Briana Thornton- Founder of Aesthete Tea

Tea connects. Tea and Art are deeply connect and if you have the honor to meet this woman behind Aesthete Tea. you will most likely walk away with a friend and much deeper view and appreciation of tea. Briana's incredible knowledge of tea  and how she integrates tea and art in her daily lifestyle is incredible . Listening to her journey and move from New York to Portland and always being connected to her two passions tea and art is impressive and her view on competition and collaboration needed to be shared more often. Enjoy those deep intuitive words.

Briana Thornton
Briana Thornton
Briana Thornton
Briana Thornton

Can you tell us a little bit about you? What did you before you launched your business?

I grew up primarily in New Jersey, I was raised by my mother, Maggie. She had me backpacking Oregon at age four, kayaking the Delaware water gap at 7 and doing everything and anything outside. She taught me the value of nature, its healing qualities and its desperate need for us [humans]  to protect it. My mother is Irish and growing up in the same house as my Irish grandparents made tea a main part of our culture. It was always in the background of my life as a child. After highschool I moved to New York City to attend the School of Visual Arts. After having a successful career in Art Galleries I continued my education at NYU. I lived and worked in New York for about 7 years until moving to an Indian Ashram to study yoga and vedantic philosophy under the guidance of a Swami. After this I decided to move the West Coast, (Portland) to continue my career in art with branding agencies. I always knew I wanted my own ‘space’ and brand. With my mother’s knowledge of herbs and my knowledge and experience running galleries and working closely with brands- it just seemed like the perfect time in my life to take the leap into Aesthete Tea.

How did you come up with your brand name?

I was a freshman at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, NY. I was taking a class on Art Criticism lead by Professor Greenberg. It was one of the first weeks of this class and I was in awe. Awe Of New York, of finding like-minded individuals, of professors allowing and encouraging me to question reality and everything in and around it.

There was one specific class, a three hour class where Greenberg went on about the psychology of an artist and their need to create; this perception of artists needing to hold a mirror to society and hang onto personal experience. He made brilliant points and then came to a pause where he said, ‘You’re art- it is a visual representation of The Life and Times of an Aesthete”. Majority of us had never heard this word, me included- though the phrase was so alluring to me that I scribbled it in my new Moleskin notebook with my Micron pen (proper art student, I was). He explained that an Aesthete was a person who has or affects to have a special appreciation of art, nature and beauty. I later discovered that this phrase had been used in many adaptations, written and visual and became a bit obsessed with it.

At the age of 18, in a studio room in Gramercy Park, Manhattan, I promised myself that whatever I created in my future- I would call it that. Aesthete. Aesthete Tea was created just under 10 years later.

What are your favorite spots in Portland/ Lake Oswego to recharge?

Golden Hour PDX! This place is like a sanctuary. Janet Jay has created a place of peace inside the city like no other. I try to go at least once a month for an acupuncture chair session.

Portland Flower Market. You have to be a business owner to go (or have a friend that will pay $5 for a pass) but it is just a beautiful place.

(these are not in Portland) Cannon Beach/ Astoria: There is something about the Oregon Coast that is just cleansing.  Mt. Hood Timothy Lake: Lisa and I will strap the kayaks on the top of our Jeep in the summer and sometimes just spend a day or weekend on the lake. Sometimes there will be days where hardly anyone is around (it is rare but happens) and when you kayak to the center and just sit and look up- I feel like it’s just us, like everything else is just quiet.




Not long ago you moved from NYC to Lake Oswego after living and working in NYC for many years as an art curator for galleries, how has your life changed since the move?

New York was great, it was my home- I come from the East Coast and that will always be a part of me. But New York is a creature of its own. When I first moved there at 18 I will never forget what a friend said to me. She said: Have fun in New York, just don’t let it eat you Bri. I always thought this was such an odd comment, but after years of living there I finally understood what she meant. New York can start to eat away at you if you let it. A ‘good’ salary in any other city is practically poverty level in New York. At 18 or 23, its fine. It’s exciting. Living in a loft in Brooklyn with 5 other people sharing one bathroom is fine. Scrounging change for subway fare is just part of the experience. I’ve seen this happen to a lot of my friends (many of which have also moved out of NYC) after about 6 years or around approaching 25 and older- the mentality switches. Suddenly, you feel like you have been to all of the bars, brunch spots, museums and you simply cannot afford to leave the city. Even though you are making a decent salary overall, in New York you are struggling. In my case, I became very sad. I am not a sad person and could not seem to handle it. I had the job I wanted, success, good friends, but there was something missing. I think because I grew up so immersed in nature, that was my biggest problem with New York. I missed the trees and simply could not afford a train ticket Upstate [New York] to see them. I started to feel very dark and lacking. I knew I had to make a change which is what pushed me to live at the Indian Ashram. The knowledge and guidance I was given there was beyond this world and if you are someone reading this, who does not know where they are going and has a few months to just leave it all, I strongly suggest living at an ashram. I left the Ashram, stayed with my mother in New Jersey for 4 days and then was on a flight to Portland with my two cats.

