“There’s so much talent and inspiration around us—that was the impetus,” says Smith Teamaker‘s Tony Tellin of Smith’s ambitious Maker’s Series. “Instead of collaborating and providing tea for other products and makers, we wanted to turn that around and invite others to come play with us.” So far, Tellin has collaborated with chef Gregory Gourdet of pan-Asian restaurant Departure, chef Vitaly Paley (of Paley’s Place, Portland Penny Diner and Imperial), and Tyler Malek of ice cream shop Salt & Straw.
With the Maker’s Series, Tellin has given guest makers free reign to incorporate ingredients of their choosing. For the Phuket Fire, Gourdet wanted to capture the flavors of Eastern cuisine, channeling inspiration from a recent trip to Thailand. The blend features lime-infused pineapple, hibiscus flowers and sweetened coconut on a base of lemon myrtle and osmanthus flower with Thai chilies and makrut lime leaves. In the cup, it’s bright and fruity, with a savory aroma and a spicy kick. “This tea has big flavor and heat, but it doesn’t hit you over the head,” says Tellin. “I had a lot of fun working with Gregory to identify and fuse subtle layers of Asian flavors, fruits and heat.”
With Malek, Tellin collaborated on an Oolong Ice Cream tea built on a base of Taiwanese milk oolong with Madagascar vanilla, Marcona almonds, white jasmine blossoms and candied sugar. In the cup, the tea truly captures the essence of vanilla ice cream. And with Vitaly Paley, Tellin worked to craft a tea reminiscent of Paley’s native Russia. The Georgian Caravan is a rich, smoky blend of black teas, and because Russians commonly sweeten tea with jam, Tellin made small bottles of huckleberry jam to include in the tea boxes. “I love the Georgian Caravan with the wild huckleberry jam while in my shop at night,” says Tellin. “It’s indulgent, warm and inviting.”
Many of the collaborations led to some labor-intensive processes, but the final products perfectly express the personalities of their makers. “We’ve always looked outside our walls for inspiration, paying attention not to what other tea packers and blenders are doing but what chocolatiers, vintners, brewers, chefs, etc. are doing in the world of food and drink,” Tellin says. “The Maker’s Series was a way of fostering this inspiration while making something cool and unique.”