All photos by Cheryl Juetten Photography
Sipping on A. Tellin Company and T Project’s “Community” blend brings a sense of warmth and comfort—the tea equivalent of a hug, something many of us could use right about now.
Bright citrus and spicy ginger notes complement the smoked chamomile, a familiar yet wholly unique trio of flavors that yields a calming, caffeine-free blend best experienced through gentle sips and deep breaths.
“The one thing I think we all need now is good sleep,” says teamaker Tony Tellin. “With all of this stress upon us right now, rest is a powerful weapon.”
Extending an Invitation
In May, the two Portland, Oregon-based tea companies joined forces to release a collaborative tea blend—something of a rarity in the tea world, according to Tellin. Formerly of Smith Teamaker who recently embarked on his own independent endeavor, Tellin has a lot of experience when it comes to collaborating with chocolatiers, distillers, and even musicians. But tea people, he says, can be reluctant to work with each other due to a sense of secrecy.
“I’ve always wanted to do more collaborations with tea people,” he admits. “I think what we’re losing a little bit is drawing attention to the craftsmanship that happens at the blender-packer level. Showing that there is a sensory skill set, and a creative skill set, and a skill set that mirrors the culinary and the distillery worlds is something that I’m passionate about.”
Inspired by the culinary world’s sense of collaboration, he decided to extend an invitation to Teri Gelber of T Project, whom he had met before launching his own company last year.
“I reached out and said, ‘You want to do a collaboration? It feels like the right time to come together and to try and do something.’…And she was game,” he says. “I think we needed something to help boost our creative energy as well, because, like everybody in the world, it’s just been difficult to stay optimistic and positive and inspired right now.”
Picking Up the Brush
A partner secured, the challenge became how to work on a blend together amid social distancing protocols, as the first wave of COVID-19 began to hit. Taking a cue from the world of painting, where one artist begins a piece and the second finishes it, Tellin created the initial brushstrokes, then sent his results to Gelber to finish the canvas.
“It was the first time I’d ever worked on a joint project where I wasn’t engaged throughout the whole thing,” he says. “Normally, I’d be sitting side by side at a tasting table with somebody and we would be tasting ingredients and mocking up blends and making those decisions together.”
Setting out to create a tea that would promote rest and relaxation, Tellin turned to a classic: chamomile, sourced from Egypt—but with a twist. Using whiskey barrel chips, the chamomile blossoms were smoked and allowed to rest, then sent to Gelber.
“I loved that he took that familiar ingredient and made it a little different by smoking it,” says Gelber. “It really turns it into something completely different.”
Inspired by the smoked chamomile as the base, she began to play around with different ingredients.
“I wanted something that could stand up to the smoke,” she says, “but also give a sense of, it’s familiar, it’s not familiar; it’s invigorating, but the chamomile is soothing.”
She ended up with organic tangerine oil, ginger root, and cornflower, whose rich blue hue is the finishing brushstroke that signals to the drinker they’re about to savor something special.
Benefiting the Community
Taking its name further, Tellin and Gelber arranged for a portion of the blend’s sales to go back into the community: $10 of every bag of Community is donated to Family Meal PDX, a nonprofit that provides financial relief to Oregon’s foodservice and agricultural workers. Since the coronavirus hit, Family Meal PDX has distributed more than $80,000 to workers in medical or debt crisis.
“They’ve been around longer than [COVID], but it has even more need right now, because how many people in the food, restaurant, and agricultural business are struggling to find work and are struggling to work,” says Tellin.
He reached out via their social media, asking if they’d be comfortable accepting donations from the sales of the tea.
“We wanted this to be a partnership, and we didn’t have any expectations on their side other than to keep doing the great work that they’re doing,” he says.
Beyond the Collaboration
Following this, his first “social distancing collaboration,” Tellin is excited about more collaborations down the pipeline, with a continued focus on giving back to the community.
“It helps me feel less like I’m on the sidelines, just waiting for this to all be resolved,” he says. “It feels good to try and help even in a small way.”
Meanwhile, Gelber advocates for further connection and comfort over tea, which she believes is more important than ever.
“We’re all being affected, we’re all rethinking things, and we’re rethinking what is community—how do we help each other, whether it’s with COVID or with anti-racism,” she says. “I think tea can be a connector and instrumental in the way that we come back together.”
Learn more about these companies, and order your own bag of Community (while supplies last), at: