Studio Visit: Smith Tea

We sat down with the talented Tasting Room Manager of Smith Tea Sara Kaufman and Social Media Manager Zoe Ching. In the new and spacious facility that now houses production, which includes blending and packaging as well as the companies offices and tea lab. The Southeast industrial space, located at 110 SE Washington St, Portland, OR 97214. That has a stunning tasting room open the public, M-F 9am-5pm and S&S 11am-5pm. 

Sandstrom branding did an excellent job on making a cohesive brand that not only stands out but tells the story of a passionate company that cares even more about what goes in their tea than what is on the outside. Every package of tea feels as exceptional as the specialized efforts that Smith Tea takes. They sources all of the ingredients from around the globe from talented producers of exotic ingredients. They also source as many of their teas contents from the Portland area as possible. The facility it self spoke for the intricacies that go into the complete process of making their tea.

Last year Smith released their Maker’s Series, collaborating with three talented chefs in town they released 3 very different teas that combine diverse flavors with high quality tea. We tried Gregory Gourdet’s Phuket Fire and were pleasantly surprised by the warmth and complexity of the teas notes of sweet (coconut, hibiscus and pineapple) with spicy and savory notes (thai chilies and kaffir lime leaves). An excellent ode to his accomplished menu at Portland’s beloved restaurant Departure. 

And starting this April at their Southeast location, a Gong Fu service which will showcase their Oolong teas!

1. Why Portland? What was it that drew you to Portland or has kept you here?

Zoe: the comfort of living here, the ability to jumpstart down a career path I am excited about, the cuisine that chefs are exploring and then bringing here to Oregon with a Pacific Northwest twist. 

Sara: For me, Portland captivated by with its nature, great food and beverage, crafters, and delightful people. For the company, it was about home and tradition. Steve began his other companies here so for him it was a homecoming.

2. What are your favorite things happening in Portland (design or otherwise)?

Zoe: all the food collaborations and partnerships - Portland businesses want to see one another be successful and I think that mentality has in turn made a lot of companies grow rapidly because people search for brands that move beyond just the product - people want to learn about the relationships behind that brand.

Sara: As cliché as it sounds, I love the bourgeoning tea scene. We have so many incredible tea artists in our town that are changing the face of and the way we envision the drink. 

 3. How did the Smith Tea brand start? 

Steve and Kim had retired in France only to discover that they weren’t done with tea. It was a cultivation of decades of experience and the chance for Steve to truly put his personal spin on his brand.

4. What has been your (Smith's) biggest obstacle? 

I would say outgrowing our space. This new building has been a couple years in the making and we’ve definitely felt the stress of outgrowing our little operation in NW.

5. What or who inspires your (Smith’s) packaging/copy design?

 Sandstrom Partners (info below):

Tazo

In 1994, two guys walked into our office with a Ziploc bag of tea (we swear it was tea), and asked us to create a new brand. Soon after, Tazo was born. We grounded the brand in the history of tea, with all elements becoming the artifacts of an ancient tea culture. The name was designed to evoke the origins of tea, and the logo was reminiscent of archaic pictograms. Themed “The Reincarnation of Tea,” packaging copy engaged and rewarded the consumer while building the mystery of the brand. We created packaging for 100 product SKUs, featuring copy like “Scientists still do not fully understand the Tazo effect,” and “Shake before drinking. You might also want to do a little chant if you feel up to it.” The Tazo brand system was applied to packaging, retail merchandising, collateral, website, apparel and advertising. The brand is considered the greatest success in tea history. This success allowed its founders to sell the brand to Starbucks. And in 2009, one of them walked back into our offices with another Ziploc bag, ready to create a new tea brand.

Smith Teamaker

After reinventing tea in the 90’s with Tazo, Steve Smith wanted a second act, so he came back to Sandstrom Partners with a little problem: he wanted to launch a new tea brand, but conventional wisdom said that there was no room for another one. More importantly (and dauntingly), buyers in the retail grocery channels said, “We’re not adding brands, we’re eliminating brands.” After a pretty thorough analysis of the category, we discovered one major hole in the category: while every brand was chasing after Tazo with functionality and flavors, there seemed to be a clear opportunity for, well, tea. Together, we set out to create the “best little tea brand” in America. The Lexicon of tea is full of exotic-sounding names: “Oolong.” “Pu-erh.” “Matcha.” “Mao Feng.” To these we decided to simply and humbly add, “Smith.” Tea, personally crafted by Steven Smith, teamaker, in small batches at the Smith atelier. Buyers soon made room on the shelves for Smith Tea, displacing some of the ‘functionality and flavor’ brands for a higher quality tea brand.

6. What are your favorite things about Portland?

Zoe: The collaborations with the food/restaurant industry namely, the innovative and unselfish thinkers, the humble makers.

Sara: The rain, the food, the nature, and the ideal.

7. What is your favorite part of your studio?

Z: The large windows and the skylights - I do our social media photography so it is a blessing to have natural light streaming in.

S: The smell! Every day our Tasting Room wafts a different, delightful tea being blended in the back

8. Your favorite thing about your workspace?

Z: That I can have Sara whip me up a matcha latte anytime ;)

S: How open and inviting it is.

 9. 5 things you can’t live without.

Z: Coffee, Dim Sum, Thin Crust neopolitan-style Pizza, homemade pasta, Nong’s

S: Creativity, Trees, Tea, Food, Family.