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We are shocked and saddened to hear of the sudden passing away of Steve Smith, the founder of Stash, Tazo and finally Smith Teamaker. Smith shared a special relationship with Darjeeling, and his death is going to be mourned by many there.
As the head of Tazo, Smith had launched project CHAI (Community, Health and Advancement Initiative) in the Darjeeling hills in 2004. The initiative undertook many development projects in the tea growing and non-tea growing regions of the hills.
I met Smith on a number of Darjeeling trips and remember him being charismatic yet very approachable and a down to earth person. Later, I got involved in writing a report for project CHAI, which had me looking closely at some of the works they were doing in the remote villages.
But Smith’s ties with Darjeeling went beyond corporate responsibility for sure. Not only did he frequently visit Darjeeling, he also got married in Darjeeling at a tea garden. Unknown to many, Steve was also keen to open a tea shop in Chowrasta, the central promenade in Darjeeling. He had already looked at a place. Sadly, the project got shelved after months of the red tape of Indian bureaucracy proved, predictably, insurmountable.
Years before I met Smith - and before project CHAI started - he had us all in Darjeeling mystified. A billboard had come up on the Darjeeling highway with gothic-looking symbols that said “Tazo - reincarnation of tea.” No one knew what it meant. Tazo, as a business, did not exist in India. The word tazo, was neither English nor did it exist in any of the 19 Indian official languages.
Little did we know, half-way across the world sat a man, pleased at our response. Smith, who described himself as a “tea shaman,” wanted to mystify us. It was part of Smith’s marketing genius. Also, partly, it was who he was.
May the shaman attain a wonderful reincarnation.
To read more about Steve Smith's tea career and his works in Darjeeling, we recommend this article by oregonlive.com