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Blogging on a schedule, redux


Blogging on a Schedule header

When I wrote about blogging on a schedule in mid-2013, I made it pretty clear that I didn’t think it was the right move for “Tea with Gary.” I had some pretty good reasons for feeling that way, too. Go ahead. Read the post. I’ll wait.

Done yet? Good! Now I’ll tell you why I think I’ve changed my mind.

When I was a kid, I remember getting up Sunday morning and looking forward to reading the Sunday funnies. Oh, who am I kidding? I did that as an adult, too. I kept my Sunday subscription to the paper years after I dropped the daily subscription, mostly to get those comics. When I was regularly listening to podcasts, I looked forward to Science Friday every week. These days, I look forward to xkcd updating every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Speaking of xkcd, a slight tweak to today’s comic explains why I was reluctant to update on a regular schedule:

xkcd 2 Jan 2015 - edited

Oh, no! It’s Friday and I have to have a blog post! Whatever shall I do?

I’ve always felt that writing to a deadline ruined my spontaneity and writing posts in advance ruined their news value. But then I got to really thinking about it.

I have been writing professionally (meaning I get paid for articles and books) for decades. Every single one of those 300+ articles and dozens of books had a deadline. Not “a lot.” Not “most.” All of them. I should certainly be able to deal with deadlines.

Deadlines book cover

Deadlines are scary. See? Really scary!

Then I went through my posts from the last year or so. Very few of them were so timely that they couldn’t have spent a few weeks in a queue waiting to be published. Those few could have either been special reports (e.g., my series of live posts from World Tea Expo last year) or just been inserted at the front of the queue, pushing everything else back.

I haven’t been really good lately at keeping up my goal of posting every week or so — I averaged one post about every 2.5 weeks in 2014 — but I have plenty of ideas. I keep a list of potential posts, and it’s gotten really long. I also really want to give my readers something to look forward to (assuming that any of you actually look forward to my ramblings).

So here’s what I’m going to do: Starting today, there will be a new post on this blog every Friday. Starting next week, they’ll be pre-scheduled to post at 9:00 a.m. Mountain time. There will be an alert on the Tea with Gary Facebook page and the Tea with Gary Twitter feed when each article posts. Those of you who subscribe to my RSS feed will see it at the same time. I’m going to watch my stats for a few months and see how it goes. If I see a significant increase in traffic on Fridays and Saturdays, or if there’s a noticeable overall increase in followers, then I’ll stick with it.

Like me on Facebook!

Yes, that was a shameless self-promotion. Please like the Tea with Gary page on Facebook. It would mean ever so much to me. And follow me on Twitter, too. Then you’ll always be the first to hear all of my exciting news! That really was shameless, wasn’t it? I feel bad. Really, I do.

While we’re at it, I’ve kind of slacked off on #TeakuTuesday. I’m going to start pre-scheduling those as well. Not all of them will appear on the Tea with Gary blog, though. I’ve re-purposed my old Tea with Gary Tumblr specifically for #TeakuTuesday, and (of course) they’ll be on the Twitter feed as well.

Let me know what you think. Is this exciting? Is it boring? Do you care?

Blogging on a schedule


Deadlines book cover

Deadlines: An Anthology of Horror and Dark Fiction. Even the title sends shivers down my spine.

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.

Perhaps so.

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.

Twitter logo

This gratuitous Twitter logo serves no purpose whatsoever except to remind you to follow me on Twitter. We now return you to your regularly scheduled — err, IRregularly scheduled — blog post.

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.

XKCD time management

xkcd #874 by Randall Munroe. Click on the comic for the original. Then start clicking NEXT until you’ve caught up with the current one. Than go back and start at #1. I should have another blog post for you by then.

Joining the Association of Tea Bloggers


Association of Tea Bloggers logoI (well, technically this blog) have been accepted for membership in the Association of Tea Bloggers. If you don’t work in the tea business, this probably doesn’t mean much to you, but I am very excited about it.

The association has been around for four years this month. It is comprised of people who blog primarily about tea, and there is a list of criteria for membership. What I really like about it is the connection with like-minded people. Some blog far more frequently than I do (you must write at least three posts a month to be accepted as a member) and some less. Some do straight text and some mix in video and audio. Some blogs are run by a single individual, and some by a group.

One of the benefits of membership is access to members-only discussion forums. I’ve used such forums in other businesses and found them invaluable when you’re looking for advice.

I’m hoping that some of the other members of the association will be attending World Tea Expo next week in Las Vegas. It would be nice to meet them face to face. If you’re a tea blogger and you’ll be there, let me know. We can get together for a cup and a chat. Or maybe even — dare I say it? — a beer.

Members of the general public who are interested in tea will find a different benefit from the association: the feed aggregator. This aggregator collects all of the posts from all of the member blogs and shows them all in one place. If you want to get a feeling for what’s going on in the world of tea, just browse through this feed and click on any post that looks interesting.

