I was recently invited to a “trunk show” by Steve Smith. I had never heard of such an event at a tea shop, but thought it was well worth checking out. Not surprisingly, the evening was innovative and fun. He had selected various local artisans to display their tea-themed wares. Of course, Smith Tea was free flowing throughout the event. One very interesting offering was a black tea that had been aged in an oak barrel. Their master blender, Tony Tellin, who came with Steve from Tazo, shared the details of innovation with those who were interested. Given his long-standing relationship with Steve, Tony has a relatively free hand in experimenting with new ideas for blends and RTDs. He’s also an amazing craftsman, which he does in his “spare time.” I couldn’t resist buying a hand-made tray he had created.
Steve launched his tea cup line at the trunk show. Although touted as “hand made,” they’re actually made in a mold and slip cast. By Chinese standards, this would not qualify as truly hand made. The artisan did explain that quite a bit of special attention and detailing are required for each piece, so it really does give a hand-made feel to each lovely cup.
Another unique offering were textiles, again from local artisans. Although I’m not a tea cozy person myself, I found the whimsical designs quite appealing. Chocolates infused with Smith Tea was another showstopper, with samples being given throughout the evening. As a major chocolate person, it was wonderful to be able to pair my two favorite things – tea and chocolate.
Steve was his exuberant self, playing the crowd – and boy was it crowded – and making up special drinks for those he chose to delight. As Smith Tea becomes increasingly prominent in Portland, Oregon, I’m wondering how he’ll be able to hold back the tide of national distribution. I recall during my initial interview with him, when he first launched his new shop, he promised to keep his small-batch teas local, extending only throughout Oregon. I’m thinking he’s having a change of heart. Time will tell, but if I were a betting person…