Monday, May 7, 2012

Reading And Writing Tea Reviews: How Many Teas Like This Have You Tried?

This post is about reviewing teas, and more specifically, about the question of how many similar teas the reviewer has reviewed, when writing a review. I find this question to be of key importance both when writing tea reviews and when reading reviews that others have written.

When reading reviews:

When you are reading reviews, trying to decide whether or not you want to buy a particular tea, or trying to decide what tea to buy, it can be important to know how experienced the reviewer is. As an example, I would trust a review of aged sheng Pu-erh on Bearsblog, or The Half-Dipper because both of these bloggers have been reviewing these teas for a very long time. And similarly, I trust what Gingko writes about Chinese green teas on the Life in Teacup Blog.

This may seem like just common sense, but it flows into a rather nifty (and to my knowledge, unique) feature on RateTea that many of you may not know about, and that I highlight below.

When writing reviews:

When I write tea reviews, I usually include at least a brief mention in the text of the review that communicates how experienced I am at reviewing a tea. The statement can be direct, or it can be indirect, such as by comparison to other teas (implying that you have sampled these other teas). Examples of these sorts of statements include:

  • This was the first green tea from Sri Lanka that I have ever sampled. It was similar to a number of Chinese green teas, and rather unlike any of the green teas from India that I have tried in the past.
  • This is my all-time favorite among the dozens of Darjeeling first flush black teas that I have sampled.

The first statement clearly communicates that the person is inexperienced with green teas from Sri Lanka, yet is quite familiar with Chinese and even Indian green teas. I write these sorts of statements in my reviews mainly because I find it helpful when reviewers share these sorts of statements, and I want to write reviews that can be useful to others.

Something useful that RateTea does, that you may have overlooked:

Because a reviewer's level of experience when reviewing a tea can profoundly change how you read the review, I've added a feature to RateTea that clearly displays on the page for each tea review how experienced the reviewer is at reviewing teas, both in general, and teas of the particular style, as well as teas from the particular company in question. The following screenshot shows this feature:

The reviewer box on this tea shows that Sylvia has reviewed 4 Ceylon Black Teas, 3 teas from Upton Tea imports, and 72 total teas. The box also shows that she has been a member of the site since March of 2011. Note the level of specificity: the site identifies the number of Ceylon Black Teas, not just any black teas, which the reviewer has reviewed. The same goes for any specific style or variety of tea.

This feature is of particular interest to serious tea drinkers, as, when buying a specific variety of tea such as silver needle white tea, or golden osmanthus (Huang jin gui) oolong, it is more important to know if the reviewer has reviewed any of these specific teas, rather than just reviewing a lot of generic white or oolong teas. Also of interest to serious tea drinkers, RateTea keeps pure teas and flavored teas completely separate, so reviews of flavored teas will not count towards the count of pure teas of a given type (green, white, etc.). This feature is one of the places where RateTea's detailed and deep database truly shines. It would not be possible to even implement this sort of feature without this sort of level of depth, a level that has made RateTea more labor-intensive to develop and maintain. I am truly hoping that this effort will pay off in terms of recognition by and participation from the people who are most interested in promoting the culture of single-origin, pure teas.

If you like it, then use it!

If you like this sort of feature, I would encourage you to use it! Review pure teas of specific varieties on the site, and become viewed as more authoritative on the site, for reviewing these specific kinds of tea. Sadly, the teas getting the bulk of the reviews are still tea bag teas from mainstream brands, mostly blends. I think the true strengths of the site show through only on single-origin teas of named varieties, and I would really like to see more participation by people who are enthusiastic about drinking these types of teas.

What do you think?

When you read tea reviews, how important is it to you to know how experienced the reviewer is at drinking or sampling similar teas? How much of this info do you share in your own reviews? What do you think about the RateTea feature I highlighted, which shows the number of teas of a specific style that a reviewer has reviewed?


  1. I wanted to point out that I don't consider myself an expert on reviewing teas, just because I wrote a lot of reviews on the site. I think most of them were pretty minimal, anyway.

    1. Haha...of course! But I do think that it is noteworthy that you tend to review a lot of straight black teas. That's what this feature is intended to show...and having tried 4 Ceylon black teas does not seem like a lot to me, but it does show more familiarity with this type of tea than if it was just your first review of one.

      The feature does not just show "experts" it also shows "novices" as well, i.e., you can immediately see if a reviewer has only reviewed one of a certain type of tea on the site. This can be just as useful for reading the review as seeing that someone has only reviewed 100.

      And of course, numbers can't really substitute for actually reading what the person writes. For example, you like your tea with cream and sugar, and I don't, so I'm going to read your reviews pretty differently. And of course, RateTea shows our "similarity %" to be very low--39%. =)