How Not To Do An April Fool’s Joke

April fool’s passed this year, and in case any of you noticed, there were no april fools pranks on RateTea or any of my tea blogs.  I did prank one of my birder friends, claiming to have seen both a LeConte’s sparrow and a Henslow’s Sparrow in a Philadelphia city park (she believed me!).

LeConte's sparrows in habitat
LeConte’s sparrow, a very unusual, but possible species here in Philadelphia. A good example of about how esoteric something needs to be to make a good April Fool’s joke.  Photos from the Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds by Richard Crossley, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

But there was no big RateTea prank this year, nor last year, like the 2012 Teavana Buyout of RateTea April Fools Prank.

The Best And The Worst April Fool’s Joke

My 2012 fake post about RateTea being bought out by Teavana was simultaneously the best and worst April Fool’s joke I’ve ever pulled off.  It was the best, in that I “got” more people than I’ve ever gotten before, with the prank.  But it wasn’t necessarily the best, because it may have caused RateTea some harm.

To understand why it could have done some harm, I first need to explain why it was such a “good” joke, why I tricked so many people.  The main reason was due to a basic fact that happens on the internet with nearly every blog post or news article: many people read the headline, but most people didn’t read the post.

I don’t know exactly how many people read the headline, but my best guess is that it was in the thousands, possibly tens of thousands, because the post itself got about 250 views, and click-through-rates on articles as low as 1% are quite common…so it is very likely that as many as 25,000 or more people saw the headline.  Most of these people formed a mental association, taking note: “Oh, RateTea was bought out by Teavana.”

Years later, I’m still talking to people who saw that headline, didn’t read the post, and still believe that RateTea was bought out by Teavana.  These people include old friends and acquaintances, people I haven’t kept in touch with, but who loosely keep in touch in the sense of occasionally scanning my Facebook posts.  These people also include people in the tea industry.  At the Philadelphia Coffee and Tea Festival this year, and at World Tea East last year, I encountered numerous tea people who also had been tricked by that April Fool’s joke.

How could this hurt me?  Because many people don’t like Teavana.

One thing that I found interesting was that many people reacted positively when they learned that my post had been a joke.  People also expressed a greater desire to work together with me, after learning that I still owned and managed RateTea.

A large Teavana sign over the New York Stock Exchange
Teavana is a big corporation, which many people don’t have the most favorable impression of.  Photo by David Shankbone, licensed under CC BY 3.0.

I’ve heard numerous people complain about Teavana, on many different grounds.  Most people who have set foot in a brick-and-mortar Teavana store have experienced their pushy sales tactics first hand.  Yes, I’ve been to that exact store, in Willow Grove, PA, referenced in that post; it’s quite near where I live.  But then there is also the buying out and closing down of SpecialTeas (one of my friends, a former loyal SpecialTeas customer, is still shopping around to replace some of the products he used to buy from SpecialTeas), and there’s the general issue of being overpriced, something that nearly all tea connoisseurs seem to agree on.

And then there’s just the question of Teavana’s size.  I get the sense that, all other things equal, people prefer to work with smaller companies.  A lot of businesspeople I know have expressed that working with big corporations can involve a lot of headaches, roadblocks, and hoops to jump through, and the payoffs aren’t always worth it.  And people like to work with people with whom they have a personal connection.

Some Positive Takeaways Too

The impact of this prank was certainly not strictly negative–there may also be some ways that I have benefited by people falsely believing about the Teavana-RateTea buyout.  I think there is a degree to which people may reason: “If this site is big enough to be bought out by Teavana, it must have a certain degree of influence and importance.” and this impression could certainly benefit RateTea.

And of course, there’s also the inspiration and boost in my confidence, just knowing that so many people could believe that the site was bought out by Teavana–which confirms to me that most people now have an impression of RateTea being big and influential enough to be bought out by a company like Teavana.  That makes me feel good, at least, and provides some additional encouragement to keep working on the site.

Lessons Learned?

In the past few years, I’ve come to learn a lot about how the internet works, and also, how to pull off a really great April fool’s joke.  Next time I get people on this large a scale, I want to be more careful.

I want to pick a headline, an idea, which will cause only good to come, and do no harm, not to me or to anyone, if people are tricked into believing it.

What do you think?

  • Are you one of the people who I tricked with the April fool’s prank about RateTea being bought out by Teavana?
  • Have you ever pulled off an April fool’s prank that you think inadvertently caused some harm by people believing your joke?
  • How do you feel about Teavana as a company, vs. RateTea?  Regardless of whether or not you knew about the original prank, do you think that you’d be any more or less eager to work together with RateTea, knowing that I still own and manage the site, and not Teavana or some other bigger corporation?

