Monday, October 17, 2011

What do you bring to tea blogging?

I was recently inspired by a post by Steven Knorr on The 39 Steeps, titled Unqualified but not disqualified. The post is a bit of a personal reflection, but it gets at the issue of qualifications or credentials as a "tea person" or "tea expert". One of my favorite quotes from this post is towards the end:
All I've got is the ability to type 90 wpm, a nose and a mouth, and a lively interest. And the ability to speak English fluently.

I can also relate to what Steven writes about ruts of depression or anxiety, times when I feel powerless. I think in our modern society, nearly everyone feels these things at some point in time, to some degree. When I'm in a bad place, some of the thoughts and worries that I have when I think about the effort I put into RateTea and this blog are ones like: "With so many blogs, websites, media outlets, and messages out there, how can I possibly get anyone's attention?"

This collage of screenshots captures just how many tea bloggers there are:

Those are all member blogs of the Association of Tea Bloggers, of which I am a member. Yet...the collage only shows some of their blogs, not a full list. And there are numerous tea bloggers who are not in this association.

The self-promotion mentality:

It's easy to see what's out there and to get into a mindset that I like to call the "self-promotional mindset". The thought process goes like this..."There are so many blogs out there." --> "Wow, it's so competitive." --> "I need to do a lot of clever marketing or strategizing if I am going to attract significant readership to my blog."

I think this is not necessarily a healthy mindset. At its extreme, it leads towards spammy behavior. I also think it's not based on truth. I think the biggest fallacy in this line of reasoning is the idea that the atmosphere of blogging is "competitive". This is a subjective interpretation of reality, and from my experience, it's not true. Bloggers form a community, and they are more interested in engaging with each other and cooperating than they are with competing against each other.

I also think that at its root, this mentality is based on thinking of blogging as "what can I get out of blogging" rather than "what can I bring to blogging". Yes, you can get things out of can generate revenue by serving ads on your blog, or by adding affiliate links to tea companies, and if you own a tea company, you can generate traffic to your website and make money by selling tea. But I still think that this isn't the best or most productive way of thinking about blogging.

Getting out of this mentality: what can I bring to blogging?

In the spirit of the famous JFK Inaugural address, "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country".

I find it uplifting to focus on the fact that each person brings unique gifts to anything they try. Blogging is no exception. I think that this mentality actually helps people to get the most out of blogging as's a bit ironic, by thinking of giving most, you get the most. But it works like this: the best way to "promote" a blog is to write something unique and interesting, sharing from your own personal experiences, and writing from your own strengths.

What do I bring?

I have no credentials when it comes to tea, just my own limited personal tasting experience, which, relative to many bloggers, is not particularly deep. Visual design is also not my strong suit. Here I am, still using the default blogger theme, and the site that I've put the most effort into, RateTea, was made fun of on the Steepster forums for its visual design (before the recent updates, mind you, and we actually substantially redesigned the RateTea homepage again today, so hopefully it looks even better).

But I do bring something unique.

What I do think I have to offer is an above-average knowledge of ecology, some business experience, some gardening experience from the mid-Atlantic and midwestern U.S., and an academic statistics background that helps me to sort through the piles of research on the science of tea and health, and herbs and health. And I also bring a fairly quirky, zany mind with a knack for drawing deep connections between subjects that most people might not think are related.

And, back to Steven Knorr's 39 Steeps, I will say, I think that tea blog also has something unique to offer. It's eclectic, which makes it interesting to read and helps to inspire creativity. Steven also has discerning tastes, which makes me better able to trust what he writes, and, as diverse as the posts are, he seems selective about what topics he covers...I think a good bit more selective than I am. So, addressed both to Steven and numerous others: stop all the silly talk about not having any credentials! =)

What do you bring?

Think about what you bring to blogging...and consider commenting or writing a follow-up post. I would be curious to read what you personally believe your strengths are as a blogger and a tea enthusiast.


  1. Very interesting point of view! I agree that mindset is very important, whether it's for blogging, business collaboration or job interviews. Sometimes people can be too much into "promoting" attention instead of focusing on what qualities they can gain or what they can do for others to make themselves more attractive.

  2. Thank you for this post, Alex! Very thought provoking.

  3. It's so funny, because right after I published this post, I met with one of my friends who had just gotten out of a job interview.

    She told me that the man who interviewed her explicitly told her that she was not promoting herself enough, and needed to do so more.

