Steven Smith Teamaker, A Industry Favorite

Steven Smith wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. But he used one every day to change the way Americans drink tea forever. Quietly humorous and charismatic, with a slight smile and twinkle in his eye, Steve got his first taste of the world’s second-most-consumed beverage as a kid at his grandmother’s house in Portland, Oregon. After high school and Vietnam, he got into natural foods and co-founded Stash, the world’s first specialty tea company. From Stash, he became the wizard of Tazo — “the reincarnation of tea” — and made more waves with a mind-blowing mix of Merlin the Magician meets Marco Polo. After selling the company to Starbucks, Steve found himself in the mood for retirement. So he moved his young family to France. Before too long, he had another a-ha moment. Enchanted by the friendships he enjoyed with his neighborhood chocolatier, baker and perfumier in Avignon, he emailed his old creative team: “I have an idea for another tea company. But this time, we’re going to do it small, buy only the best tea on the market and blend it with total transparency in our hometown of Portland, Oregon.” And so, after “a year of scarves and 2-hour lunches,” he moved home and once again picked up his favorite tasting spoon — a big-bellied, sterling silver antique found in a stall in Tinsukia, Assam. Steve’s vision was haute tea couture. Extra-small-is-beautiful. And with characteristic humility, he rejected the title of tea master, and chose to be simply “teamaker”. Which is how, in 2009, the signature blends of Steven Smith Teamaker were born in a Northwest Portland blacksmith’s shop. Like a modern French restaurant, our raison d’être is to reinterpret classics with new life. That means every blend begins with a moment of inspiration—maybe a nicely aged cask of merlot, or a scoop of ice cream—transformed by three essential ingredients. As a Smith teamaker, you know — in the cup, it’s all or nothing. You must have good tea, carefully handled, and made with imagination. So you begin, as Steve did in the first place, by sourcing the finest teas and botanicals from friends in India, China, Sri Lanka and Africa. You make buying trips around the world, and have samples arriving daily from tea gardens, traders and brokers. Some you purchase directly, others from auctions held in the tea trading centers of Calcutta, Colombo, Mombasa and Jakarta. You never buy pre-blended anything. Each tea and infusion you make is crafted with care and discipline. Tasting and testing again and again — sometimes as many as 10 iterations. To protect every delicate leaf and blossom, you make each small batch by hand, under your own roof. And you constantly ask yourself, what might make this better? Trying fresh culinary ideas, trading notes with friends, pushing yourself through creative mashups with like-minded makers and mixologists, letting the lightning strike.

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