Insights Into a Transformative Tea Experience
With Smith Teamaker CEO, Darren R. Marshall
Good things come from bored & restless retirees, as was the case with Steven Smith. Any avid tea drinker will recognize his original ventures like Stash Tea and Tazo, but Smith Teamaker is a brand on a mission to take people on a journey of the mind in addition to a journey of the palate.
Here's the scoop from CEO Darren R. Marshall, in his own words:
It all started during a sabbatical in the South of France with his family, where Steven Smith became enamored by craft. Intrigued by the local baker, perfumer, butcher, and cheese maker, he saw what happened when people really good at what they do brought something to life… and the true connection it created between the artisan and their customer. The perfect 27-inch baguette that people waited in line for was more than just sustenance, it was part of their family, ritual, culture.
With that he got out of retirement (for the second time) and started Steven Smith Teamaker in 2009. And since his passing, his team continues his legacy in creating exceptional tea experiences.
When you enter a Smith Teamaker tasting room, such as the one in Portland, you arrive in a comfortable living room with a beautiful fireplace and Gawain bar. It's here that you can sit down and talk with a teamaker. Behind the bar, a big window opens up to the behind the scenes operation where all of the teas are blended & packaged, by hand, for all to see.
It's through education that Smith Teamaker transports tea lovers.
People from all over go to Smith Teamaker to learn about the origin of tea and the farmers behind it. Tea comes from one plant, and yet every tea leaf is different based on terroir and environment. To partake in a tea flight allows you to smell and taste the subtle nuances: high vs. low elevation, chalky vs. rich soil, first flush vs. second flush. To see and experience the transformation of the leaves, the beautiful pot and delicate tea cup - it's a part of the ritual that engages us in this fast-paced world that we live in.
"Smith Tea looks to create memories that are far more dynamic, social, where friends were brought together in deep ways, or someone sparked innovation and creativity within themselves. Those are the memories that we want to bring to life."
- Darren R. Marshall
CEO at Smith Teamaker
What we do takes some time. Being of service is not something we measure ourself on. What we do measure ourselves upon is the quality of the experience and the ability to really create something different, memorable, something that creates deep-seated interest and engagement.
There’s so many products out there and it’s so easy to create better, cheaper, and faster. Everybody does that. But the products that you become really loyal to have an experience, something multi-sensual – you can feel it, you can smell it, you can see it, you can taste the nuance, and if you can’t someone guides you to discover that nuance. That’s the discovery that’s desirable.
What is 15 minutes of inspiration worth to you in a day? What’s the value that you can get by resettling and regrounding and being able to see where your true north is? That’s well worth a cup of something which is a little bit different.
Luxury is not about the most expensive, most rare, or most beautiful of fill in the blank. It’s about transporting your mind, body, and soul to something that is truly optional and you choose to discover that option because it brings you pleasure in one way. For us, relative to other tea brands, we’re expensive, but to luxury brands, we’re affordable.
And shop their teas online! (My favorite blends: the Rose City Genmaicha & Meadow)
Why Does Tea Make Us Feel Good?
Theanine: a 4000 Year Old Mind-Hack
It's not all in your mind: a warm cup of tea really is therapeutic. We won't bore you with the science, but when caffeine and L-theanine come together, real magic happens. This combination (that is completely unique to tea) results in a feeling of mindful relaxation, less anxiety, and reduced fatigue. Gyokuro and tencha, the varieties used to make matcha, are said to have higher leaves of L-Theanine. Just be careful to avoid tea drunkness if you plan on leaving the house after a cup!
Pushing the (Tea) Envelope
What's Next in The World of Tea?
When I think about exploring the world of tea, I immediately turn to Alexis Siemons of teaspoons & petals. Alexis is a tea consultant in Philadelphia, where she teaches culinary tea classes, develops tea-infused recipes for restaurants, and works with tea companies to create collections that span from approachable to novel.
When it comes to learning about tea and seeing what lights attendees up the most, Alexis notices a great excitement towards simple pairing ideas or cooking with tea tips. "Infusing tea into your milk to use for morning oatmeal or blending tea with nuts to make homemade tea nut milk always are always received well."
