Yesterday started out with the return of the bloggers to Tea Expo (it’s kind of like the return of the swallows to Capistrano, except noisier).
I was very pleased to find that The Tea Spot and Teas, Etc. were in the lobby to keep us all adequately caffeinated. I enjoyed cups of their tea before, during, and after the seminars. Interestingly, both companies had chocolate pu-erh blends, and both recommended steeping them for 4-5 minutes. That’s an awfully long time for a shu pu-erh. I went for 3 minutes, and quite liked both of them (sorry, purists).
My first seminar of the day was an absolutely fantastic start to Tea Expo: Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson talked about “A Social History of Tea in the UK and USA.”
They walked us through the history of tea in the western hemisphere from the 1600s to modern times, covering everything from Catherine of Braganza to A&P (originally the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company). A few of my favorite factoids from their seminar:
- “Monkey-picked oolong” isn’t picked by monkeys. That would be cost-prohibitive. It is just a term for the highest-grade oolong in the house.
- The “Queen’s closet” wasn’t a place to store clothes. It’s where she brewed tea and shared it with family & friends.
- “High Tea” isn’t the fancy thing many Americans think it is. It’s a casual family meal. The elegant tea you’re thinking of is “Afternoon Tea.”
- I’ve mentioned this one before, but there were no tea bricks dumped in Boston Harbor in in 1773. The Boston Tea Party tea was all loose-leaf — and quite a bit of it was green tea.
Every year I take another picture of this matcha stone at AOI. It just intrigues me. Last year I described it and even posted video of it, but I just can’t stay away from it.
One of the things I look for at Tea Expo every year is new and different tea. I do love the teas from the big tea-producing countries like China, India, and Kenya, but it’s fun to explore some of the varieties you don’t run into every day, from countries that aren’t represented in every single tea shop. We had a very pleasant tasting of Indonesian teas at three adjacent booths and found some great surprises.
The afternoon session “Amplifying Your Business Voice Through Tea Bloggers” was informative, even for tea bloggers. All of us look at things differently and run our blogs differently. I update this blog every Friday (most of the time, unless I’m late) with bursts of activity during events like World Tea Expo. Nicole Martin has been updating hers every weekday for the last six years. One of the blogs nominated for a World Tea Award this year hasn’t been updated since early 2014.
Some tea blogs are all about reviewing individual teas. Some are about teaware. Some are about stories. Mine is whatever happens to be either exciting me or annoying me at the moment. The big message from this session was, if you wish to work with tea bloggers, do your research first. Read the blogs. If you are selling flavored chamomile blends, don’t pick a tea blogger that’s a single-origin Camellia sinensis specialist. Geoff Norman told us that he didn’t know the difference between Yixing and Wedgewood, so don’t waste your time and money sending him a teapot to review!
Something else I’ll be writing about in more detail later is “Coffee leaf tea.”
The name may be a bit confusing, as this product contains no coffee beans and no tea. It’s a tisane (“herbal tea”) made from the leaves of coffee plants. I can’t stand coffee, but I found the flavor of this drink quite pleasant. The company’s focus is on extending the season (picking leaves when you can’t pick beans) and creating more jobs, but there will be more on that in a future post.
We all have our taste preferences, and mine tend to run towards pure (unflavored) tea. I’m not a big fan of ginger, either, but my wife, Kathy, and I couldn’t resist having our picture taken with this gigantic (and slightly creepy) Korean red ginseng root:
And, just as a close, my birthday is coming up and this automated pyramid satchel tea bagging machine is only $70,000. It would be an easy way to take some of my whole-leaf teas on the road with me. Hint, hint…
The moderator, Naomi Rosen (Joy’s Teaspoon) asked us questions, guided the discussion, and took comments from the audience. The panel consisted of (left to right):
- Nicole Martin (Tea For Me Please)
- Linda Gaylard (the Tea Stylist)
- Jason Walker (Walker Tea Review)
- Chris Giddings (the Tea-Guy)
- Jen Piccotti (An International Tea Moment)
- Gary Robson (that would be me)
Our friend TeaPigeon from the exhibit floor (pictured below) was unable to attend the roundtable. Something about too much oolong.
We answered questions on a number of topics, and got some great audience participation, too. Among the topics were:
Q: What do you do if someone sends you a sub-par tea to review?
A: Most of us review only what we like, so if we get a bad product we don’t talk about it. If we do, we tend to lay it on the line.
Q: What’s the best time of day to update the blog and social media?
A: For the most part, we don’t post to the blogs on a schedule (except for Nicole, who posts at noon Eastern time), but we try to do the social media links early in the morning, as most folks check their Facebook and Twitter feeds first thing when they get up. Some of us repeat links in the afternoon, typically with different text.
Q: Do you blog about tea and health?
A: That’s a topic that’s in much demand, but there’s so little proper scientific research that we’re all hesitant to do it. Studies tend to be myopic (good word, Chris!), and media coverage of the studies often distorts the results. The dearth of data means everyone’s looking for solid information, but the research is time-consuming and can be expensive; not all of the studies are available for free on the Internet.