What Makes Tea Articles Hit It Big? Keurigs, Astringency, and Tannins

I never know ahead of time which articles on RateTea are going to blow up in popularity, vs. which ones will fall flat or languish in obscurity.  This post is a bit of a case study, comparing three recently published articles on the topics of Astringency, Tannins, and Keurigs / K-Cups.

A graph showing a sharp spike and then gradual up and down following it
This graph, from Google Analytics, shows the typical shape of a newly published article on RateTea. The spike corresponds to when I share the article on social media and move it onto the site’s homepage.

Astringency vs. Tannins

I published two articles in early January, first one on astringency, and later one on the tannins in tea.  The astringency article attracted roughly twice the interest / audience of the tannins article, which was unintuitive to me, given how often I see and hear the general public discussing tannins, and how little I see or hear people discussing astringency.  In retrospect, the disparity of interest may make some sense, however, as the people who would be reading RateTea are more focused on tea tasting and tea reviews, and astringency is a key concept for these–arguably a little more fundamental than the topic of tannins.

Massive Unexpected Interest in an Article on K-Cups

One thing I absolutely did not expect, however, was the massive success of the article I recently published on the topic of Keurig K-Cups and Tea.  It’s barely been out three days and it’s had almost five times as many views as the other two articles combined.  It also got reshared on Facebook and retweeted on Twitter more than the other two articles combined, and on the tea subreddit, it got massively upvoted.

One user on reddit commented on this picture in the article:

The internals of a Keurig coffee brewer, showing numerous colorful tubes and electronics.
The internals of a Keurig do resemble The Terminator. Photo by Charles (CakeAndTea), licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The user noticed that this pic bears an uncanny resemblance to The Terminator, and this remark started a thread of bad Terminator jokes.  I must say I agree, and was thinking the exact same thing when I first saw that pic.

But, besides the amusement factor of the “Terminator” pic, I suspect there may be some deep reasons for the unexpected popularity of this article.

Could it be that there is a latent anti-Keurig sentiment?  One of the reasons that I wrote this article is my own latent anti-Keurig sentiment.  I’ve lately become frustrated with the degree to which Keurig machines have become mainstream to the point of being ubiquitous in office environments, and even in many people’s homes.  I find myself having such thoughts as: “This is so sad.  Why can’t people be taking an interest in loose-leaf tea instead of something like this?”

I’m frustrated because I see Keurigs as a symbol of fast-paced, instant or fast-food culture, and disposable consumer culture in general.  I am concerned about the waste they generate, and the way they push the culture of coffee and tea away from whole foods and artisan food and drink.  And I also think it’s sad because people are pumping a lot of money into these things–K-Cups are darn expensive as my article explores.  I think this symbolism has been there for some time–I even explored it in a dream I had back in 2012.  I’ve been processing these thoughts for a long time, and talking about them with others, and that grew into the RateTea article.

What do you think?

  • Do you have any theories as to why there would be more interest in the astringency article than the article on tannins?  Do you think this trend will continue to play out in the long-run, or do you think that it may reverse, given the obsession in the broader population with health properties of tannins in tea?
  • Are you surprised, or not, by the massive interest in the article on Keurigs?  Do you think it’s explained by latent anti-Keurig sentiment?  Do you share this sentiment yourself?

Q&A With Alex Zorach About Tea Blogging, Dreams and Hopes

I rarely respond to chain posts like this, but I found this one interesting and thought-provoking.  Here is my response to being tagged by @Jackie in her post The joys of tagging or how global warming melts my tea blog.  Apologies for taking so long to answer this–I wanted to write thorough answers, and it’s taken me quite some time to get to this.

Large-leaf oolong tea leaves after brewing, on a ceramic plate
Whole-leaf oolong tea leaves after brewing. I’d like to nudge the global tea culture more in the direction of loose teas, especially artisan teas like this oolong from TeaVivre

1) First, let’s start with how you were introduced & fell in love with the wonderful beverage of tea.

My parents are huge tea drinkers, making a pot of strong black tea every morning, and always using loose-leaf.  When I was growing up though, I only drank caffeine-free herbal teas…and I got very interested in them, in part through getting interested in growing mint-family herbs in the garden.  In college, I began trying different  tea bags, and a key moment was trying a high-quality oolong in a tea bag from Ten Ren.  Years later, the discovery of Upton Tea Imports with their huge catalogue, focus on tea regions, and affordable samples was another key moment.  And of course, RateTea has gotten me more into tea than I ever was before.

You can read more about this whole journey in my old blog post how I became interested in tea, on my old tea blog.

2) What was the very first tea blend that you ever tried?

I don’t think I remember this, but the stuff at home that my parents drank when I was growing up was mostly from Murchie’s.  My parents drank a lot of Russian Caravan, and other strong black teas.  The first teas I remember being conscious of sampling on my own, drinking regularly, and forming an opinion on were the Bigelow flavored teas.  I think I became fond of their Earl Grey before the others, although to be honest it was their herbals that first drew me in, and I was most fond of the Sweet Dreams blend.

