One of the reasons I adore tea so much is that it is so versatile. I mean, sure – I love the standards. English Breakfast, Earl Grey…they definitely have a place in my tea cabinet. But sometimes, it’s fun to think out of the box a bit. One of my favorite tea companies (that happens to be right here in Portland) has elevated “thinking out of the box” to an art form.
Smith Teamaker is a favorite anyway, and not just for their terrific teas. The creator of the company, Steven Smith, was the genius behind Stash and Tazo teas as well. Sadly, he passed away this year, but his spirit lives on in the company. Smith Tea is unique in that each batch is not only hand-blended, but comes with a batch number. If you go to their website and enter the number, you can learn about the ingredients your tea was created from and who made it. For example, on my batch of Bourbon Black Tea, the website tells me:
Bourbon Black Tea
|packed||6/9/14 by Tony, Cass, Sara, ML, Adrianna, and Erin|
|Rich, complex, smooth and most importantly, limited edition. This collaboration with Bull Run Distillery scents our Assam tea from the Nokhroy Estate in a Temperance Bourbon barrel. It is a match made in sophisticated and flavorful heaven. It is guaranteed to raise eyebrows and turn heads.|
|Assam STGFOP1, Nokhroy ,OR135
Produced on the Nokhroy estate in the Assam river valley in June of 2013 and offered by our good friend Mohan.
It is details like this that makes Smith Tea such a wonderful tea company – in fact, they even kindly put together a tea flight tasting for myself and a group of friends. Tony, Steve’s right-hand man for many years, was absolutely amazing, full of information and hints, and it was a great way to learn more about the different kinds of tea. And yes, their teas are excellent. I love their iced teas as well – full of flavor, not too sweet, and they even have some on nitro now!
Well, in the spirit of versatility and thinking out of the box, Smith Tea has created a new offering, their Maker’s Series. Their first creation (that I MISSED (insert sad scream – seriously – I was crushed)) was Oolong Ice Cream Tea, created in cooperation with Tyler Malek of Salt & Straw Ice Cream. It was:
“…a rare treat of rich, buttery-tasting cream oolong tea from Taiwan with flakes of house-made candied sugar, Madagascar vanilla, Marcona almonds and white jasmine blossoms from China.”
It sold out fairly quickly, and I was *determined* not to miss the next collaboration. Well, it has arrived! No. 002 just came out, and it’s called Georgian Caravan. It was created with Chef Vitaly Paley from Portland’s own Paley’s Place. “…inspired by the classic caravan tea experience of Russia…”, it includes handmade huckleberry jam (traditional as a sweetener in Russia). I just got mine Saturday, and it smells and tastes AMAZING. The smokiness is subtle, but definitely there, along with a hint of sweet. The huckleberry jam adds a lovely flavor without taking away from the rest of the tea (I added roughly 3/4 tsp.). It’s fairly strong and for those of you who drink both tea and coffee, would be an excellent cuppa in place of your cup of joe. Its warmth will be perfect for the upcoming rainy season, relaxing with a good book and a scone.
The other fun part? They have posted a brief video and all sorts of pictures and information about the collaboration, making sure that those who purchase can truly feel a part of the whole local process.
I can’t speak highly enough of Smith Teamaker. Their teas are excellent, the people are friendly and knowledgeable and NEVER make you feel like your questions were absurd, and they are revolutionizing the local tea experience in so many ways. If you’re ever in Portland, you really should go visit their tea room (which happens to be right next to Olympia Provisions – tea and lunch, anyone? And if you can’t make it out this way, then definitely order. You won’t be disappointed.