarily be doing. This would be a great follow-up interview question a year from now! 

Katherine Harris founder of Portland’s beloved Upper Left Roasters and artisan tea brand True Tea

7. Can you share a memorable travel experience related to sourcing tea or coffee that left a lasting impact on you? 

I visited the Nagatani Tea Factory in Uji, Japan in May 2023. I’ve been sourcing all of True Tea’s organic green teas from the Nagatani family since the beginning. I met three generations of the Nagatani family and the son, Yuta, was my guide. I drank tea from the Nagatani tea farm with Yuta in his family home and that moment is the reason I’ll be returning again in April 2024 to visit Yuta and his family. 

8. What books, podcasts, or resources have been instrumental in shaping your knowledge and perspective on the coffee and tea industries? 

Immersing myself in coffee and tea has been the best teacher.

It’s important that as a leader, no matter the industry, that you are responsible with your power and honing in the proper management skills to foster a healthy & thriving work environment is essential. So I focus on books that make me a better leader like: “The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging”, “The Four Agreements”, and “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”. As for podcasts, understanding the current global economic health helps me make more informed financial decisions; I listen to Prof G several days a week. 

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