3) When did you start your tea blog & what was your hope for creating it?

I started RateTea in September of 2009 and my old blogspot blog shortly thereafter.  But I first wrote online about teas on Cazort.net, earlier in 2002.  The high amount of views and interest on those tea reviews were one of the things that inspired me to create RateTea.  More recently, I started this blog earlier this year, February of 2013, and I started Teacology in November of 2012.  Oh, and my newest tea blog is the RateTea Tumblr, started May of 2013.

My hope / purpose for each of these was somewhat different..  On Cazort.net, I hoped to see how much people online were interested in reading tea reviews.  I was surprised to find that there was a ton of interest…and this inspired me to create RateTea.  With RateTea, my hopes and dreams were (and continue to be) ambitious.

I ideally would like RateTea to grow into a large business with multiple full-time staff (it’s well on its way there) but more importantly, I want RateTea to be a unique resource that can transform the tea industry, and play a small but important role in the transformation of food and drink culture in the US and the world.  In particular, I want RateTea to inspire people to pay more attention to their tea, and to food and drink in general–how it tastes as well as where it comes from and how it is produced.

My main hope in creating my first tea blog was to engage with the community of tea bloggers–and it was very successful in doing this.  My hope in moving away from Blogger/Blogspot and shifting to Tea Trade and WordPress as blogging platforms, was to reach a broader audience and avoid the problems of spam and stagnation that had plagued Blogger.  And this has been largely succesful.

Lastly, my hope in the RateTea Tumblr has been to engage with the audience on Tumblr, which is uniquely young and internet-saavy.  The RateTea Tumblr has been very successful, getting a lot more engagement than I had expected or anticipated, and I am hoping to keep it up!

4) List one thing most rewarding about your blog & one thing most discouraging.

This question would be very different applying it to different sites and blogs.  I think the most rewarding thing is knowing that people are reading, appreciating, and being influenced by my ideas.  I think that I’m someone who cares, more than anything else, about influencing the world.  I have ideas that I feel passionate about and I feel like they’re a lot more important than my own money, fame, or recognition.  I just want to get the ideas out there.

Some of these ideas include things about food culture, like how we eat and drink and think about food.  Others of them include how we think about the internet, about information, or about money or business.  Still other ideas, possibly the most important of all, pertain to how we communicate, and to what sorts of communication and ideas I see as respectful and/or truthful.  I feel like all of these different issues come up in my tea blogging and my work on RateTea.

I think the thing that I find most discouraging is when I feel like I’m not getting much attention for my work.  I sometimes get especially frustrated when I create or share multiple posts or works, and the ones that I feel most passionately about attract the least attention, when I see posts that either I or others have created, that I see as more superficial or less important to me, attracting more attention.

5) What type of tea are you most likely to be caught sipping on?

It’s funny because, in writing this post, I had copied-and-pasted the text from Jackie’s post, and I see her reply below this as I’m typing, and this is the one point where her first sentence could just as well have been mine:

“8.9 times out of 10 it’s black loose leaf tea.”

Okay, maybe not quite 8.9 times out of 10, but I definitely drink loose-leaf black tea more than any other kind of tea.  But in my case, it’s nearly always a pure tea (unflavored) and it’s nearly always without any milk or sugar.

If there’s any one brand that I drink most frequently, it would be Ahmad Tea, and the type of tea of theirs that I drink most often is their Ceylon Tea.  Ahmad’s Ceylon is really hard to beat…and of all the teas out there of similar quality, it’s the least likely to break the bank.

6) Favorite tea latte to indulge in?

I’m going to again quote Jackie on this one:

Ugh. Shudder. I’m not even going to find out what that may be.

7) Favorite treat to pair with your tea?

Nuts or fruit.  I love munching on nuts…I often make a trail mix which I call “Anna’s Parents’ house mix”, which consists of about equal parts (by weight, not by volume) of almonds, walnuts, cashews, and raisins.  I eat that a lot.

I also love eating fruit.  As I like to say, “I’m a fruit person.”  One of my favorites is baby bananas, but, especially in season, I also love strawberries, juneberries (serviceberries), plums, or my favorite fruit, black raspberries, or second-favorite-fruit, blood oranges.  There are some fruits, like pineapple, kiwi, and grapefruit, which I love, and eat frequently, but which I avoid pairing with tea.  I even wrote about what grapefruit does to my taste buds; pineapple and kiwi aren’t quite as bad but have similar effects, ruinous if I want to write a serious review.

And I sometimes eat chocolate with tea…sometimes Trader Joe’s 70% dark chocolate…other times Aldi’s dark chocolate with Hazelnuts…or possibly their Marzipan bars coated in dark chocolate.

