Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tea Blogging vs. Tea Community Websites

What's the difference between reviewing teas on a tea blog, and on an interactive tea community website? Here I am thinking both of interactive tea-rating/reviewing or microblogging sites like RateTea or Steepster, and discussion forums like the Leafbox Tea Forums, TeaChat, or the TeaViews Forums. I've found that all of these sites have something in common:

  • Reviews and discussion on community websites tend to be relatively brief.

  • Because community websites display different users' reviews or dialogue on the same page, the reviews tend to take on a more similar style and structure, as each user is influenced by reading the other reviews or comments.

Tea blogs, on the other hand, are very diverse. Each blogger develops their own style, even when interacting regularly with other bloggers. Some blogs focus mostly on reviews, others on news, gadgets, travel, and many combine reviews with other topics. The reviews range from paragraph-long posts to detailed, multiple-page reviews. Some are without pictures, and others include high-resolution photos of the loose tea, brewed tea, and sometimes the used tea leaves. Bloggers writing about compressed teas like Pu-erh often discuss and sometimes even photograph the process of breaking the tea apart. Some people even make video blogs; some bloggers use video exclusively while others combine video with text.

In summary, tea blogs have in common, relative to tea community websites:
  • Reviews and discussion on tea blogs tend to be longer, more detailed, and more involved/deeper.

  • Tea blogs tend to be more diverse in style and content than tea community sites.

  • Tea blogs cover a broader range of tea-related topics and experiences, even when reviewing a specific tea.

This isn't "better" or "worse" than what happens on tea community's just different. Personally, I see value both in interactive websites and tea blogs. Interactive websites encourage more casual activity, make it easier to get involved, and get people interacting with each other immediately. Tea blogs tend to delve into more depth, develop more slowly, have more diversity in their content and style, and are ultimately more empowering to the person writing. I think both have a purpose.

How can tea blogs and community websites work together?

As someone who designed and runs a tea community site, RateTea, I'm a little bit worried that tea community websites might draw people in and discourage them from blogging. I've seen a pattern elsewhere on the web where people discover a new, easy-to-use site and stop blogging or stop blogging as often. I want to encourage the opposite: I want to use RateTea as a vehicle to encourage and promote tea blogging. I think something wonderful and beautiful happens when people write about a topic in depth and start participating in a community of active writers, and I want to nurture and promote these communities. This is behind the latest new feature of RateTea, which I highlight in the recent newsletter: Profile Pics & Linking to Tea Blogs.

I am hoping that bloggers can post brief reviews on RateTea, linking them to more detailed reviews on a tea blog. I am also hoping RateTea can appeal to and reach a broader, more casual audience that may not know about these tea blogs, and may not know as much about tea, but through exploring the site can discover the rich community of tea bloggers out there, and through doing so can take their understanding and appreciation of tea to a new level. Possibly, some will be encouraged to create tea blogs of their own!


  1. Alex,

  2. Great perspective, and the first comparision of this I've read.

    And I loved your description of the lilac aromas!

  3. Nice article. It is clear that blogs and community tea sites do not serve the same purpose, and I think that both have their place in the broader online community of tea people. It is certainly true that what constitutes a review varies enormously among tea bloggers, and that is a good thing.