We've heard plenty about the coffee brew-ha-ha in Seattle, but in Portland, less than 200 miles away, microbrewed teas are making a splash.
"It follows on the heels of all the microbrewed beers coming out of this area," says Steven Smith, founder of Tazo, a tea-based beverage company with 20 employees.
Smith, 47, sold his stock in the successful Stash Tea Co. several years before founding Tazo in 1994. "I wanted to do something different," he says. "I thought the whole [tea] category was really stale."
Tazo's image is anything but stale. Hip packaging gives the products an upscale look. Ancient-style lettering touts Tazo's wares as "the reincarnation of tea" and hints at the origins of the word "tazo," a toast to life popularized by Greek mystics in 3 B.C. and an elixir made from teas and herbs thought to have magical properties among the shamans of ancient Babylonia.
From Babylonia to Portland? No big stretch, according to Smith: "Portland is the epicenter for the new wave in beverages," he says. "It's a place where people will try new things."
Tazo's CEO Tal Johnson, 34, joined Tazo in 1995 to manage the business side of the company. With his help, Tazo's extensive line of specialty tea products is now carried in 45 states, tempting tea-totallers with everything from bottled Brambleberry tea and tins of loose tea to Tazo's newest product, Tazo Tea Ice Bars.
Annual sales of herbal and specialty tea products are expected to grow to more than $530 million by 1997, and Tazo is poised to drink in its share of the increased revenues. With 1996 sales projected at more than $4 mil-lion, Portland is clearly Smith's cup of tea.