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American Tea Pioneer Steven Smith Dead at 65

He co-founded Tazo and Stash.

Mike Mozart/Flickr

The founder of big-time tea company Tazo has passed away: Steven Smith died Monday of liver cancer, reports The New York Times.

"What Starbucks did for coffee, craft brewers did for beer and artisanal vintners did for wine, Mr. Smith did for the Tao of tea," the Times declares. Smith co-founded not one but two major tea companies — Stash and Tazo, eventually selling the former to a Japanese tea company and the latter to Starbucks in 1999. Smith retired from the company in 2006 and following a brief hiatus due to a noncompete with Starbucks, he founded boutique Portland tea shop Steven Smith Teamaker in 2010.

Per the Times, Smith once somehow "persuaded the Food and Drug Administration to certify, as one of Tazo’s exotic ingredients, 'the mumbled chantings of a certified tea shaman.'"

At one time Starbucks had major expansion plans for the Tazo brand, even opening a standalone Tazo store in Seattle; these days, however, they've phased Tazo out of their stores in favor of products from a more recent acquisition, Teavana.