The Transcendental Tale of Tazo Tea

Jan 28, 2013
Photographer News

by Maria Luci

Photographer Cade Martin is best known for his dreamlike and fanciful photo stories. Last Spring, Cade learned that Starbucks was interested in his unique photographic style and possibly considering him for an assignment. Intrigued, and as luck would have it already in Seattle for a project, Cade met with the coffee-loving creatives in person. Their meeting went so well that he extended his trip to speak with Starbucks Creative Director, Daniele Monti, about a specific project for their brand, Tazo Tea Company.

The Tazo brand has always had an ethereal quality to it—with phantasmagorical approaches to packaging, design, and especially copy (for example, Tazo’s site proclaims: “We Steep. And so begins the journey, crossing centuries and continents. Discovering the living history of our ancestors…”). CD Daniele says that, “When we met with Cade, it was love at first sight. Not only did he completely understand, but inspired us to further refine the concepts for each shot and created a level of excitement around the project that pushed it to a whole new level.” Cade “sealed the deal” by finding the perfect shoot locations to bring their concepts to life: Greystone Mansion (a Tudor-style estate where films like There Will Be Blood and The Prestige were filmed) and the Huntington Botanical Gardens.

The concept for the project was somewhat unusual for an advertising shoot; Starbucks wanted the photos to focus on moods and atmosphere, rather than the specific product itself. Daniele adds, “The whole concept revolved around providing a visual metaphor to display the benefits of the new line of well-being teas. We wanted to do this in a brand appropriate way for Tazo, and take this as an opportunity to enrich the brand positioning and its already unique visual vocabulary.” The creative team gave Cade keywords like “focus”, “drive” and “relief” that he was to illustrate in each of the images. It was a refreshing project for Cade, who enjoyed the creative freedom—and the chance to create a conceptual story rather than a literal interpretation of tea drinking. He also loved working with Starbucks, who he says were both extremely, “collaborative and supportive.”

The shoot took three days—two at the mansion and one at the gardens. Cade hired a good sized crew including an art department, producer, film lighting crew, and stylists. Julie Matos handled wardrobe styling, adding to the ethereal look of the project. Cade made sure to keep in mind that many of the photos would be used on Tazo packaging, and therefore needed to fade to white easily. This meant finding spots around the locations that allowed for sky, sunlight, mist, or other white elements to frame the shots.

The entire project went off without a hitch, making it one of the best times Cade’s ever had on an assignment. After the project wrapped, the final shots were sent to Starbucks. They’re now being used in large installation pieces in Tazo’s flagship store, as well as on the Tazo website. The photos will also be placed across Tazo packaging.

Daniele reflected on the project, concluding, “The experience was so positive, enriching and rewarding, that it made all of us better in the way we approach photography and art direction. We were very very fortunate to find Cade—a relationship that we will want to nurture and grow in the future for sure.”

Tazo Teas

View more of Cade’s work at

Tags: cade martin photography starbucks tazo tea