TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

April 10, 2013

Ramblings: A tea quandary

Filed under: exotic tea,friends,tea,tea review,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 2:22 pm
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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.

teapotI 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.


I like to sample new teas, but …

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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  1. Your post raises a few issues.

    I’ve stood both sides of the fence here. I originally reviewed teas, and later became a tea supplier.

    Many reviewers will not print a bad review. As a supplier, I have sought them out, as I am a little contrary. And because honest feedback is important.

    I learnt as a reviewer that tea companies make mistakes. For example, my videos, my blogs and my on-line discussions make it really clear that I have never tried a Japanese tea I actually like, and that I consider genmacha the ultimate act of anti-tea barbarism. And yet, I was sent some to review on more than one occasion.

    Even when someone sent me stuff and got a review that basically said I loved it, they may have got more than they bargained for. Anyone who was expecting me to spend 300 words saying “I like it, and I brewed it at 98 degrees for 253 seconds” clearly hadn’t read my work. (Here’s my favourite of my reviews in the “We’ll send you tea if you promise to review it” category as an example. http://thedevotea.teatra.de/2011/11/19/backwards/ )

    If a tea company is not smart enough pick the right reviewer, then you question what else they get wrong.

    We do blends, and blends only, so why would we send to a reviewer dedicated to pure greens? And yet, it happens.

    Now, onto the glassine envelopes. I had to look glassine up. That’s just shoddy. It tells me that this company does not care about its tea, or does not care enough about its customers.

    I was offered little plastic bags for samples here recently. They looked cheap. It’s like a restaurant serving a critic on a paper plate as they are not a paying customer so they deserve less

    Finally, as to not naming the company. As a reviewer,. I did tend to name them. Quite vocally. And when I came across an example of where I thought was one guy was doing was so bad that I felt it was illegal – basically threatening tea companies with trashing their reputation if they did not support his tea business, and I elected not to name him, he outed himself by posting drunken threatening ramblings on my blog.

    I think the fact that you have contacted them with feedback is a great opportunity for them. The fact they haven’t responded seems pretty dumb.

    At the heart of the free enterprise system, we have to accept that there will be some people who don’t have what it takes to be successful, and yet they have the right to try.

    Comment by Robert Godden (@The_Devotea) — April 10, 2013 @ 4:20 pm |Reply

  2. I’m merely a tea drinker, but I agree with much of what Robert Godden has stated here. Many things can and do go wrong and some people really don’t “get it.” They can learn. However, any business that means to do business is going to realize fairly early on that failure to respond to concerns is not going to earn customers. Worse is that a company would fail to respond to the concerns of a reviewer who could be helping them gain customers in the first place.

    That being said, I firmly applaud you for holding your ground and sticking to your own convictions. I won’t deny it: I am quietly hoping that I don’t run across the company you are refusing to name just in case they have not learned from their mistakes to date… and somehow, miraculously, manage to stay afloat long enough for me to stumble across them. Yet, I also believe in the integrity of the whole “benefit of the doubt” concept. It is one that many people don’t seem to grasp and I suspect that many opportunities have been lost because of it. My real hope is that this olive branch you’ve held out will make a difference somehow and either they or someone else reading your blog will choose to be better for it.

    By the way, I love to read your posts.

    Comment by Whitney — April 10, 2013 @ 8:33 pm |Reply

  3. Two very thoughtful and reasonable observations. I appreciate that you took the time to share them. And thank you Whitney for your kind words!

    Comment by teaguide — April 11, 2013 @ 9:39 am |Reply

  4. This is great info. Quite frankly, I hate tea tins, especially square ones, because they aren’t air tight…I’d loose my mind over those glassine envelopes.

    I think of where I was, three years ago, planning on opening a tea room…it failed a year later, now I sell tea . I feel fairly sucessfully. Still so much to learn.

    Invaluable to get honest feedback. I’m much happier with the truth than a kind lie. It gives me room to grow and build a better business.

    Comment by CrazyTeaLady — April 12, 2013 @ 10:55 pm |Reply

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