Monday, July 16, 2012

Tea Trade: A Tea Blogging Platform, Online Tea Marketplace, And Forums

Today's post features a website that I have been a big fan of for some time, Tea Trade. Tea Trade, founded by Jackie and Peter Davenport (who also are behind Leafbox Tea), is an extensive online community centering around tea, which offers a very different array of tools from any other online tea community.

I think Tea Trade is of particular interest to individuals, tea bloggers, and people who run very small tea businesses, although people involved in larger tea businesses could also benefit from being aware of and perhaps participating in the community there as well.

The domain name,, is a classic example of a domain hack, using the top-level domain for Germany, .de, to spell out the name.

What does Tea Trade offer?

Tea Trade has several different features, which are all quite well integrated. The simplest to participate in are the forums, which are moderately active, and I find consistently have intelligent and interesting conversation. The site also offers blog hosting, making it the only blogging platform which is custom-tailored to the needs of tea bloggers. And of course, there is the marketplace, the centerpiece of the site, a place that allows individuals to set up mini tea stores.

What do I like about the site?

I find Tea Trade easy to use and navigate, and clean and professional looking. The site is extensive, owing towards the rich contributions made by the members of the site, and I feel that the community and discussion on the site tends towards the more thoughtful and deeper side among online communities. I suspect that this has something to do with the site's emphasis on blogging, which attracts people who are interested in reading, writing, and critical thinking.

The marketplace also offers a unique option for people interested in selling tea, or tea-related merchandise on a small scale. In my post Create The Conditions For Your Business To Thrive: Che Guevara Offers Business Advice, I talk about how people can create businesses out of thin air, avoiding the need for extensive start-up costs, and growing a business organically. Tea Trade offers unique and powerful tools for people looking to start or grow very small businesses, and it also allows people who may not be interested in starting a full-fledged business to dabble with buying or selling tea on a small scale.

Suggestions for improving Tea Trade:

My one major lament about Tea Trade is the site's slow speed and lack of responsiveness. Pages on the site load considerably slower than I am used to (or comfortable with). My experience timing page loads on the site is that the page load times tend to average around 3-6 seconds for the page to display, with many pages taking 4 or so more seconds to load additional content. As I explained in my post on website speed and responsiveness, I think that this is slow enough that it is a point of concern, the "weakest link" in what Tea Trade has to offer.

I would really like to see Tea Trade address the issue of speed. I think improving the speed (ideally to under 1 second page load times, although averaging around 2 seconds across the board would be a really great improvement over the current speed) would be a major improvement to me, and would lead me to want to participate much more in the community there, possibly even hosting a blog there.

Another issue which is worth mentioning is downtime. Nearly all websites experience some downtime; last month, RateTea was down for a few hours, and a few years ago, it was down for around 12 hours. I even encounter major sites like Blogger and Wordpress giving errors or going down from time to time. But I think Tea Trade has experienced enough downtime that I'd recommend for Jackie and Peter to make it a priority to address this issue as well.

In terms of the site itself, I think it is wonderful, and a great resource.

What do you think?

Are you familiar with Tea Trade? Have you bought or sold products through their marketplace? Have any of you had experience with their tea blog hosting? How do you feel about the site's speed and responsiveness? Have you ever experienced the site being down when trying to access it? Do you have anything else to say about the site?


  1. I actually have one of my blogs hosted on Tea Trade - The Purrfect Cup. I use my blog mostly for tea reviews and other tea related things. I have had a shop on the site in the past and a new one is currently in development.

    I've not noticed the lag you described, but maybe I'm too busy pouncing around other web sites to notice the load/lag time. Thanks for the post!

  2. Thanks Alex for the kind words! Jackie and I certainly appreciate it.

    Jackie is always pointing me to your blog, usually with the phrase, "You should see Alex's latest post, its really interesting." Whenever I visit, I never fail to find something interesting to read.

    I am certainly aware of the issues you mentioned and, like any site owner, I struggle between the features needed to make Tea Trade interesting and comfortable and speed. Of course, as you know, more features means more javascript and that means less speed. But I'll be willing to admit that your estimates are actually on the low side, Tea Trade lingers about 6-10 seconds on load time. There are some pages that are especially slow.

    So, in honor of you, I was motivated to spend the day working on speed. After about 8 hours of work, I was able to shave 2-4 seconds off the average load time. Not quite down to 2 seconds, but getting there. I'm ramping up testing through caching to better prime visitor's browsers with content to speed up repeat visits. Though I don't think I'll get it down to 2 seconds on the current server, it is VPS, but still seems a little slow to connect right at the outset. Of course, Tea Trade is a complex machine with a lot of moving parts, it is also quite large (we have outgrown two servers already).

    Our uptime is actually pretty good, though I put downtime into 2 different categories: Hard downtime, the really nasty stuff, hacker attacks, malware, server faults and proxy failures - this has only happened a couple of times in the last six months. The other soft downtime, this is the stuff that I do, stuff that temporarily breaks things as I hack around in the innards.

    I make no bones that Tea Trade is a work in progress and that I'm constantly tinkering with it. It's for that reason that we have an extremely robust backup system and the Tea Trade site itself is only a small part of the greater network which now runs up to about 100 websites of varying activity. I may tinker around with the Tea Trade main site, but my larger responsibility is keeping the stores and blogs of our members up and running. All those subsites on the network require some tender loving care from time to time and the entire thing is one massive piece of integrated software.

    Both your comments and criticism are greatly welcome and highly valued. Our goal is to make Tea Trade the most interesting place on the internet for tea by giving tea writers a home and the support they need to have great blogs and to serve as an online incubator for new and interesting tea businesses.

    Thanks again for your comments and for all you do for the world of tea!

    Tea Trade Network

    1. Thank you for your comment and thanks for taking the speed comment to heart!

      And wow. That is impressive to shave off 2-4 seconds that quickly! I spot-tested a few pages and I actually am noticing a measurable speedup! So good job there.

      I struggle with some of the same issues in RateTea. Because I value speed a lot, I've made a tradeoff, which is that I have only very minimal Javascript, and only Javascript that loads in response to user actions.

      I find this has mixed results. I think some people really do like the greater interactivity and "smoothness" that you can get with more javascript. But I like my sites a little more dry, and I like them to only change when I click them. It's the way I personally like sites to work. For example, as Facebook and Twitter have moved more and more to extensive use of AJAX, I've moaned and groaned, and ultimately, started using both sites less. But some people seem to really like the greater interactivity. For example, one thing I really hate is switching from the "Page 1,2,... 10 of X results" thing to a generic feed where you scroll to the bottom and load more results...ugh, I hate that so much because so much functionality is lost, and it is incredibly slow, and it requires so much unnecessary loading to reach older results!

      One thing I really like about TeaTrade is that I feel like it does not over-use interactive features. I also think Steepster excels on this point too. And other sites like the various forums, and wikiCHA, also don't overdo anything either! So I think in the end, the "teascape" of interactive tea websites is a pretty good one. Perhaps this reflects something about the nature of tea culture itself!

      One of my big liberating realizations was embracing "bad database theory", making my inner mathematician crawl in his skin, and start pre-calculating various results and storing them in database fields, ultimately making the database more "flat". Adds extra lines of ugly code that are hard to debug, but leads to brilliant speedups, especially in search.