Oh, the trials and tribulations of a tea reviewer! We endure slings and arrows of outraged tea vendors (a bit of paraphrasing of Shakespeare here). I was faced with one lately and so began thinking of others. Here are the top five on my list. You may have others.
1 A Totally Awful Tea
Oh, wait, I forgot… there’s no such thing as a totally awful tea. Yeah, right! I must confess, though, that most of the “teas” I haven’t liked were a bunch of flavored concoctions and things like rooibos (redbush) and honeybush that are called “tea” but are from totally different plants. There have also been some teas that, while not totally awful, certainly left me searching through the lexicon in my brain for something nice to say about them. I finally came up with “Well, not the best I’ve ever tasted.” Pretty lame, huh?
2 Vendor Pushback and Comments
Reviews have been pulled off of some sites because the vendor didn’t like the poor rating the tea was given. Gee, that’s sort of like schools giving every student an ‘A for effort.’ If I don’t see at least one bad review of a tea, I get suspicious. Human taste being as variable as it is, there will always be at least one reviewer who says “Bleh!” Also, knowing that human taste is variable, I chuck out some of the extreme reviews both good and bad, especially if they are very brief or not based on good reasons. You, as the reader, need to do the same. Some teas deserve all those glowing reviews, but even they will have someone out there who just absolutely positively hates that tea. Some tea vendors patrol the internet and attack all but the most glowing reviews of their teas. To them I can only say, “You learn from the bad as well as the good.”
3 Other Reviewers’ Comments
Tea vendors don’t usually send samples to only one or two reviewers. They send to several. Those folks often, in addition to their own review, read the reviews of others and comment. I have gotten some comments on my reviews such as “Gee, your take on this tea is really weird. It didn’t taste like that to me at all.” As if a tea should taste exactly the same to everyone who drinks it. There seems to be no pattern here, either. I could like a tea and someone else would comment that he/she hated it and vice versa. I have learned not to worry about this now, but I will still go back and retry a tea I disliked if enough people care to comment that they liked it.
4 How to Politely Decline an Offer
It is not — I repeat, not — good manners to say to a vendor who offers to send you samples “No frigging way!” With over 100,000 words in the English language, you surely can find something a bit more genteel than that to get your meaning across. Try a Jane Austen-esque reply such as “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that I must refrain from what someone most assuredly would find a distinct pleasure.” And, of course, this would be a most truthful statement (Jane would never condone outright lying, just a smoothing of the rough edges of the truth).
5 A Great Tea Vendor Goes Out of Business
Probably the worst of all is having a tea vendor, whose teas you have fallen head over heels in love with after reviewing it, go out of business. It’s happened to me. I only got to try a couple of their teas (Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea and Golden Bi Luo Black Tea), but the memory of those teas lingers still. Yes, tea reviewing is a risky affair. You can find yourself sighing during the middle of the day over the memory of enjoying a great tea that you have yet to find from another vendor. (This is even more of an issue if it’s a specially flavored tea.)
Think you want to review some teas? Proceed at your own risk. Cheers!
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