It was a little over sixteen years ago when I first discovered tea on the Internet. In those nascent times people met online via newsgroups, with its tons of topics about everything under the sun. From a tea newsgroup I found the Teatime listserv, originally created by a tea chemist for tea professionals but later opened up to all tea lovers.
(If you came to the ‘net more recently you’re probably more familiar with GoogleGroups, which gobbled up the newsgroups, and YahooGroups, which pretty much took over the email chat group market.)
As you might imagine, the Teatime group often discussed good places to sip or buy tea. Unfortunately there were no message archives; old messages just scrolled off the server, so if you wanted to refer to any information again – like to look up a mention of a tea room – you needed to save a copy on your own computer.
My husband and I were living near New York City, and also did a fair amount of traveling between Virginia and Canada. We often went out for tea. I started compiling a list of tea rooms and tea shops mentioned in the group to use for reference, and added to it as we visited new places. Pretty soon group members were contacting me for referrals, while tea room owners and retailers asked me to add their shop to my list.
Around this time I created my first website, dedicated to our cats. I figured it would be a good idea to make the tea room listings public, so I added it to the website. These first fifty or so listings were the beginning of The Guide to Tea Rooms at The Cat-Tea Corner – which grew to become TeaGuide Worldwide Tea Directory, featuring over four thousand listings of tea rooms and tea shops around the globe.
Through the years I added reader reviews, a marketplace for buying and selling tea businesses, and a calendar of tea events. I expanded the listing details with information readers had asked for – style, hours of business, services offered, maps. Feedback from readers, tea business owners, and the media were positive and encouraging.
Things change … Just a few years ago most tea rooms and shops didn’t have their own websites; now they not only have websites, they have Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-in pages. Whereas it used to take quite a bit of legwork to track down tea venues (I wrote two articles for the late lamented Tea Time Gazette about this), finding a good tea room or tea shop these days is as easy as keying a few words into Google.
There have been some off-line changes too. I’m expanding my CrafTea Designs business and working on new designs for my Hot-Teas logo shop. And I’m doing more writing, largely about tea. Several years ago I started work on a book about cooking with tea. A publisher was interested, but unfortunately they folded. I may look for another publisher, or perhaps decide to go digital.
Most of all, now that my husband and I are living in the Southlands with its slower pace of life, I want to spend more time being analogue: writing, crafting, designing. Maybe take up pottery again; I’d love to do tea bowls.
TeaGuide celebrated its fifteenth anniversary in June, and as much as I’ve enjoyed being its caretaker, I’ve been thinking for some time (since around TeaGuide’s fourteenth anniversary) that this seems like the right moment to wrap it up. So I thank everyone who has contributed to, referred to, written about, linked to, promoted, advertised on, and just been generally supportive of TeaGuide over the past decade and a half. Although the TeaGuide directory is retiring, I’m not, and I look forward to continuing to share tea with all of you.
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