If you are a Facebook user, you can also pick up an aggregated feed of many of the blogs by visiting the Association of Tea Bloggers Facebook page.

As I get more involved with the Association of Tea Bloggers, I’ll make sure to write more about it.

teamap.com: Just another tea directory?


It’s very time-consuming these days for a retail business to keep up an online presence. It’s not enough — not even close to enough — to have a website. If you really want to promote your business and your brand, you need to worry about Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Google Places, Yelp, and whatever industry-specific online directories affect you. If you sell B2B (business-to-business), then you’d better be on social media sites like LinkedIn as well.

[All of those links in the prior paragraph go to my shop’s page or my page on that site. FourSquare is an exception, and I’ll be ranting about them at some point in the future.]

When I discovered teamap.com, my first thought was that it was just another time sink for me. As I looked into their mobile app and realized its potential for tea lovers, though, I realized we couldn’t afford not to be listed. Now that we’ve been on there for a while, I’ve developed a dual perspective on it: from the point of view of a tea shop, and from the point of view of a consumer who’s traveling and looking for a place for a nice cup of tea.

teamap.com welcom screen

The welcome screen for teamap.com.

A Consumer Perspective

You’re on the road, traveling in unfamiliar territory and looking for a place to enjoy a cup of your favorite tea. You can fire up your portable computer, go to teamap.com, and enter your destination zip code (or browse by state). You will get a list of tea shops in the area. If you allow the app access to the GPS on your phone or tablet, just fire it up and it will tell you what shops are nearby, with the distance. A map is a couple of screen taps away.

The Good

  • If the tea shop is diligent about it, there will be photos, hours, contact information, website links, and a general description. That should be enough information to decide whether it’s your kind of shop, and to get there if it is.
  • If they have events in the store, the events will be listed as well, and there’s plenty of space for lengthy descriptions of the events.
  • Visitors can leave reviews and ratings, so you can get a good idea of what to expect.

The Bad

  • There’s no process for removing old data. We wasted quite a bit of time driving to one of the shops on TeaMap only to realize it had closed two years ago. Now we know better, and we’ll call a shop on the phone before driving there.
  • Reviews are pretty scarce. In Montana, mine is the only shop that’s been reviewed. Even in Washington, which is loaded to the gills with tea houses, the majority are unrated and only one has five or more reviews (as I write this, Meadowlark Tea Room and Antiques in Vancouver has 19 reviews)
  • The ranking system they implemented seems pretty arbitrary. I can’t understand what makes one tea shop better than another for them, so I just ignored it (more on ranking below).
  • The app and Web site are a bit buggy. It’s mostly little things: if you use the site to send yourself a text message with the address of the tea shop, you’ll get a long message filled with HTML code and various gobbledegook. It’s pretty hard to find the address in the middle of all of that.
teamap.com search results

Search results based on ZIP code — GPS-based results from the app look similar.

A Tea Bar’s Perspective

The Good

  • Adding a listing is easy.
  • Listings are free
  • Every single thing I can do to help people discover my tea bar is good. All it takes is a few groups of travelers finding us and telling their friends about us, and whatever time I’ve spent building our listing is well worth it.
  • Unlike some other directories, TeaMap includes links out to our website, which is a big help.

The Bad

  • Their ranking system is a mystery. There’s a tea shop with no ratings at all that’s ranked higher than mine (rankings don’t appear connected to ratings or reviews). Why is that?
  • If you sell tea and teaware, it’s a bit offputting to have your listing on a competitor’s website (teamap.com is run by Adagio Tea, and ads for their products appear on your listing), but listings are free, so it’s kind of tough to complain about that.
  • Style options are kind of limited (Country, Victorian, Oriental…), and the only way to set one for your shop is to contact Adagio and have them set it for you.
  • Event names can’t exceed 20 characters. It’s tough to give an event a descriptive title in 20 characters.
  • Events have only start times; no end time.
  • Events are text-only; no pictures.
teamap.com info screen

Individual tea bar’s info screen.

So, is it worth the trouble to create a profile and work on keeping it up to date? I’d say definitely yes. Give it a look.

Here’s the link to my tea bar on teamap.com. If you’ve been to the shop, I’d sure appreciate a review. If not, I’d love to have you come and visit.

Twitter and Facebook


I have made a few changes to my social media presence. I had a single feed on Twitter that contained all of my personal and writing tweets in addition to my tea-related tweets. I’ve now created a separate Twitter account just for tea stuff that shares its name with this blog.

Please follow TeaWithGary on Twitter for tea tweets.

I’ve also split my bookstore/tea bar on Facebook. Red Lodge Tea has everything related to tea, and Red Lodge Books has everything related to books and toys.

