I was recently invited by Travel Portland to sample Smith Teamaker loose-leaf teas, and am finding a fast favorite in the Jasmine Silver Tip, a full-leaf Chinese (Fujian province) green tea combined with delicate jasmine blossoms.
Steven Smith is one of America’s great tea pioneers. He started Stash Tea Company in the early 1970’s, later went on to co-found Tazo (a company he sold to Starbucks in 1999 for a cool $8 million), and in 2009, Steve Smith returned to the tea world together with his wife Kim to create a new line of tea, Smith Teamaker, raising the bar yet again on high-quality loose-leaf tea.
To back up even further, Smith was part of Portland’s natural foods scene in the early 1970’s, serving as a partner in the city’s first organic foods shop. After a trip to Southeast Asia, Steve was inspired to begin a tea company, and Stash was founded along with two partners. The team was at the forefront of the domestic mint business as they harvested and processed hundreds of tons of mint leaves annually, selling to companies including Celestial Seasonings and Lipton.
Tazo arrived after Stash was sold to Japan’s oldest tea company, Yamamotoyama, in 1993. Smith was after developing a tea brand that would involve artful blending using high quality teas and botanicals, sourced through trusted global suppliers.
To his credit, Smith developed over 60 proprietary blends for Tazo, many of which continue to be their top sellers. Once Tazo was sold to Starbucks, Smith and his family took off to Southern France. Once there and settled, he met with small artisanal food and wine producers, again fueling the desire to create a new breed of tea, and in early 2010, that dream took shape in a century-old NW Portland blacksmith shop as Steven Smith Teamaker was born.
Each ingredient that goes into their teas can be traced through a batch number on the teabags and box. If you’d like to see how this works, visit the batch lookup page and type in 91418. As a graphic designer, I admire the attention to detail that goes into their branding, right down to the messages on the tea bags and on the bottom of the string-tie carton box.
A range of green, white, herbal infusions, and black full leaf teas are available in the US at Williams-Sonoma, Whole Foods, as well as at various hotels and resorts. I noticed one Lower Mainland retailer in Port Moody: Eden West Fine Foods and Gifts.
If you’re in Portland, check out their Teaworks tasting room, with teas to taste in pots or flights, tea products, and other tea-related merch at 1626 NW Thurman Street.