And lastly, sometimes the south-central Pennsylvanian in me comes out and I’m caught eating pretzels with my tea.  My mainstream brand of pretzels is Snyder’s of Hanover, preferably the sourdough nuggets, but “en mi corazon” I’ll always have a special place for the truly exquisite hard pretzel, Hammond Pretzel, rarely available far from my hometown of Lancaster, PA.

8) If there was one place in the World that you could explore the tea culture at, where would it be & why?

I’d love to explore the culture of tea production anywhere and everywhere.  Most of my exposure to tea culture has been the culture of tea consumption.  I honestly am more interested in production than consumption when it comes to tea, I think in part because the way I usually like to enjoy tea is pretty minimal–just by myself with a mug.

But tea production is pretty far removed…and I read about it and research it so much and so deeply.  I have created this huge encyclopedia of info on RateTea, and I frequently browse the region pages on the site and wish I could go to these places…but it’s very expensive.  Maybe some day!

If I had to pick a single place to visit, it would probably be a more remote part of China, probably Yunnan province.  I’m really drawn by the permaculture with ancient tea trees, the fact that the tea plant is probably indigenous to that region, and to the ancient cultures and traditions of tea production there, as well as the amazing diversity (and weirdness) of the teas produced there.

9) Any teatime rituals you have that you’d like to share?

For how into tea I am, I think my tea rituals are pretty boring.  I usually brew a cup of tea with my breakfast, usually not a tea I want to review (more often than not it’s a black tea from Ahmad Tea).  I usually brew it really strong, and I let it sit and cool when I’m eating my breakfast, which usually includes a bowl of unsweetened shredded wheat cereal with milk, and some fruit.  And then I drink it once I’m done eating.  I often like to look out the window when I’m drinking it, although sometimes I drink it at the computer and start doing a little work before I head out for a morning walk or bird survey.

10) Time of day you enjoy drinking tea the most: Morning, Noon, Night or Anytime?

Definitely morning; I’m relatively sensitive to caffeine and I tend to drink little tea after the mid-afternoon.

11) What’s one thing you wish for tea in the future?

I hope RateTea continues to grow and thrive, but more importantly, whether or not RateTea is successful, I would like to see the goals and purpose of the site to be achieved…the goals of sustainability in the tea industry through a greater appreciation for tea.  What do I think this would look like?

  • People shift away from tea bags and become more focused on loose tea; the industry as a whole shifts to loose tea from tea bags.
  • The focus of the tea industry shifts away from low-quality, bulk teas, blending, and flavored teas, over to high-quality, pure teas, and artisan teas.
  • The tea industry becomes more transparent, with companies providing more information about where their tea comes from, and how it is produced
  • The infrastructure and support aspects of the tea industry become more sustainable–in terms of everything from the packaging of consumer products, to the behind-the-scenes shipping and packing, and the tea production itself
  • Tea culture stays diverse and becomes more diverse…and the marketplace is dominated by small companies and small producers, rather than large brands and multinational corporations with standardized products

What do you think?

I’m not going to tag specific people because I think a lot of people have already been tagged in this post and Tea Trade isn’t a big enough community for us to continue tagging the same number of people, but I’d encourage anyone who wants to answer this post!

Did the questions, or my replies, bring up anything for you?  Let me know in the comments or with a follow-up post!

I’m especially interested in knowing what people think of my goals and hopes and dreams for the tea industry and global tea culture!

Junk in the RateTea Contact Form

One thing that I never anticipated when I founded RateTea, and which has never ceased to amaze me, is the amount of complete garbage I get in the RateTea contact form.  I’m not talking about spam, I’m talking about inquiries that are misplaced or irrelevant.  Here is one of the latest:

Please let know whole rate of our product.

I don’t even know what this means.  I frequently get all sorts of inquiries from people wanting to buy or sell all sorts of things that are completely irrelevant…for example, things tangentially related to the tea industry, like people selling (or wanting to buy) packaging or boxes.  Most of these are from people with exceptionally poor command of the English language.  Sometimes I struggle to even understand what they’re saying.  Often, the broken language is extremely formal in construction, which is sometimes amusing.

Here’s another one I got:

Please give me more details as to how exactly this works and if there are any costs involved. Please don't have anyone call me, just send me an email reply. Thank you. Sarah.

This had an email address with a domain that had no website on it.  Typing this text into google, I see this message is a form message that’s been sent to many people.  What is this one, a scam to harvest email addresses for spamming?

People Writing as if RateTea were Customer Service for a Tea Company

One thing I get frequently is people writing to me at RateTea, as if they were writing to the customer service of a tea company.  It happens most often with people writing to Bromley Tea, but it happens with many other companies as well.  I think I have a vague understanding of why this happens, but it still seems perplexing.  For example, if you type bromley tea contact into Google, the first several results are the Bromley tea website, which clearly has an email address, but no web contact form.

