Smith Teamaker, the most uncommon name in tea, is thrilled to debut its first Maker’s Series of 2018, a collaboration tea with Grammy award-winning banjo player and self-professed tea lover, Béla Fleck. The limited-edition blend developed with Smith’s head teamaker Tony Tellin, titled “3-Finger Black,” is an innovative combination of three highly prized black teas, scented in-house, that showcase the creative possibilities when two expert makers from two unexpected backgrounds collaborate on one memorable score.
“Watching Béla play the banjo up close and personal is an incredible experience,” says Tony Tellin, head teamaker at the Portland-based Smith Teamaker. “His sound, his movements and the tones of each string are so complex, yet he makes it look so effortless,” he adds. “We wanted to encapsulate that experience in this blend by building complex and nuance flavors that still feel simple and effortless at the same time.”
Setting the Stage
The story of how Maker’s Series 006 came together is as unexpected as the tea itself. Fleck, celebrated as America’s premier modern day banjo player, has been a fan of Smith Teamaker’s Lord Bergamot blend for many years–it’s his morning tea. One day, he was enjoying his morning cup and something seemed off. Being the devoted fan he is, Fleck reached out to Smith letting them know his concerns, not really sure if he’d hear back. Within a day, Tellin replied asking for the batch number (Smith includes a batch number on the bottom of each box of tea so customers can trace what’s in their cup) and details about what Fleck was tasting. “That personal touch and Tellin’s genuine care for the product immediately reminded me of how I approach banjo,” says Fleck. “We had this mutual respect right off the bat, so when he invited me in to make a tea together, I jumped at the opportunity.”
Drawing inspiration from Béla’s love of black teas, ginger and pu-erh, Tellin and Fleck set off on a journey to create the Maker’s blend in Smith’s SE Portland-based headquarters. “It’s fun for me to be in the lab and see how serious everyone is about tea,” says Fleck. “They’re a lot like me and my music.”
After tasting and analyzing countless black teas from many premier producing origins, Tellin and Fleck connected most with Shu Cha Pu-erh, a distinctive fermented and aged tea from the Yunnan Province. From there, Tellin selected two additional Chinese smoked black teas (Keemun Hao Ya A and Zheng Shan) to complement the pu-erh as a tribute to Fleck’s three finger-style of picking. Each of these prized black teas were then uniquely scented at Smith’s HQ, using toasted pecan wood and bourbon vanilla to soften the smoky, scotch-like nose and bring in a creamy texture. Tellin blended in ginger for a bite, osmanthus and rose for a soft floral note and cocoa nibs for a hit of fat and sweetness.
“I quickly saw that tea and banjo play by the same tune,” says Fleck. “There’s a beginning, middle and an end, and it’s all about balancing the details while leaving room for the magic.” “Béla was incredibly easy to work with, as he understands creating exceptional experiences,” adds Tellin. “His skills and techniques transfer to the bench easily.”
The finished blend is a masterpiece of flavor; full and complex, bright and lively, hot and spicy yet gentle and compassionate. 3-Finger Black will be sold nationwide in black string-tie boxes of 15 individual size sachets for $24.99 at SmithTea.com and Smith Teamaker’s two Portland locations.