I now have a beautiful Wife, Lisa. We share our home in Lake Oswego, I own my own business and am ultimately doing what I always wanted to do. I still curate art for the town of Lake Oswego so my heart is always in the arts. Trees fill my backyard and there is no longer a darkness inside. I am always filled with light and love.

People always ask me if I miss New York or the East Coast in general and this is what I always say: I miss people, places and moments. But none of those exist now as I remember them. Everything is always changing, so those things I miss are just memories. Memories are infinite so they exist in the present whenever I want to bring them to the surface. So no, I do not miss New York or the East Coast because I lived there, experienced, loved and ultimately grew into exactly what I wanted to be. Those times, people, places, and late nights sitting in a Brooklyn basement with a dollar slice of pizza are still with me.

How do you think women in business can better support each other?

  • I would like to start by saying I think we are already doing a hell of a job. Go Girls. There is this irish proverb that I absolutely love: ‘In our togetherness, castles are built.’ I believe this to be so true. Women are a force of nature when we work together. I always found it strange that women hit puberty and suddenly saw other women as competition and threats. I never believed in this idea- I owe everything to women, I love a woman, I am a woman.
  • Make it a mission to find women owned businesses that have similar values to your own. Partner with them, collaborate, promote each other. We are all in this together.
  • If you see a girl on the street and you like her shirt or you think shes pretty- tell her! We’ve got to start talking to each other and encouraging each other more- screw all the petty stuff, it’s 2018.
Brianna (56 of 91).jpg
Briana Thornton
Briana Thornton

Brianna (41 of 91).jpg
Briana Thornton
Brianna (83 of 91).jpg

What have been the most challenging moments since you started your own business and what are things you would have loved to know beforehand?

Everything is a challenge when starting a business realistically, but I like to believe everything has a reason, an intention and ultimately a lesson. I could sit here and tell you that there are financial challenges, branding challenges, logistical challenges- but of course you know all of this because it is common sense. I would not wish to know anything beforehand, because this would have caused me to approach situations differently. By approaching differently, I would not be on the path I am currently on and to be completely honest I am very happy with my current state of affairs. Owning a business is a challenge, but if you change the way you look at things [challenges become learning lessons] things begin to change.

What advice can you give someone who wants to launch their own business or brand?

Stop using the word ‘competition’: The older generation will tell me my ‘millenial’ is showing. Still, I wholeheartedly believe this philosophy. If you see others success, as your own- everything changes.

Recognize that you are allowed to have similar interests to other humans. In my case, Tea has been around for centuries in almost every culture known to man. Who am I to act like I just came up with some brilliant idea to pour hot water on leaves and facilitate a space for people to sit and drink it.  If you believe you have ‘competition’ than you will hyper focus on those companies, what they are doing, how, why- it is really just a waste of time when you could be making your own path. If your starting a company, you don’t have to know everything, but one would assume you have adequate knowledge to be in that position. So trust yourself, stop looking behind your shoulder to see what the next person is up to. Just focus all of your energy on your own brand. Your ‘competition’ is actually just a neat person or people that are into the same stuff- so instead, just be their friend. Sincerely be their friend- no weird ‘Facebook’ type undermining or strategies to get information. Encourage each other, share what you are comfortable sharing and lift each other up. We are all connected- so to put negative thoughts or words on another is just coming directly back onto you. It’s best to feel love and happiness for others successes just as though they were your own.  

Collaborate: I’m all about this and perhaps this is the New York in me. Upon entering school and the workforce in New York no one did anything without a collaboration. Share with friends, work on projects together, cross promote each other. There is literally no negative to it if you work with positive brands that you believe in. When I moved to the West Coast it seemed like the ideas of ‘collaboration’ were not as common as they are on the East Coast. Some people like to keep their business personal and unassociated with anyone, which is totally fine. But hell, I learned and have seen first hand how beneficial collaborations are so that’s how I still work and run my business. You’ve got a cool idea for a photoshoot, branding promotion, tea blend with your herbs- I’m all for it. It takes nothing away from either of us to work together and only strengthens the sense of community and encouragement. I have no issues admitting I’m not good at some things, or that everything I am good at, someone is better. So- I bring those ‘better’ in on a project that showcases both our strengths and the result is twice as good as it would have been if I did it alone.

Who are your role models and your biggest inspiration throughout your career?

My Momma. She raised me as a single mom and created a business from nothing. She now is helping and guiding me in my business. She is obviously a huge part of Aesthete Tea as the Principal Blender but additionally is my motivation for life.

I really can’t explain how magical this woman is. She is my life.

Where can we find your teas?

Of course, online:

We have a brick and mortar that we call the Aesthete [tiny] Tea Room in SW Portland: 3530 SW Multnomah Blvd, Portland, OR. Additionally we have a list of US and international stockists on our website.

If you want to follow Briana, and be update about pop events or tea events either hop to her website or follow her on Instagram @aesthetetea