Steven Smith Teamaker
Portland, Oregon

Steven Smith Teamaker

Culinary Creativity In Each Cup

Dried white jasmine blossoms from China are strewn across the table at Steven Smith Teamaker’s tasting room in the Northwest Industrial District of Portland, Oregon. Head teamaker Tony Tellin selects a single blossom, holds it in his hand and then slowly begins to pick it apart. He removes the calyx––which I later learn is the outer bud of a flower––and carefully detaches a few petals. He had been looking for a soft floral scent to highlight the vanilla flavor of a new tea when he turned to jasmine. The whole blossom is gritty and coarse, he explains. But he discovered that he only needed the outer petals of each blossom to create the desired effect.

Steven Smith Teamaker is passionate about the minutiae of their teas and botanicals. Their small batch tea is blended in Portland, packaged by hand in sachets and presented in containers boasting batch numbers for customers to trace the story of each tea: the provenance of the ingredients, the date on which it was packed and personal notes from the teamaker. Tellin’s eyes shine as he tells me about the process of creating a new blend, and lists the origins from which they source tea ranging from fields across Asia and South America, to Europe and North America.

The enthusiasm is contagious and the dedication to exploring ingredients has inspired countless artisans in Oregon to incorporate Smith Tea into their creations––including Smoked Chai Caramels from Quin Candy and a Meadow Marmalade and Peaches flavor from ice cream company, Salt & Straw, as a part of a tea-inspired flavor series. Rogue Ales has also used Smith Tea in a summer shandy, Chamomellow Ale, and a tea India Pale Ale.

They are also brewing up plenty of inspiration in-house with seasonal innovation. For the winter holidays, they produce special teas such as a Bai Mu Dan white tea from China, aged for five months in a House Spirits Distillery white rum barrel and the Méthode Noir, a darjeeling aged in pinot noir barrels from Adelsheim Vineyard. In the summertime, they offer iced tea on tap with rotating flavors such as strawberry honeybush sparkling iced tea, blackberry brahmin, and masala chai on nitro.

With the recently launched Maker’s Series, Steven Smith Teamaker is creating limited edition teas in collaboration with local culinary giants. The aim of the series is to push boundaries. “Although it has thousands of varieties and offerings and styles, after 18-plus years of making tea, I can get into a rhythm of how I would go about doing something,” Tellin says. “It’s nice to talk with someone who doesn’t live and breathe tea everyday. They walk in and say something that inspires you and you’ve got something new to play with.”

For the first collaboration, he again partnered with Salt & Straw’s Tyler Malek to create oolong ice cream tea, a buttery-tasting cream tea with flakes of house made candied sugar, Madagascar vanilla, Spanish almonds, Indian sarsaparilla root, white jasmine blossoms, and a touch of sea salt.

The Maker’s Series offers a glimpse into the company’s approach. “We hope all our products showcase a more culinary approach to an age-old beverage.” The next edition will enlist James Beard Award-winning chef Vitaly Paley to help create a tea set to release in October. Tellin met with Paley just hours before our meeting and appeared eager to divulge a hint of what’s to come. I ponder that perhaps the tea might draw from Paley’s roots in Russia. Tellin simply smiles, “It will be very special.”

Steven Smith Teamaker
1626 NW Thurman St Portland, OR 97209

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