It is with profound sadness that I share the news of the passing of Steve Smith on Monday. As I was unaware that he had been suffering with liver cancer, I was caught completely off guard by the news of his death. I’ve felt a cloud hovering over me all day. I can’t stop thinking about this wonderful man and his contribution to tea both in Oregon, the U.S., and around the world. I was not a friend of Steve’s, but in my experience within the tea industry, I guess you could say we knew each other.
I last saw Steve in the fall of 2014, when I happened to stop by Smith Tea to pick up some tea bags for my travel to Spain. Whenever I happened to be in his shop in Portland, I would ask if he was in. When I was especially lucky, he’d be doing a formal tea tasting in his back room. Oh boy, what a back room it was. It looked out onto a courtyard which was like a sanctuary with a small fish pond and Japanese sensibilities. The room held memorabilia of tea related items from around the globe. A large central table took up most of the room with white cups standing like soldiers at attention, awaiting their tea samples. An antique tasting spoon was available for each taster. He always offered me the chance to taste the teas he was tasting that day. I wish I could say I have a sensitive palate, but I do not. His wonderful teas were wasted on me. I couldn’t identify the subtle nuances that he spoke easily of. It never felt like he thought less of me because of my palate failures.
I first met Steve when he was running Tazo in Portland. I wangled a meeting with him to pitch a tea vessel that I was working on. I was looking for investors and thought he’d be perfect. I’ll never forget his comment when he saw a CAD drawing of my vessel. “This is shit-hot-cool.” I needed some encouragement at that time and his was heartfelt. He told me he’d share the information with his partner and get back to me. I’ll also never forget my disappointment when I heard back from him. Apparently his partner reminded him that they were in the tea business, not the small appliance business.
Over the years I’ve gone to Steve with numerous questions that he always made time to answer for me. Sometimes we agreed on tea “issues” and sometimes not. He was always a gentleman and never pulled a superior attitude. I had the pleasure of meeting his beautiful wife Kim, and son, Jack. He had a lovely family who clearly adored him.
I read his obituary this morning and learned a few things that I hadn’t known. I hope you’ll all take the time to learn about this amazing man and the role he played in the U.S. industry.
I’m glad to hear that Kim will be continuing his efforts as she’s been formally involved in Smith Tea since the beginning.
Steve – may this next journey be richly rewarding. You will most certainly be missed.