If this email address somehow didn’t satisfy someone, and someone were to scan the search results until they got to the first one that offered a contact form, this would take them to the 5th or so result, which is RateTea.  Bromley tea is one of the companies for which we frequently get contacted with messages that seem like they are being written to customer service.

I always respond courteously to these messages, but I can’t help but feeling a little perplexed at the complete irrelevance of them.  Some of them are minute complaints about the quality of the paper packaging on their tea bags, or commentary on their packaging.  Isn’t it clear that RateTea is RateTea, and not one of the companies listed?  The contact form says “Contact RateTea”, not “Contact Name-of-Company”.  Our page on Bromley Tea also clearly links to the official page.  I wonder how many of the superfluous contacts I get in the form are people who are, for what ever reason, running on autopilot and not thinking at all about who they are writing to.  I sometimes wonder if they are older people who are completely unfamiliar with how the web works and perhaps browsing for one of the first times.

At any rate, some of the messages give me a good chuckle, and the ones that I think are wasting my time I just delete without thinking much about.

What do you think?

  • Can you think of any explanation for the volume of junk I get in the RateTea contact form?  Does the lack of English skills fully explain the irrelevant business inquiries?  Is my theory of older adults unfamiliar with the internet adequate to explain the strange volume of messages I get that seem to be addressed to Bromley tea’s customer service?
  • Do you think that one message I pasted is a scam, or something else?
  • If you run an online business with a contact form, have you also had a huge volume of off-topic and irrelevant inquiries (not to be confused with actual spam or scams)?
  • How would you respond to off-topic inquiries?  At what point do you think they’re wasting your time and would you just delete them?  Which ones would you take the time to respond to politely?

Pure Teas with Chocolate / Cocoa-like Aromas and Flavors

I love chocolate.  As I write this, I’m just finishing a dark chocolate hazelnut chocolate bar that I bought at ALDI.  ALDI is a veritable desert for tea, but if you live near one, they have fantastic imported German chocolate (and sustainable seafood too).  Among chocolates, I tend to like ones that are stronger and less sweet.  The dark chocolate sold at ALDI is about as sweet as I get…I love the stronger stuff, the stuff that makes some milk chocolate lovers cringe and make funny faces.  I like stuff that is more bitter than sweet and has a very high cocoa content.

Licensed
Dark chocolate, the sort that I’m more a fan of; Photo by Lablascovegmenu, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

 

I also like preparing unsweetened hot chocolate or cocoa and not adding any sugar or sweetener.  Sometimes I add milk but often I just drink it straight.  Frequently I add spices, usually nutmeg and mace, rarely cinnamon, and often cayenne pepper (for a kick).

Interestingly, I have found that there are numerous pure black teas that have aromas and flavors strongly resembling the qualities of the types of chocolate I like, including those that resemble a cup of unsweetened cocoa.  These are not sweet, “dessert-like” teas the way some chocolate-flavored teas are…they’re bitter, strong, and have a dry flavor and sometimes leaving a moderate astringency on the palate, almost reminiscent of a very dry red wine.

I want to highlight two teas; one is what I’d consider an “everyday tea”, and the other isn’t.

Ahmad Tea’s Ceylon OPA

The award for my favorite “everyday” black tea with cocoa tones goes to Ahmad Tea‘s Ceylon OPA.  I talk about this brand of tea a lot, and that’s because I think it’s top-notch and I want people to know how it offers such outstanding value.  This particular tea has consistently high reviews on RateTea; it is ranked 91st percentile among all teas on the site and is currently the 2nd ranked Ceylon black tea on the site.  I can also testify that numerous people who neither review teas on RateTea nor blog about tea on the internet also love this tea.  My friend Anna’s dad is a fan of this tea, as are both of my parents.

This tea is a robust, strong black tea with tones of both cocoa and spice.  It’s not a “hit-you-in-the-face tastes-like-chocolate” sort of thing, but it’s more subtle.  I recommend it for

Harney and Sons Panyang Golden Tips

The other tea that I’d like to highlight was one I sampled last year at World Tea East: Harney and Sons’ Panyang Golden Tips.  For this tea, I don’t have a big audience of reviewers–you’ll have to trust my word (you can read my review if you’d like).  But this tea is intensely cocoa-y.  Unlike Ahmad’s Ceylon OPA, for which the chocolate resemblance is subtle, the resemblance here is of the “hit you in the face” variety: brewing this tea yields a cup which, to me, tastes very similar to a cup of unsweetened, brewed cocoa.

Interestingly, not all Panyang/Panyong Gold teas have such a strong cocoa-like character.  I tried one recently from Tea Horse which was outstanding, but had only hints of chocolately characteristics.

