All that steeps isn’t tea, and all that’s tea isn’t tasty. Sad but true. The dilemma is, as the saying goes, sorting the chaff from the wheat.
Tea review sites to the rescue!
Thanks to the Internet, everyone who has ever dunked a teabag in some hot water or plopped a few loose tea leaves in a teapot can expound on the experience with a Charles Dickensian flair. Add in digital cameras, and these reviews can be peppered with photos of the tea leaves, teacups, teapots, teaspoons, spoon rests, teabag holders, tea kettles, and just about anything even remotely related to tea. (There are also video reviews, which I’ll cover in Part II.)
Some sites are personal blogs, documenting their personal impressions of the teas they are drinking. Others take a team approach to reviewing teas, that is, they have a team of reviewers “on staff” who get samples, try them, and post a write-up of the experience. Then, there are the totally public review sites.
Each of these has its positive and negative aspects.
Personal review sites give you one reviewer’s take on a tea. On the positive side, a reviewer who is honest, fairly knowledgeable about tea, and maintains the perspective that, hey, this is his/her personal opinion, will give you a very reliable view of the tea. On the negative side, tastebuds differ; what one reviewer raves about could make you cringe. You, the reader, have to bear this in mind when reading. However, getting someone’s personal opinion about anything, from apples to zebras, requires this.
Along comes the team approach to tea reviewing. Ratetea.net and Teaviews.com are a couple of examples. They have a “team” of reviewers who get samples from tea companies, try the teas, and rate them, with some comments on the experience. A positive here is seeing several reviews of the same tea and an average score. There are several drawbacks. There usually aren’t photos to go with these reviews. As a very visual person and trained artist, I like seeing the teas, before and after steeping, along with tea paraphernalia. Also, sometimes the comments of the reviewers are too brief even though most of the time they try to give more information than “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it”.
Finally, there are the totally public review sites. The big one is Steepster. You create a login and can then post as much or as little as you want of your tea experiences. On the positive side, readers get multiple reviews of a tea and an average rating. They also get a “real person” opinion, as opposed to a “tea expert” opinion (where barely detectable flavors are embellished as key features) and straight language. On the negative side, again there are no photos of the teas from the reviewers. Maybe review sites will add them in the future. Also, the reviews are the opinions of people who may or may not know more about tea than how to dunk a teabag.
As of the beginning of this year, a disclaimer saying if tea was purchased or provided as a sample for review was supposed to be displayed on the review. Since most reviewers are honest (what do they have to gain by not being?), this seems inconsequential. Oh, well, it’s there anyway.
The main point is to expand your tea horizons by reading some reviews and then selecting a tea here and there to try. You can then post your own review somewhere, comparing your experience with other reviewers. Such fun!
Don’t miss Part II about video tea reviews.
Disclaimer: I have a personal tea review blog, Little Yellow Teapot Tea Reviews (the sassiest little teapot on the Internet).
Make sure to check out A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!