24 March 2015

Steven Smith, Teamaker

I was heartbroken to wake up this morning to the news that Steven Smith, the co-founder of Stash Tea, Tazo, and of course Smith Tea, had passed away yesterday.

There is a lovely obituary that does the man far more justice than I could ever do here, and of course the official response from Smith Tea here.

But I want to talk about the time I got to meet him. It was at the 2012 Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle, Washington. At the time I'd never heard of Steven Smith; in fact, I was just at the beginning of my journey out of the Doily Ghetto and into the world of fine teas.

My friends and I had just finished a workshop that sounded amazing but ended up being a hippie steeping the same tired leaves of green tea over and over for twenty minutes. When we finally escaped the big-haired gentleman, we emerged to see Steven Smith on the main stage, giving a lecture on tea blending, tea tasting, and the pairing of tea and food.

I'd never heard anyone talk about tea the way he did - the nuances, the flavor profiles, the concept of terroir applied to the leaf instead of the vine. I filled two pages of notes, scribbling as fast as I could, and still no doubt missed several gems of knowledge.

When the talk was over, he stayed by the side of the stage, answering questions or just saying hello. I had the great pleasure of talking with him for a few minutes about tea, wine, and Kansas City barbecue, since I was curious what teas he thought would stand up to smoky sweet KC barbecue. He was gracious and friendly and patient.

Later that day, as I was sitting talking with my friends, he stopped by the chairs we were sitting at to say goodbye - and then he gave us a bottle of fruit-infused tea for us to try. It was generous and totally unexpected. It's one of my favorite memories from the Tea Festival. (And it was delicious, by the way.)

Since that day two and a half years ago I've come a long way in my tea journey, but I always have plenty of Smith Tea on hand. I'm sad I won't get the chance to meet the man again - but grateful for the time I did.