Other Teas

These are not the only teas I’ve tried that had suggestions of chocolate or cocoa in their aroma, just two that stood out to me.  I’ve found that traditional Lapsang Souchong, not the overwhelming campfire-smoke stuff that the British drink, but the more subtle stuff, can also have these qualities.  Life in Teacup (which is closed till Oct. 18) is one source of such traditional Lapsang Souchong that I’d recommend: look on their page on red tea.  I’ve also found some of these characteristics in Yunnan teas.  Interestingly though, all the teas that have exhibited these characteristics have been black tea: not green, white, oolong, nor Pu-erh or other aged teas.

What do you think?

  • Do you like chocolate?  Do you like the sweet stuff, or do you, like me, prefer the bitter sort?
  • Have you tried either of these teas?
  • Are there any other particular teas that stand out to you as having that unsweetened cocoa / bitter chocolate quality to them?
  • Have you ever had any type of tea other than a black tea exhibit these qualities?

Tea Horse and More Yaupon: The Price of Yaupon vs. Yerba Mate

I’ve received some samples recently from some new companies that I had never even heard of a few weeks ago.  One of them is a UK-based company, Tea Horse.  Although the company mainly does business in the UK, they were nice enough to ship me samples of three of their loose-leaf teas, which I’ve already reviewed on RateTea.  Tea Horse offers subscriptions, which is something that doesn’t appeal to me as I’m not really able to predict the rate at which I use up tea, but they do also have a regular online tea store.  I am super impressed with the quality of the samples I’ve received from them though.

You can read the reviews of Tea Horse’s teas on RateTea; so far Sylvia and I have both reviewed them.  I think it says a lot when both of us like a company’s teas–our tastes are so widely different (she always drinks her tea with cream and sugar, and I never add sugar and only very rarely add milk), and I’ve noticed that in the past, when we both consider a tea top-notch, it seems to have nearly universal appeal.

Another Domestic Yaupon Producer

Another surprise has been that I’ve been contacted by a third producer of Yaupon.  This one is called Cat Spring Yaupon Tea, and is named after the town of Cat Spring, Texas, a town between Austin and Houston where the company is based and where their Yaupon is grown.  I have brewed up a single cup of the dark-roast Yaupon, which was my first experience with this caffeinated drink.

On the Business and Price of Yaupon

I think domestic Yaupon production is a great idea, but so far, I have made one really sad observation about it: it is very expensive.  Very expensive as in all three domestic producers that I’ve located are selling it for about the same ballpark price, which is around $10-$12 for 10-15 tea bags.

At this price, I think there are two possible ways these products can be viable: if it’s really, really amazingly good, like mind-blowingly good, like something I’d rate 90/100 or above on RateTea…or as a novelty product.

As this is a new, very young business, even before trying any samples, I thought it’s unlikely that any of these businesses would break into the “mind blowingly good” category, and it’s sort of sad for me to conclude that these businesses will only really be able to survive as a novelty product.

Yaupon, from the cup I’ve tried, tastes a lot like Guayusa and Yerba mate, and Yerba mate in particular is very cheap.  I  just saw some for sale in a little convenience store in Baltimore, for the price of $7 a pound.  This price is pretty typical…I’ve seen organic certified Yerba Mate for only slightly more expensive than this.  When there’s this big a disparity in price, it just makes me sad.

I understand that there are factors of economics that lead to price disparities, but I don’t think this disparity alone can explain the difference in price.  According to the World Bank data in this list, Paraguay had a 2012 per-capita GDP of $6,138, whereas the US’s was $49,965.  That’s a factor of about 8.  That’s actually much smaller than the disparity in price between the Yaupon producers.  This makes me think that these companies might be able to lower their costs and prices substantially, and thus develop a more viable business plan.

What do you think?

  • Have you heard of the company Tea Horse?  Have you tried any of their teas?
  • What do you think of companies offering subscription services?
  • Have you ever tried Yaupon?
  • What do you think of the price of Yaupon, vs. the price of Yerba Mate?

Iced Ahmad Tea, Karen Flam, Tea vs. Beer, and Starbucks/Tazo

It was quite hot yesterday and today, and I made up my first batch of iced tea of the season, and I’m drinking the last cup of it, pictured here on my windowsill.  It was raining as I took this pic.

A cup of cloudy iced tea on a windowsill
Iced tea, brewed from Ahmad Tea’s loose-leaf Ceylon tea

This was brewed from the regular loose-leaf ceylon tea from Ahmad Tea.  It came out quite cloudy, and almost pinkish in hue–I found it quite aesthetically pleasing.  I brewed it on the mild side so I could drink it in quantity, but this tea I usually prefer to brew strong when I’m drinking it hot.   If I had to be stuck with a single black tea to drink, this would probably be one of the contenders for my pick.  It certainly helps that it’s priced at around $8 a pound–and this tea offers exceptional quality for this price range.  It tastes good hot or iced, and has a good balance of strength and complexity, with a rich malty quality and the wintergreen tones that I so love in black tea.  You can read my full review on RateTea.