Please hit that “like” button for Red Lodge Tea on Facebook, and visit the store’s website.

Thanks!

Lady Grey


Trademark SymbolToday was tea blending day at the tea bar, as I mixed up new batches of our house blends. As I was working on our Lady Grey, I got to thinking about how incredibly different Lady Grey teas are from one company to the next, and decided to do a bit of reading on the subject.

It didn’t take long to find a comment that “Lady Grey” is a registered trademark of R. Twining and Company in the U.S. and U.K. (here’s a link to the trademark search on Trademarkia that shows it renewed in March of 2006). This hasn’t stopped quite a few companies from producing their own variations, like Jasmine Pearl (theirs has orange zest and lemon myrtle, but no bergamot!), SereneTeaz (an Earl Grey with lavender),  American Tea Room (they don’t have a full ingredient list, but it includes cornflower petals), and Tea Embassy (another Earl Grey with lavender).

Should I follow their lead and continue calling my blend Lady Grey? Nah. I have better things to do with my time and money than fight legal battles. I’ll do the right thing and follow the example of Marks & Spencer (they call theirs Empress Grey) and Trader Joe’s (Duchess Grey).

Duchess Grey Tea Empress Grey Tea

Twinings originally named their Lady Grey tea for Mary Elizabeth Grey. Their Earl Grey tea (which they changed last year) was named for her husband, Charles, who was the second Earl Grey. Twinings uses less bergamot in their Lady Grey than they do in Earl Grey, but they add other citrus and some cornflower.

I’ve never understood the rationale of “clone blends.” My “Lady Grey” isn’t the same as anyone else’s. If it was, I’d just buy theirs. I want something different. Mine is an organic blend, using Chinese black tea, oil of bergamot, wild Tibetan lavender, a little bit of vanilla, and a touch of rooibos.

What to call it? The one consistent thing about all of our other Earl Grey teas is the word “Earl.” Earl Green (green tea + bergamot), Earl Red (rooibos + bergamot), and all of the blends that use the full “Earl Grey” moniker, like Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey and Cream Earl Grey. The name “Lady Grey” keeps the “Grey” instead of the “Earl,” but is still connected.

So I have done what I often do in such situations: turn the question over to my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. I’ve asked Facebook and the Twitterverse for suggestions, and I’m starting a thread on my favorite message board (the Straight Dope). When we decide on a new name, you’ll read about it here first!

Free tea! It doesn’t get better than that


Bag of Chinese tea

The mysterious bag of Chinese tea.

A friend of mine stopped by the tea bar the other day. Unlike most tea bar visits from friends, Wanda brought tea in with her. It was a bag of tea from China that a friend had given her. She didn’t know what it was, and she’d had it for five years, so she asked if I’d like to have it.

I cut the bag open and poured out a bit of the tea. It was full rolled leaves; not rolled tightly into balls like Dragon Tears or gunpowder tea, but pretty dense nonetheless. The leaves were hard; dropping them into bowl made a pinging sound. The color was a bit darker than a typical green tea, and the smell reminded me of the Huang Jin Gui oolong we carry at the tea bar.

I brewed a cup — using a bit more tea than I usually would because of the age — and decided it was definitely a oolong, but I couldn’t quite identify it. Good packaging, by the way. Five years old, and it still tasted good.

Here’s where Facebook comes in handy. I took a picture of the large print on the top of the bag (the photo that’s now on this page), posted it on Facebook, and asked if anyone could identify it. Within about 20 minutes, I had my answer: Iron Goddess of Mercy, a lightly oxidized oolong with a unique aroma. After enjoying it for a few days, I started hunting for a good one to carry at the tea bar, and I’m excited to have a fresh batch coming in next week. Given how good the five-year-old stuff at home is, I have a feeling I’m really going to love the fresh tea.

Iron Goddess of Mercy (called “Tae Guan Yin” in Chinese) originated in Anxi, in the Fujian province of China. Today, it is produced in quite a few other areas of China and Taiway. The one we sell at our tea bar is a medium-roasted variety from Nantou, Taiwan. I’ve used the leaves for three infusions without loss of flavor, and I’ve been told they’re good for as many as seven.

The processing of Tae Guan Yin is complex. Traditionally, it follows these steps:

  1. Picking – usually done early in the day when it is sunny
  2. Sun drying (“withering”) – Done  before sunset the same day as the picking
  3. Cooling (“cool green”) – Done overnight, along with the tossing
  4. Tossing (“shake green”)
  5. Withering/partial oxidation – Done the day after picking
  6. Fixing
  7. Rolling/kneading
  8. Drying
  9. Roasting

There are several conflicting legends regarding the origin of Iron Goddess of Mercy, all recounted on the Chinese Tea Culture site. Personally, I much prefer the Wei Yin legend. I don’t know that it has any more veracity, but it’s a better story.

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