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Tea Bloggers Roundtable 2015


Tea Bloggers Roundtable 2015 header

Once again, World Tea Expo attendees will have an opportunity to share in the wacky (and occasionally educational) world of professional tea bloggers. You’re all invited to the Tea Bloggers Roundtable 2:30 to 3:30pm on Thursday, May 7. It will be a panel discussion featuring some of the names tea aficionados just might recognize.

The panel will consist of Rachel Carter (iHeart Teas), Chris Giddings (Tea Guy), Jo Johnson (A Gift of Tea), Nicole Martin (Tea for Me Please), Geoffrey Norman (Lazy Literatus), Jen Piccotti (An International Tea Moment), and Naomi Rosen (Joy’s Teaspoon). I’ll be moderating the panel, which has the theme this year of “Melding of Voices.” I know, all of those names are in that poster image right below this paragraph, but I wanted to include links to all of the blogs. Check us all out before the event!

Tea Bloggers Roundtable 2015 poster

One of the things I enjoy most about the world of tea blogging is the lack of competition. I don’t find myself thinking “oh, no, Geoff scooped me on that story,” or “how can I get more viewers than Robert (Lord Devotea’s Tea Spouts) this week?” Instead, we read each other’s posts; we talk about each other’s stories; we link to each other’s blogs; we gain inspiration from each other. We’re not in it to beat each other at the game. We’re in it to share our love of tea and each be the best we can be.

Our blogs all have different themes, too. Some of us just do tea reviews. Some talk about gadgets. Some are very professional in tone; and some are very personal. Some talk about the tea business, and some prefer to just focus on the tea itself. Some blogs, like mine, are all over the map. That’s what makes the tea blogging community such a great environment for newcomers.

Tea Bloggers Roundtable at World Tea Expo 2014

Speaking of past events, here’s a candid shot from last year’s Roundtable. I’m the big dude on the right.

It really gets to be fun when we open things up to questions from the audience, and that’s where we find out just how many people in the tea business are interested in blogging. In addition to the prepared questions, if past roundtables are any indication, we’ll also be dealing with questions like how to choose topics, how to get tea to review, the Association of Tea Bloggers, whether to schedule posts, what social media sites work best for promotion, the difference between a hobby tea blog and a professional tea blog, and much more.

If you have a conference badge, there’s no additional cost to attend the Tea Bloggers Roundtable, so take advantage of this opportunity to hobnob with experienced tea bloggers, writers, and social media marketers.

If you have questions, contact Jo Johnson at agiftoftea@gmail.com. She’ll take care of everything!

Tea Bloggers Roundtable at World Tea Expo 2013

And just in case you haven’t had enough nostalgia, here’s the 2013 Tea Bloggers Roundtable. I wasn’t on it back then, so they had to add three extra people to compensate.


While writing this blog post, I was drinking a Vietnamese black tea called Good Morning Vietnam! I brewed this cup for 3:00 using boiling water. As usual, I did not add milk or sugar. Although this is a typical black tea in most ways, there is very little astringency. I don’t think your typical half-tea-half-milk breakfast tea drinker would find it overly satisfying, but it’s turning into my new favorite black tea.

Tea Bloggers Roundtable 2014


Tea Bloggers Roundtable 2014Last night at World Tea Expo 2014, we had fun on the Tea Bloggers Roundtable.

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 Schwartz (AmazonV) live tweeted questions and answers for those who couldn’t attend, and Geoffrey Norman (Lazy Literatus), who was on the panel last year, heckled us from the audience.

Our friend TeaPigeon from the exhibit floor (pictured below) was unable to attend the roundtable. Something about too much oolong.

pigeon

That isn’t pavement, it’s the comfy carpet of the exhibit hall floor beneath the tired feet of TeaPigeon. We declared him our official show mascot. For more pictures of him and a buddy, check #TeaPigeon (and #TeaPidgeon) on Twitter.

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!

World Tea Expo 2014, Day 2: Attack of the Clonals


WTE2014 Day 2 header

There’s more than one way to skin a cat … er … build a tea plantation. The common theme through much of what we saw today was exactly that: how to make tea plants.

Traditionally, humans have allowed plants to go to seed, and then planted those seeds. That involves a male plant and a female plant, and the mixing of DNA, which can have unpredictable results. For many crop plants, farmers came to realize that taking cuttings meant the new plant was identical to the parent plant. If you have a perfect cultivar, don’t pollute the DNA with random Mendelian fluctuations; keep the strain pure.