And as tea drinkers are getting more adventurous at home, restaurants look to keep up. After all, it is often in a restaurant or hospitality setting that people are introduced to new foods & beverages to try. For those in the industry, we challenge you to try for 75% unique to 25% approachable, and embrace cold brew, concentrated tea in mocktail, and bold culinary applications.
A great example of this is La Colombe, an innovative Philadelphia-based beverage brand that Alexis consults with. "I was thrilled when La Colombe was open to my suggestion of balancing their approachable sachet tea collection by offering pour over loose tea service as well. I think that when you see admired coffee brands treat tea with as much care as they do their coffee, customers perk up to the idea of experimenting with a new beverage. Not to mention that they featured two unique oolong teas from two different origins and a matcha gyokuro blend as well."
The beauty of tea is that the ritual is so malleable. I truly believe that we will continue to see a balance of sociable occasions with at-home self-care rituals. Where I envision the change happening is elevating the quality of the sociable occasion options. - Alexis Siemons
Can you envision going to a restaurant or hotel and being handed an extensive tea list with origin and tasting notes? Alexis imagines that as the demand for non-alcoholic options increases, restaurants, cafes and even bars will need to provide their customers with varied tea choices. And a detailed menu just like you would receive for a great wine list is the same attention to detail that a luxury tea drinker is looking for.
And this ties in perfectly to something Darren Marshall brought up during our conversation, and I can attest to this: any true tea lover knows that crushing sense of disappointment when you ask for a cup of tea at an establishment and the response is "we have black and green". It’s a big letdown when the story isn't there. There's so much more meaning, depth, and discovery that goes along with the tea experience.
Alexis's most memorable tea experience? "The first time I sipped shincha green tea (Japanese green tea made from the year's first plucking of the tender leaves in the sencha tea fields from April through May) my tastebuds were somersaulting as I experienced the sip, simultaneously crisp and luscious - a pure ocean wave washing over freshly cut grass. It sent my mind to subtle seaweed and balanced spring vegetables."
When one sip can bring to light so many feel good memories and emotions, it's hard to ignore the power of tea. Now is the time to start thinking differently about this beverage and its transformational powers!
To keep up with Alexis's tea journeys and colorful collaborations
What Tea-Loving Travelers Had To Say
I turned to social media to find out what feel-good tea experiences people enjoy...
Kashmiri tea, it is pink colored and contains milk, cardamom, pistachios and baking soda! I used to have it at my grandmother's house in Lahore, Pakistan and it was so other worldly to me, that I always felt like I was Alice at the mad hatter's tea party! – Reema I.
I’ve never had a grand tea experience except at home - I retreat each day and sip my tea and nibble something savory or sweet and write or edit a poem - or scan some picture book and retreat from the world I even blend teas from my little stash to make interesting combos. – Terrence S.
Drinking 26-year-old Pu’er tea with a master while staying at her house a few months ago. Besides the tea itself, nothing that much special or extravagant, but the simplicity of the setting (tea set and a small vase of no-scent flowers) and our talk about tea, flower, and food made it memorable. – Alex T.
Going to the source: visiting the terraced tea plantations of Sri Lanka and watching the ladies pluck the perfect leaves and put them into the baskets on their backs. – Mimi S.
Standing at a tea stall drinking strong Indian chai from a small glass in McLeod Ganj in the outer Himalayas. The tea stall was on a clearing - beyond it was a cliff. Suddenly, fog moved in and for some time there was just me and the glass of tea. All McLeod Ganj vanished. It was surreal and beautiful. – Umita V.
I drink plenty of tea in public establishments, but it is almost always a pale and lukewarm experience compared to the something far more deeply infused in the sanctuary of my humble kitchen. – Andrew F.
I remember so many great experiences with tea. Probably top on the list was some 40 years ago in old Kyoto, Japan. During the break about midway through a Kabuki performance, we had about two hours in a classical teahouse deep in the bowels of the Gion district. To this day I have visions of the stunning Geisha sliding the bamboo doors back and directing us to the mats to sit upon. This totally spiritual moment from the presentation of the tea and water, the ceremonial preparing of the tea, and the gifting of the tea to drink, will live with me always. The very essence of why we should take time to enjoy tea in a very deliberate and focused environment. – Harold P.
Special Note To The Hospitality & Tourism Professionals
Tea drinkers are an open-minded group of people. Blend tea into your cultural programming and experiences to create a more soothing atmosphere.