Continued From On Tea Evangelism – Part 1
The Los Angeles Times recently ran an article “Finding a haven at Tea Habitat, Alhambra’s secret shop for tea geeks.” That business and vendor overlap with a tea type that does occasionally come up in media sources, Dan Cong oolong; with the Ya Shi or “duck shit” version getting the most attention. That tea type is sometimes referenced as news interest because the version is so exotic. A quote from that article sums up how that is often framed:
…She was talking about the oolongs in which she specializes — teas that, through precise oxidation and roasting but without any flavor additions, taste miraculously of stone fruits and spices; multiple steepings can also coax out floral and mineral qualities. They come from farmers and producers who tend single trees, some of them hundreds of years old, grown in one location: the isolated Phoenix Mountain in the north of China’s Guangdong province….
They start at $20 for three ounces of good black tea; some dan cong can cost $70 or more for a single ounce; with numerous steepings, and astonishing flavor, that small quantity can go far, but it’s obviously an investment…
Dan Cong can be really nice – and better versions are better – but I can buy 100 grams (4 ounces) of a decent version here in a Chinatown shop for just over $15, with a better online version costing $36 for two ounces (50 grams, really). The more expensive versions can definitely still be worth it – and can even be a good value – so one point here is that a range exists.
I’m concerned that this is how better tea is represented in media: The theme that rare, expensive teas exist that take years of training to appreciate and significant exposure just to brew. That article author went out of his way to explain why he is a worthy student to undertake exposure to those teas. Where does that leave someone considering a move away from grocery-store tea-bag teas?
Related to another potential angle, a recent local Bangkok Post article covered the theme of forest-friendly teas. This is better, in one sense, for drawing on an interest in an origin story; which doesn’t necessarily exclude or limit the audience. But it’s not really an introduction to basic, better teas either. Background discussion of some teas being flavored and others distinctive for demonstrating natural flavors might encourage a potential audience to try one or both ranges. As with the fair-trade-oriented themes that arise (more related to Indian production), at least bringing up a subject related to tea also brings up tea as a beverage.
In the end, I talk about tea where I happen to be: In real life or online; and to push it the next step once in a while host free tasting events. I’m not sure how vendors or other commercial industry interests could do better, and it’s a little strange that people like me would even try to get the word out to the extent that I do. Teavana had taken a novel and promising approach for adding stores in local malls and sending people out into foot traffic with samples, but that didn’t seem to work out. Maybe bubble tea will serve as an effective gateway later on.
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As someone that has done a fair amount of content on tea, I have a lot of mixed thoughts on the way information is passed. With tea reviews or discussing a specific tea I have struggled with the question: how to talk about an individual tea or tea in general in an interesting or useful way.. Whether you like or dislike TeaDB episodes largely depends on whether you enjoy watching two particular people drink and binter. This is fine enough and it is certainly fun for Denny & I to create, but I’ll also agree with the sentiment that it’s not necessarily the most substantive way to review a tea in depth. There’s some signal but there’s also a lot of noise. Writing about a specific tea also isn’t easy and I think is actually very difficult to execute in a way that is actually consistently interesting or useful for people. Most people just want to know if you liked or didn’t like a specific tea. Making something that piques interest beyond that is a challenge and even if you don’t like them a place like Mei Leaf has succeeded in creating content that really does engage their viewers. You also have to consider that the majority of people have not had the tea or are even unfamiliar with the basic taste profile (i.e. Denny & I describing a traditionally stored pu’erh, when the audience has never had one).. Here are some phrases I dislike and hear frequently enough that I find them unhelpful and sometimes even counter-productive.
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