This process, whether it entails planting cuttings or grafting varietals onto different rootstock, is known as cloning. Today at the World Tea Expo, clonals and interesting varietals of tea plants turned into a bit of a theme for the day.

The day began with fellow tea blogger Geoffrey Norman (the Lazy Literatus) rushing up to me. “Bacon tea?” he asked frantically, “Where did you find this bacon tea?” I took him down to the appropriate booth (see yesterday’s post), and as we waited for them to brew bacon tea, he said, “Did you hear about the smoked green Assam at Tealet?”

I’ve been looking for a good green Assam for quite a while. The overwhelming majority of the world’s green tea comes from Camellia sinensis var sinensis: the Chinese varietal of the tea plant. Camellia sinensis var assamica, the Indian varietal, is quite different.

We wandered over to Tealet’s booth and found that they were in the middle of a video recording. We met up with TJ Williamson, who said that they did, indeed have green Assam (both smoked and unsmoked), but we’d have to wait until they finished the video thing. After we chatted for a bit, he said that he’d like to interview Doug and I for the World Tea Podcast. We spent the next hour sipping tea and talking into TJ’s microphone.

Podcasting with TJ

Totally not a posed picture of me (on the right), TJ (middle), and my son, Doug (left) recording the World Tea Podcast.

The smoked green Assam was unique. The first hit on the tongue was very astringent, and very different from the aroma. It had a full mouthfeel, and it mellowed to a light smoky malty flavor that was very pleasant. They steeped the first infusion with 188-190 degree (F) water, and the second infusion with 175 degree water was much less astringent and much smoother.

Much of our afternoon consisted of placing orders and tasting tea — two of my favorite things to do. We found a lot of different cultivars (many of them clonals), and ordered some great new tea for the tea bar.

One particularly significant stop was at Ajiri Tea. I know I have said a few unflattering things about a particular Kenyan tea company, but I’d like to note for the record that I’ve never had a problem with Kenyan tea. Ajiri in particular is doing some wonderful things.

When Kenya gained independence from Great Britain in 1963, many of the huge tea conglomerates retained their land and operations. Many tracts of land, however, were broken up into family farms and cooperatives, which now represent almost 60% of Kenya’s huge tea industry. That’s who we prefer to buy from.

Ajiri was founded not just to export tea, but to create jobs (the word “ajiri” is Swahili for “employ”), especially for women. The boxes for their tea are hand-made, as are the beaded string ties for the bags. All of the labeling and decoration on the outside of the boxes is handmade from dried banana tree bark, and profits go back to Kenya for educating orphans. This is a tea operation we can get behind. Look for their products on our shelves next month.

Ajiri

Me, with Kate Holby of Ajiri Tea. You can see some of their tea box designs in the upper left. I want a shirt in the pattern of Kate’s dress!

Ajiri tea boxes

Some of the handmade tea boxes from Ajiri. Every one is different.

The day continued with a class in rolling oolong teas, and the tea bloggers roundtable you’ve all been waiting for, but it’s after midnight and I am growing weary. I shall sign off now, and continue tomorrow with the World Tea Expo saga…

Tea Blogger’s Roundtable in Long Beach


Last year at World Tea Expo (caution: that link autoplays video with sound) in Las Vegas, I attended a Tea Blogger’s Roundtable. It was a great opportunity to talk with some of the big tea bloggers, share experiences, and discuss challenges. This year in Long Beach, California, I’m pleased to be one of the panelists.

WTE Blogger Panel Poster 2014

The panel will be on Friday, May 30th, starting at 5:00 p.m. Anyone registered for World Tea Expo or Healthy Beverage Expo is welcome to attend. If you can make it, please let us know using the email address in the poster above. Prepare questions for your favorite tea bloggers (and the ones you just tolerate, too). Take some time to check out the blogs before you attend, too. We all love getting new readers!

The event is being coordinated by A Gift of Tea (Twitter feed @AGiftOfTea). I will also be posting updates here and on my Twitter feed (@TeaWithGary). The bloggers on the panel (in alphabetical order) are:

I’m really not sure what they were thinking when they replaced Robert Godden (Lord Devotea’s Tea Spouts) with me. Maybe he’s too edgy and controversial. Or maybe he’s just getting old and everyone thought his 45-minute PowerPoint presentation on Australian eucalyptus tea was too darned boring. (I have a feeling I’m going to pay for that comment!)