Q: How do you deal with word count?
A: Some tea bloggers (Geoffrey, for example) worry about whether their posts are too long and rambling. Others (like me) want to make sure there’s enough content to make them worth reading. The beauty of the Internet, though, as compared to print media, is that we don’t have hard limits. Doug Robson pointed out from the audience that for the first time in history, we have a medium with infinite scrolling. You can fit ten thousand words as easily as you can fit ten words. There’s no reason to trim it back.
Well, I need to get going and hit the last day of Expo, so I’ll cut this post short and talk more about tea blogging later. In case you’re interested, I started my day with a lovely golden tip Yunnan tea from TeaSource. That’s my kind of black tea!
When I’m bored and not inspired enough to write something, I sometimes read silly things like blogging tips. They always seem to include the obvious, like “write interesting things” and “allow your personality to show through.” They also all seem to include, “always blog on a regular schedule.”
Somehow, this doesn’t seem to work for me. When I raised the question at the tea blogging roundtable at World Tea Expo last month, I couldn’t find a single serious tea blogger that blogged on a regular schedule. Why is that?
According to the pundits, having a regular update schedule gives your readers something to look forward to.
But what does a regular update schedule do to the quality of your blog?
I understand deadlines in the magazine and newspaper business. I’ve been on both sides of those. And books. The editor needs to know when the manuscript will be complete to schedule copyediting and cover design and all of that other fun stuff. None of that, however, applies to a blog.
In my humble opinion, a blog like this one can be badly damaged by the obsessive urge to post on a schedule.
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
— Douglas Adams
I do not presume here to speak for other bloggers. In fact, I would love to hear the opinions of other bloggers in my comments. Speaking just for myself, then, I believe that two things inspire good blog posts: inspiration and breaking news. Neither of those things is enough by itself. They both require passion and at least a smidgeon of writing skill.
Neither of those things happens on a schedule.
I may see something new and interesting while scanning a news site, tea blog, newsletter, or even Facebook or Twitter. What would be the appropriate reaction?
(A) This is cool! I must let all of my readers know about this post haste while I’m still excited about it and it’s still news!
(B) This is cool! I must put this on my schedule of things to write about. How does three weeks from Thursday sound?
I don’t know about you, but for me writing it now produces a good blog post, and by the time three weeks from Thursday rolls around something else has caught my interest.
“I am definitely going to take a course on time management… just as soon as I can work it into my schedule.”
— Louis E. Boone
Or what about the flipside? It’s blog update day. My deadline is coming at me like an enraged ROUS (that’s Rodent of Unusual Size for those of you who aren’t fans of The Princess Bride) with its tail on fire. I can’t think of a bloody thing to write about. I scratch out something marginally adequate, thus making my deadline. My dear readers say, “Gary’s certainly off his game lately, isn’t he? Mayhaps we should read Robert Godden instead. He’s not boring.” I’m having a hard time seeing the win in this scenario.
I will continue, then, writing for my blogs when the spirit moves me or when I have something to write about. I really do try to get in about a post a week on this blog and two or three posts a month on my other blog. This is my sixth post this month on Tea With Gary. I think I’ll celebrate with a nice cup of pu-erh.
Mind if I close with a little bit of xkcd? Of course you don’t. Unless you don’t like four-letter words. In that case, stop reading now.
Once upon a time, I had a blog. I talked about all kinds of stuff on that blog, but mostly books, writing, and tea. Over time, I found that the people who read the tea posts really didn’t have that much interest in my writing. What to do?
Well, like a sexually-ripe amoeba, I realized it was time to split. I created the new blog “Tea With Gary,” and moved all of my tea posts over here. With the content in place, I just need to unpack everything, hang the curtains, throw on a fresh coat of paint, and it will be ready for the world.
This post, in slightly different versions, is going in both blogs, explaining the process and guiding my friends and followers to the one most appropriate for them. If you wish to follow both, by all means do! Otherwise, enjoy the lack of distraction. Make a nice cup of tea, relax, and do a bit of reading.
The split itself was an interesting process. After creating the new blog, I brought up a post in the old one and searched for a way to move it. No “move” command. There’s a “copy,” which allows you to use one blog post as a template for another, but it won’t cross from one blog to another. I brought up the list of posts and checked all of the possible bulk actions. No luck. After a half hour of monkeying around, I went to the WordPress help files. Searching for “copy posts between blogs” and “split a blog” didn’t help much, nor did variants of those phrases and keywords.
Finally, I turned to the forums. That, my friends, was a positive and pleasant experience. A fine fellow by the name of Captn Mike responded in less than ten minutes with instructions and links to help files. It was an easy process once he pointed me the right way. Just “export” all of the tea posts from the main blog, “import” them into the new blog, and clean up all of the links.
The reproduction of the chromosomes (the posts) is complete. Once I trim out the unnecessary stuff and clean it up, the blogs will be cleanly divided.