I started thinking about writing a post for Teacology on energy efficiency in brewing iced tea.  RateTea’s page on iced tea has a little section on this, but I want to go into more depth.  So stay tuned for that.

Meeting A New Tea Reviewer: Karen Flam

In other news, I recently met up with Karen Flam, who runs the Aromatherapy Alliance.  Karen, a.k.a. spaflam, started out reviewing teas with a big splash, shooting up to the #5 spot on RateTea’s top reviewers page after only a few weeks.  Will she be the first one to overtake me on the site, in terms of number of teas rated?  I don’t know, but if she continues at the rate that she has been, I won’t be in that #1 spot for very long!

I love meeting up with people in person; most of the people I interact with through RateTea live rather far away, so it’s refreshing to find people local enough that we can meet face-to-face outside of big events like World Tea East.

More on Reviews: Beer vs. Tea

It’ exciting to connect with other people who love reviewing things online.  I dream of a day when RateTea will look like the RateBeer 100 Beer Club.  123 users who have rated over 5000 beers!  Wow!  I wish people would get that excited about tea.  I know I am much more enthusiastic about rating tea than beer, so the disparate level of enthusiasm between tea and beer has been a bit unintuitive to me, especially given that it seems people are much more likely to drink tea than beer when at a computer and in a state of mind where they’re eager to write up an online review.  But as my mother pointed out–“the types of people who like beer are more the types of people who like rating things, like think of the guys who rate women on their looks”.  Ahh…not exactly the most pretty mental picture…but perhaps there’s some truth in it, which would explain both why there’s been a little less interest in tea rating, as well as why my intuition for why there is less interest may be a bit off.

But I’m happy for what I have–RateTea’s participation and the reviews have been steadily growing.

More Reviews

Stay tuned for some new reviews from me.  I’ve been sampling some teas from TeaVivre, and they’re pretty top-notch.  This tea was amazing.  And there are two more that are top-notch.  I want to brew them a bit more before I write up the final reviews, but there’s a Lu An Gua Pian that’s the best example of it’s style that I’ve ever tried, and some other outstanding green teas as well.

Tazo: Tea Bags (Filterbags) vs. Sachets (Full Leaf)

I’ve also begun breaking apart Tazo’s offerings into the tea bags (which they call “filterbags”, awkwardly IMHO) and sachets (which they call “full leaf”, a term I have a bit of beef with)…and I’ve begun reviewing them separately.  Yes, Tazo still offers both of these lines of tea separately, although you’ll only find the “full leaf” sachets in Starbucks coffee shops.  And in case you missed it, Tazo finally did away with their flash-only website.  Check out the new Tazo site.  I love it; I think this is an immense improvement and will go a long way to helping Tazo’s online presence:

Screenshot of the new Tazo website
Tazo finally abandoned their old flash-only website, and has a fully-functional, standard website. Yay!

What do you think?

  • Any thoughts on the beer rating vs. tea rating topic?
  • How do you feel about Tazo’s naming scheme fol their tea bags vs. their sachets?  What about the quality of these teas?  And do you like their new website?

More Focus on Tea Producing Regions, and Turkey in Particular

One of my key goals and missions from the very beginning of my work on RateTea has been to draw greater attention to the different regions in which tea is produced, and, paired with this, to draw attention to single-origin teas and single-estate teas.  RateTea has had a series of articles on the different regions that grow tea for a long time, and the database of teas has been indexed by (and searchable/browsable by) regions as detailed as individual counties in China, when this information is available from the manufacturer.  But I’ve wanted to continue working on this part of the site, because I think it hasn’t gotten the level of focus as the articles on styles of tea have.

Recently I started going back through and further improving the pages on individual tea-growing regions.  I’ve included a bunch more images, including images that highlight tea culture as well as tea farms and plantations.  I also highlighted the region section of the site on RateTea’s homepage, making the most common regions accessible from the homepage in a single click, and also showing a list of the most recently updated region articles.

I want to highlight one of the articles, that is, the article on Turkey:

Screenshot of RateTea's article on Turkey
RateTea’s newly expanded article on Turkey and Turkish teas.

Turkey is a region that is infrequently discussed in the tea world.  I knew little about it as a tea producer, for some time, and it took significantly more digging to uncover thorough information about it, relative to other countries.  Why do I think Turkey is so interesting as a tea producing region?  I want to throw out a few reasons I find it interesting:

  • Turkey is one of the top producers of tea globally; by total amount they hover around the top 5 spot, although in one year, 2008 they produced nearly as much as China or India!  This is incredible given that all of their tea is produced in a tiny region of the country.
  • The region of Turkey that produces tea is only able to do so through a bizarre quirk of geography and climate, producing an unusually wet region in a mostly semi-arid country.
  • There are some interesting economics of Turkey’s tea industry, including a very steep tariff and a black market for tea smuggling.
  • Single-origin Turkish tea is widely available in the U.S. in Turkish and Middle Eastern stores, and the tea is very inexpensive and, although not organic certified, it is grown without pesticides.  I’ve found it pleasant and mild tasting; certainly not the most complex or interesting tea, but different and quite good for how cheap it is.