See you there (except for Robert, unfortunately)!

Tagged! A tea background story


Oh, these silly tagging things that go around. Normally, I ignore them, but Geoffrey Norman (a.k.a. the Lazy Literatus) tagged me for a tea-related Q&A and it’s hard to resist when he looks at you with those big puppy dog eyes…

Tagged!

(1) First, let’s start with how you were introduced and fell in love with the wonderful beverage of tea.

Easy. I hate coffee.

I got my start with tea as a comfort thing when I was little. Any time I got sick, Mom’s immediate response was tea and toast. Tea relaxes me and makes me feel like I’m being taken care of. It was many years later that I discovered the amazing variety of beverages you can produce with the Camellia sinensis plant. There’s a lot beyond black tea in teabags and loose green tea leaves in the Chinese restaurant!

(2) What was the very first tea blend you ever tried?

I hereby define the word “blend” to mean a combination of ingredients, thus disqualifying Lipton teabags and the aforementioned green tea in the Chinese restaurant. That means the answer is “Morning Thunder” from Celestial Seasonings (tagline: The Awakening Power of a Thousand Charging Buffalo). I grew up in Boulder, Colorado, which is where Celestial Seasonings is based, so it was ubiquitous when I was in junior high and high school. Then, my junior year in high school I got a job driving a delivery truck for an office supply store, and Celestial Seasonings was one of my stops.

(3) When did you start your tea blog and what was your hope for creating it?

The first tea-related post I wrote on my other blog was in June of 2011, shortly after opening my tea bar. About four months later, I gathered all of the tea-related posts from that blog and split them off into a new one: Tea With Gary. That’s what you’re reading now.

(4) List one thing most rewarding about your blog and one thing most discouraging.

Rewarding: I have met some awesome people through tea blogging, and I feel like I’ve debunked some myths about tea.

Discouraging: Where are my tens of thousands of screaming fans? Hey, no offense to the hundreds of readers I do have, but I had hoped for more after 2-1/2 years.

(5) What type of tea are you most likely to be caught sipping on?

I drink a lot of different kinds of tea, but the two I’m most likely to be drinking are Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong (a.k.a. Tieguanyin) and various shu pu-erhs.

(6) Favorite tea latte to indulge in?

When I make myself a tea latte, it’s almost always masala chai. I like a nice spicy chai with frothy milk, a dash of agave nectar, and a sprinkle of cinnamon on the foam.

(7) Favorite treat to pair with your tea?

A lightly-salted big soft Bavarian-style pretzel.

(8) If there was one place in the world that you could explore tea culture at, where would it be and why?

Oh, my, that’s a rough question. For tea culture, it would have to be Japan. When I was last there I hadn’t really explored Japanese tea culture and ceremony, and I’d like to go back now that I know a little bit about it. As for tea horticulture, I’d like to visit some tea plantations in either China or Kenya.

(9) Any tea time ritual you have that you’d like to share?

Unfortunately, I don’t take the time for ritual very often. Most of the time I’m making a quick cup to consume while I do something else.

When I do observe a ritual, it really varies with the type of tea I’m drinking. I prepare and drink my pu-erh differently than my matcha, obviously.

(10) Time of day you enjoy drinking tea the most: Morning, Noon, Night or Anytime?

Any time. Any time at all. Being a bit ADD, the caffeine doesn’t affect me the same way it affects normal people. I do have a tendency to drink tea that’s lighter in the caffeine at night, though (e.g., houjicha), or even switch to rooibos.

(11) What’s one thing you wish for tea in the future?

That there’s never one single business and one single variety that reaches the levels of dominance that Starbucks has reached in coffee. I like tea being a different experience depending on where I go and who I’m with. I enjoy every tea shop having a unique atmosphere, a unique selection, and their own way of presenting the tea. Diversity is a great thing, and I want the diversity in the tea world to increase rather than decrease.

Tall Montanan is Tall?


I was perusing a post from a fellow tea blogger about World Tea Expo 2013 … well, perhaps I shouldn’t call it a “post.” It’s more of an essay. Or perhaps a minor tome. If you bound it in creepy leather and added a few paragraphs about demons, you could even call it a small grimoire. But I digress…

Ahem. Anyway. Geoffrey F. Norman (a.k.a. “the Lazy Literatus“) wrote about his experiences at the expo and featured a little snippet about me in which he mentioned one of my blends: Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey tea. I mention this for four reasons:

1) He posted this picture of us with the caption, “Tall Montanan is Tall.”

