Dictionary.com defines quandary as “a state of perplexity or uncertainty, especially as to what to do; dilemma.”
If the word can be expanded to define a specific place, well … it’s where I am right now.
I like to sample new teas, and I like to review them, and I think I do a reasonably good job reviewing teas as a consumer — a tea drinker, not a tea taster. Apparently a few tea vendors think so too, and have offered me samples in exchange for reviews. Seems like a fair enough bargain when the teas are good and the reviews are honest.
But what about when the teas aren’t so good?
Well, that’s what’s happened: A new — or at least new to me — tea vendor offered me a few teas to sample and review. While I love the familiar folks I do most of my tea business with, it’s very exciting to find a new source. So I said “Sure,” described my picky preferences, and happily waited for the tea to be delivered.
Unfortunately, once the tea arrived things went downhill rather quickly. The individual packages of tea were not airtight — they were barely sealed. Glassine envelopes with the top folded over twice and then stapled shut does not cut it when it comes to tea. Not only does it not keep the tea fresh nor protect it from damage (what if the shipping package were caught in the rain or dropped in a puddle?), this type of semi-permeable paper does nothing to prevent cross-contamination between the different types of teas. This is a particular problem when at least one of the teas is strongly flavoured — scented with flowers, smoked, or with added flavouring — as was one of the teas in the sampler pack. Even tho’ I had made it very clear that I neither drink nor review these types of teas.
As you might imagine, there were no discrete aromas discernible when I opened the individual envelopes of dry leaf. In fact, there was precious little aroma at all. And needless to say — tho’ I’ll say it anyway — this lack of distinction carried into the cups. Yes, against my better judgment at this point, I steeped up each sample tea (except the flavoured). With all the crazy nasty stuff finding its way into edibles these days it took some effort to ignore the poor packaging and forge ahead with tasting the teas.
The results were predictible: Little aroma, little taste. That’s how it works.
I sent an email note to the vendor, describing effective tea packaging, explaining that under the circumstances I would not review the teas, and offering to review more carefully-packed samples. That was last week, and I still haven’t heard back.
Some of you probably want to know who the vendor is so you can avoid doing business with them. I’m not going to tell you because I don’t think it’s fair to the vendor not to give them a heads-up and a second chance. Some of you will argue that before opening a tea business the vendor should have researched proper packaging methods and materials. And you’re right: it’s not like this information is a big ol’ secret. You’ll further argue that I’m not being fair to consumers — you tea drinkers — if I don’t identify the “culprit.”
Maybe that’s true. And that’s my quandary. And I hope you’ll forgive me but I’m still not going to reveal their identity.
I’d like to say this to all tea vendors and potential tea vendors: We who love tea very much want to sample your products, like them, and write glowing reviews so you can grow your business and keep producing wonderful teas.
And this to both tea vendors and tea consumers: If you notice that I haven’t reviewed a particular tea, it could be for many reasons. Perhaps I haven’t sampled it or haven’t gotten around to reviewing it. Maybe the tea didn’t suit my taste. Maybe I have no reason. Or perhaps the tea, or the packaging, or the service, or all of these were simply bad, and I just don’t want to write a negative review because it may affect somebody’s business.
I think I’ve solved my quandary by leaning towards discretion, and hope you agree with that decision. For me, at least, it was the right one.
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