    I think the pressure towards this sort of behavior in our society can be immense, especially in certain social circles, subcultures, and industries.

    I think I chose the "what do I have to bring?" approach as a way out of the self-promotional attitude because it is an approach that still shows self-confidence and emphasises your strengths. I don't necessarily think the best response to self-promotion is to encourage people to be meek or sell themselves I'm trying to find a new approach that gets the "best of both worlds" so to speak, if that makes any sense? One can be both confident and generous. =)

  4. Yeah, I agree, Alex. I'm often turned off by the whole self-promotional competitive attitude of the internet. Haha, in fact I have so much to think about it, this makes me want to write a follow-up post in my OWN blog about it. But generally, I really like taking the attitude of "What do I have to bring to people?" rather than "How can I get people to read my stuff?"

  5. I read very few tea blogs, even though I am an avid tassophile. Yours is one of the few that I do read. Why? Because you provide some unique and thought-provoking insights.

    As you said: "... the best way to "promote" a blog is to write something unique and interesting,...."


    There are *way* too many blogs giving details of tea-tasting and experiences with various teas. So it is great to have blogs that talk of other isues. Your blog is one of the few that does this.

    So please keep up the good work!

    Best wishes,

  6. To Sylvia, yes, this seems to be a problem all throughout the internet...and not really just on the internet but throughout modern global society.

    And thanks, Peter! =)

  7. Alex,

    First, thank you for your kind words about The 39 Steeps. It's fun to be back writing again on that and my other blog, which I keep with my mad sister Kate, .

    (Just a quick anal-retentive note: Steven Knoerr, not Stephen Knorr. I'm not offended at all, but I'm in the grip of proofreader madness and can't help myself.)

    When I started writing the blog, it was because the Facebook page on which I was posting my tasting notes and commentary about this interesting topic inexplicably went invisible for a few days. I quickly created the blog so I wouldn't forget what I had drunk and learned along the way.

    I try to write what I'm thinking, including what thoughts the teas inspire. I like to think of their stories, or the contexts in which they're drunk or shared, and so on.

    For me, I want to participate in the growing tea culture in the overwhelmingly coffee-drinking U.S. I think that most Americans have had bad experiences with oversteeped, tepid, stale Lipton's, and think, "Oh, I don't really drink tea unless I'm sick." Then back to their Starbucks. But the thing is, they don't know what they're missing. I try to show in the blog the WHY. My palate has expanded and deepened as I learn to stop, focus, and pay attention to what is happening inside and around me. And it helps with the battle against major depression and anxiety, which has social, emotional, habitual, pharmacological, and spiritual dimensions that all need attention. The tea-drinking blog is a way for me to get out of my head a bit, give myself a caesura from my day, and meditate on things I enjoy and delight in.

    I'm happy you enjoy the blog and that it's inspired your creativity, and perhaps challenged you a bit on how to choose better teas (from your comment above). It's done the same for me, just writing it. Now that I'm back on track with writing, I hope to enjoy even more of the good stuff.

    And I look forward to getting to know you better, as well. Tea people are wonderfully friendly and thoughtful.

  8. Ahh, apologies on the name. It's funny, some names like Rebecca/Rebekkah or Jen/Jenn I pay attention to the spelling of, but Steven/Stephen is one of those ones that my brain just...ignores the distinctions on. Maybe I just need to get it wrong enough times (as I did with Jen(n)'s and other names) and then I'll start to pay more attention! =)

    But thanks for the detailed comment! I think we both feel similarly about the dominant coffee culture and underdeveloped tea culture in the U.S., and I often meet people like you describe, who say they don't really like tea, and perhaps even have discerning tastes in coffee, but haven't ever tried decent loose-leaf tea, let alone truly outstanding tea.

  9. It's funny that you mention this. I try to strike that balance between shameless self promotion and getting the word out.

    The best thing isn't only to provide excellent content, although that's key, but also to be active in the blogging community. Something I like is to see a blogger who doesn't only write a great blog but also comments on others' blogs.

    It's great to see you encouraging the blogs you like.

  10. That's totally true, engaging genuinely with other bloggers, by commenting and referencing their posts, is also really important! Sometimes I wonder if I leave too many comments. I'm very chatty in real life, and equally chatty in online media.

  11. Alex, as usual, Thank You for your post. I have benefitted and enjoyed the work you put into your content and rely on tea bloggers such as yourself to keep me informed about my tea leaf passion