Tall Montanan is Tall

Yours truly with Geoffrey F. Norman at World Tea Expo 2013. Photo courtesy of Geoffrey F. Norman. Copyright Geoffrey F. Norman 2013.

2) It’s a good blog post. If you’re interested in tea and/or World Tea Expo, I recommend giving it a look.

3) It reminded me that I promised to send him a sample of Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey and forgot in all the hubbub. Sorry, Geoffrey. I’ll get that on its way ASAP.

4) And, last but not least, he’s a perfect example of not blogging on a schedule!

 

If I learn just one new thing…


Back in my days in the software industry, I used to put on a lot of educational seminars. One day, I was teaching an all-day session and noticed one of my customers, a gentleman by the name of Ken Combs, sitting about fifteen rows back in the audience. At the first break, I went over to him and said, “What are you doing here, Ken? You could be teaching this seminar!” I absolutely loved his response: “I figure if I can learn one new thing, then the whole day is worth it.” Before using this insightful little anecdote to segue into the subject of this blog, I have to tell a little tale of that seminar. It was, as I said, an all-day seminar. I’m pretty good at projecting my voice, and when I’m dealing with small groups, I usually eschew microphones. This particular day, however, I had an audience of about 120 people and we were in a hotel ballroom with dubious acoustics, so I had a sound system. Like most hotel ballrooms, this one had accordion-style dividers that could separate it into smaller rooms, and we were using about a third of the room. The morning session went well, but the afternoon became Public Speaker Nightmare #23 ™: there was a wedding reception in the other part of the ballroom. They had a live DJ. He had a much more powerful sound system than I did. After about an hour with my sound system cranked up all the way, shouting into the microphone, I called a quick break and strolled over to the reception, where I asked the DJ if he’d mind taking the volume down a bit because he was making my job impossible. “Not my problem, dude,” he said as he cranked his volume up higher. We tried everything. We appealed to the bride. We called the hotel’s booking desk. We tried to find the weekend manager. And throughout it all, I shouted my voice raw trying to be heard in the back of the room. I couldn’t talk for two days after that (I’m not sure whether my wife wrote a thank you note to the bride for that or not), and we did end up getting a portion of our rent for the room refunded, but it made for one miserable seminar. Despite all of that, Ken learned his one new thing and I applied his philosophy from my side of the lectern and got much more careful about room bookings for future events. Remember I promised to bring this back to tea? Well, fast forward twenty years or so, and here I am at the World Tea Expo. I still try to follow Ken’s philosophy, and it serves me well. I attended two good educational sessions yesterday, which I’ll probably be writing more about: “Le Nez du Thé” (the nose of tea) and a tea blending workshop. I certainly learned more than one thing in each. After the exhibit hall closed, I went to the Tea Bloggers Roundtable. Mostly, I went for networking purposes, to meet some of these people I know only through their blog posts and tweets. It was a wonderful networking event, but even without that I learned something.

Tea Bloggers Roundtable

From left to right: Jo Johnson (Scandalous Tea), Jason Walker (Walker Tea Review), Robert Godden (the Devotea), Chris Giddings (Tea-Guy), Jen Piccotti (An International Tea Moment), Linda Gaylard (the Tea Stylist), Geoffrey Norman (Lazy Literatus), Rachel Carter (iHeart Teas), Naomi Rosen (Joy’s Teaspoon), and Michael Coffey (the Tea Geek). Barely visible behind Jo is Darlene Meyers-Perry (the Tea Enthusiast’s Scrapbook) — sorry about that, Darlene.

Yes, there was a bit of the mutual admiration society going on there, and the interplay was fun to watch (Godden and Coffey should take their show on the road), but it was also a very worthwhile session. There were more bloggers in the audience — including yours truly, of course — and the format was flexible enough that the distinction between panelist and audience member blurred. As everyone talked and questions were asked (and sometimes answered), it became clear that no two bloggers in the room really had the same objectives. For all of us, the blog is a representation of our personality enveloping the world of tea. Some of the blogs consist almost entirely of tasting notes (e.g., Nicole Schwartz’s “AmazonV” blog) and some have no tasting notes at all. We talked about tea, but mostly about the art of blogging, the expectations of our readers, and the trials and tribulations of trying to keep up any kind of a schedule for blog posts. I hope there’s another blogging event like this one again very soon!

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