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The Perfect Blend

News of Note

Smith's favorite tea tradition moves beyond Fridays

A student holds the yellow Smith Botanic Blend and blue Smithie Breakfast tea boxes

Photo by Liliana Hetherman ’25

Published February 16, 2024

Colleagues from College Relations and Smith College Dining Services knew they'd found a winning black tea blend the moment they conducted a taste test. 

“It blew us all away. Just the smell of it,” said Megan Young ’07, assistant director of digital strategy and creative services in College Relations, who selected the tea along with Amy McDonald, director of digital strategy and creative services, Andy Cox, executive director of auxiliary services, and fellow coworkers. “We could feel with that one that that was it.” 

The black tea would go on to a big debut. Introduced during the inauguration festivities of President Sarah Willie-LeBreton in October, the black tea, and an herbal counterpart, were also mailed to thousands of alums to sip and enjoy during the ceremony.

And then the teas—which had become a hot commodity—virtually disappeared, only being served at special events, during Friday house teas, and at the Julia McWilliams Child ’34 Campus Center.

Until now. 

Last week, the Smith College Bookstore unveiled a large display of blue and yellow Smith-branded tea boxes. 

Smithie Breakfast and Smith Botanic Blend were back—and were finally on sale for everyone. 

A yellow Smith Botanic Blend box and a blue Smithie Breakfast box against green moss in Lyman Conservatory

Photo by Liliana Hetherman ’25

Tea has long been intertwined with Smith history, with Friday house teas dating back over 100 years. In 2022, the Smith College Office of Admission extended the tradition further, creating packets for incoming students with the words “Steeped in Tradition” and a small tea bag. But Young, who had been tasked with designing the tea welcome cards, was disappointed with what was included: A generic green tea in a white packet. 

Young had an idea: What if the college made its own tea blend? 

Her brainstorm coincided with two notable college moments: In the spring of 2022, Smith’s 11th President Kathleen McCartney announced her retirement. And her replacement, President Sarah Willie-LeBreton, appointed in September 2022 and set to be inaugurated the next year, happened to love tea. 

In December 2022, as Smith staff across campus started planning for the inauguration, Young began researching tea companies. The Metropolitan Tea Company Ltd., a large wholesaler with headquarters in Canada, topped the list. Not only did they have the capacity to produce the amount of tea required, but their tea lines featured compostable wrappings, were produced in a solar-powered facility, and were ethically sourced from family-owned farms. 

“All of Smith’s priorities around sustainability were supported by this company,” said Young. “So they just seemed like a perfect fit.” 

Then came the difficult part of the process: crafting a completely new and unique blend from scratch. 

Staff from College Relations and Smith Dining Services offered the tea makers a few suggestions for flavor profiles and visuals. The black tea needed to be strong with hints of blue, yellow, and white visible. The taste needed to be so unique that Smith would immediately spring to mind. 

For the herbal tea, the team asked that the blend be very colorful—a visible reminder of the Botanic Garden of Smith College. In honor of President Willie-LeBreton’s love of Red Zinger, the team asked that the tea be fruity and spicy, with a hint of Mountain Day apples and mint from the garden. 

“The first teas we got back were definitely fruity, but they weren’t spicy at all, and they were a little too sour,” said Young. “There was mint in there, but the rest was flat.” 

When the second round of herbal options came back with too much spice, burdock, and ginger, overcorrecting for the original lack of warmth, Young—in typical Smithie fashion—took matters into her own hands, mixing a sample of the first round with an option from the second round. The blend, she said, “made me so happy.” 

A Smith student sips tea from a white mug in Lyman Conservatory

Niv Mantha ‘25 in Lyman Conservatory. Photo by Liliana Hetherman ’25

Tea company representatives were initially skeptical—the mix included a lot of ingredients—but used Young’s creation as a starting point for an herbal tea that was balanced, intentional, and contained hints of all notes the Smith team wanted. 

“I think of it as a ‘kitchen sink’ tea,” said Young. “If you like mint tea, it’s minty. If you like fruit, it’s fruity. If you like ginger, it’s gingery. It’s all of those things.” 

Among alums, the teas were an immediate hit. “The Smith Botanic Blend is the best tea I’ve had in a long time,” noted one alum. “A beautiful and tasty little treat,” said another. 

Up until this week, Young was still receiving emails asking whether the teas would ever return. She said the continued demand has been fulfilling, since it is confirmation that others like the blends as much as she does. 

“I know Smithies love tea,” said Young. “I just knew it was such an obvious idea—it already seemed kind of at home.” 

Smithie Breakfast Organic Black Tea and Botanic Blend Organic Herbal Tea are now available in person at the Smith bookstore at 8 Green St., at the Campus Center Café, and online.