How about you?

  • Have you ever tried tea produced in Turkey?  If so, what did you think of it?
  • Are you as fascinated by climate and geography as I am?
  • How much of the contents of RateTea’s article on Turkey is new to you?  Are things like the tariff, Turkey’s global prominence as a tea producer, and the peculiar climate around Rize things that you are already familiar with, or are these new, unfamiliar ideas?

Teas from Guangxi Province, China

Guangxi is not one of the big provinces that usually comes up when discussing Chinese tea.  It borders Yunnan and Hunan provinces, both of which are more well-known (especially Yunnan) in the Western tea world, and it also shares a small border with Vietnam.

By TUBS on Wikimedia Commons, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Map showing Guangxi province, courtesy of user TUBS on Wikimedia Commons, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Recently, in the interest of making RateTea as comprehensive a resource as possible, I have been working on expanding the RateTea articles on various tea-producing regions.  One of these that I have worked on most recently is the page on Guangxi and its teas; I’ve done some digging and uncovered a total of seven offerings, sold by six different companies.  I have yet to try any of these teas.  Even with only seven listings, the teas produced in this province and available in the West are quite diverse, including green, black, white, and scented teas.

I don’t know about you, but I find this interesting.  I want to try these teas.  I think I especially want to try them because I like trying teas that are not widely known or widely available in the U.S., and I like broadening my palate.  I also tend to find Yunnan and Hunan teas very interesting.  I also want to raise awareness of these more “esoteric” teas and tea-producing regions.

How about you?

  • Have you ever tried any teas from Guangxi province?
  • Do you know anything about tea production in Guangxi, and the teas there, beyond what’s covered on the page already?  I’d love to improve this page.
  • Do you know of any teas available in the U.S. or other Western countries, which aren’t listed on RateTea?
  • Do you ever find yourself drawn to teas from the more unusual or less well-known tea producing regions?

Whole Leaf Tea, Immaculate Leaf, and Tea Companies Without Websites

I just published a new article on Whole Leaf Tea or Full Leaf Tea, on RateTea.  The article hits on several points, including the lack of a precise legal definition of whole leaf tea or full leaf tea, and how the term is often casually applied to larger broken leaf tea, and on the advantages (and possible downsides) of whole leaf.

Screenshot of the RateTea article on whole leaf tea

Tangentially related, I want to highlight a company that gave me some samples of outstanding whole leaf oolong tea, at World Tea East.  I’ve held off on posting reviews because the company’s website has been incomplete, but this may be a case of a company for which the website is not very important.  There’s an email, and if you’re looking for a supplier, contact info is all you need.

This company is Immaculate Leaf.  Their green Taiwanese oolongs are among some of the best I’ve ever sampled.  If you’re looking for a wholesaler supplier of top-notch Taiwanese oolongs, I’d recommend getting in touch with these people.  Their website has been “coming soon” for months now, which may signify that they haven’t pulled their business fully together yet, but it could also signify that they don’t particularly need the websites.  I put off posting about them for months, waiting for their website to be completed, but I finally decided that it’s more important for me to write about them while my impression of their teas is still fresh in my mind.

Can Tea Companies Get By Without Websites?

Although we are solidly in the information age, there are still many successful business out there that either have poor or incomplete websites, or no websites at all, simply because their marketing strategy is completely successful without a website.

To give another example of a successful tea company that has a broken or under construction website, check out Jacksons of Piccadilly.  This company’s website has been incomplete or under construction for at least three and a half years; it looks the same now as it did when I founded RateTea back in 2009.  Jacksons of Piccadilly is a UK based company that impressed me with the quality of one of their Darjeeling tea bags that I picked up in a discount market years ago in Delaware: the tea bag was stuffed with generous quantities of leaf, with a highly heterogeneous color tending towards the greener end of the spectrum, like a lot of good first flush teas.  It had all the qualities I love in Darjeeling, a complex aroma with a greener character overall, but a lot of bite to it too.  This company is, to my knowledge, still in existence.  Its teas have never been easy to get your hands on in the U.S., but there are a number of online UK-based retailers that sell their teas.

What do you think?

  • What do you think about the article on whole leaf tea?
  • Have you ever tried anything from Immaculate Leaf?  Did you have an opportunity to sample their teas at World Tea East?
  • How many businesses can you think up which don’t have a website or have an incomplete website?  Do you know of any tea companies like this?