Friday, June 23, 2017

Trader Joe’s Tea Selection – Still Not There Yet – SpontaneiTea

This is a recovered blog post from SpontaneiTea, a blog that used to be hosted on Tea Trade, but went down when that site's blog hosting was discontinued. The original post was published on July 18th, 2013.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about Trader Joe’s tea on my old tea blog.

I shop regularly, but infrequently at Trader Joe’s, mainly picking up items like canned clams, bulk bags of raw nuts, and cheese. There are some things I absolutely love about Trader Joe’s: many of the products I like most (and buy most) are ones that I think offer exceptional value, combining low price with consistently high quality.

Some of the cheeses cost almost half what I’d expect to pay for a cheese of similar quality: there’s a New Zealand grass-fed cheddar for around $5 a pound, and for closer to $4 you can get domestic cheddars that far surpass the quality I have been able to find in a typical supermarket. And there are other little details that keep me coming back…the 500 gram bar of 70% dark chocolate for under $5, jars of Kalamata olives that taste great and are really cheap, $1 CLIF bars. I even like some of their packaged bread.

A decent company, treating their employees well

In addition to this, I have a decent feeling about Trader Joe’s as a corporation: I’ve known many people who have worked there and they have all told me that the company treats their employees well.

Weaknesses of Trader Joe’s

In other areas though, Trader Joe’s really falls short. Their seafood selection is not the most sustainable, as assessed by my looking up of their offerings on the Seafood Watch website. And I’m not a huge fan of their produce, although they sometimes have things I think are worth buying. And tea is yet another part of the store where their selection just doesn’t do it for me:

The tea selection at my local Trader Joe's

The selection changes somewhat over time, but the gist of it has stayed the same since I discovered this chain back around 2006. The tea is all cheap, for what it is, $2 for a box of teabags that would probably cost closer to $3 in a typical supermarket, but the problem is what it is: low-quality tea in tea bags. There is no loose-leaf tea, and there isn’t any tea that I would consider high-quality artisan tea. As much as I prefer loose tea, there are some very good brands of high-quality, whole-leaf or at least larger-broken-leaf tea in sachets, including Two Leaves Tea, Novus Tea, or even predominately loose-leaf brands like Rishi or Adagio.

Brands I’d prefer to the selection offered

Even if Trader Joe’s were going to stick with basic tea bags, I think they could do better. In my old post, I recommended Ten Ren, Foojoy, Harney and Sons, and Jacksons of Piccadilly as companies that offer much higher-quality tea bags than anything I’ve ever tried from Trader Joe’s. Ten Ren and Foojoy really stand out as their prices are competitive with Trader Joe’s teas, suggesting Trader Joe’s could stock them as-is.

And can’t they sell at least one loose tea? Even most supermarkets have something, maybe Lipton’s loose black tea or Twinings Earl Grey.

What do you think?

Do you ever shop at Trader Joe’s? How do you feel about the chain as a whole?
If you’ve tried it, do you like the tea in Trader Joe’s?
Would you like Trader Joe’s to stock loose tea?
What do you think of my recommendations of the brands that I think are superior (both in terms of quality and value) to what Trader Joe’s offers? Do you agree? Or would you have a different perspective on what brands might be a better choice?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tea Blog Maintenance: Fixed 57 Broken Links

This blog is pretty inactive; nowadays I put most of my energies into RateTea, while also publishing on my newer blogs Teacology and SpontaneiTea. I also run the RateTea Tumblr, which I highly recommend checking out, especially if you're on Tumblr, but even if you're not.

But this blog still gets a lot of traffic and visibility. Many of the posts receive a lot of Google search traffic.

Today I ran an automated check to scan for broken links, and I turned up 57 broken links! It took considerable effort to fix these, but I've fixed all of them, because I realize that many people use this blog as a reference, and I want to keep it as up-to-date as possible.

Why did links break, and what can businesses and webmasters learn from this?

The links that broke on my blog broke for a wide variety of reasons. An overwhelming majority of links that broke, however, broke due to changes, sometimes very minor, in the URL scheme of the websites they were hosted on. In one case, the NY Times had changed one link from a .htm suffix to a .html suffix, without a redirect, and this caused my link to break. In another case, a journal had changed the order in which they put the two unique numerical identifiers. In other cases, the page was still up but had been moved to a completely different URL. These moves all caused an unnecessary loss, including a financial one, both for the publishers of these websites, and for my site and its readers. Redirects are so easy to carry out!

I want to draw attention to my old post on link permanence and the importance of keeping the same URL scheme.

Some of the links broke for other reasons. In many cases, tea blogs or businesses, have been closed down, and in a few cases, individual articles or posts were removed without a clear explanation, even though the rest of the site was still up.

When possible, I tried to find the original articles when the site had taken them down. In many cases, this was possible with the help of I also found one article on The Free Library, which can be a good place to look for journal or magazine articles that are no longer available on their original sites.

I hope people can continue to enjoy and use this site as a reference. I'm surprised not only by how many views and visits this blog continues to get, but that I am still getting comments actively as well! Thank you to all the readers of this blog out there, and also thank you to all the companies, bloggers, and webmasters that have kept consistent URL schemes and/or used redirects so as to help save me the work of fixing broken links.

And Happy New Year too, when that comes in just a few hours!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

SpontaneiTea: A Second New Tea Blog

Although this blog isn't very active any more, I wanted to announce a second, new tea blog that I've founded more recently. This blog is SpontaneiTea. It is hosted on Tea Trade. I will still be running Teacology, although I'm anticipating that I will tend to update SpontaneiTea more often because the posts there will be of a more casual nature.

This blog has been going for some time now, so I want to highlight a few of the posts to give you an idea of what sorts of things you'll find there:

Why yet another new tea blog?

After working on Teacology for some time, where I was putting a lot more effort and energy into posts, and thus updating much less frequently and much less regularly, I realized that I wanted an additional outlet for more casual writings about tea like I used to share on this blog. I occasionally have been posting about tea on my personal Tumblr, but it's not the same.

Why Tea Trade?

Tea Trade is a blogging community designed by and for tea lovers, and it has an active community of tea bloggers. It seemed a logical place for a casual tea-related blog, one oriented a little more towards tea industry insiders and hobbyists, whereas Wordpress seemed better suited to reaching a more general audience.

Three (four?!?) tea blogs now: uh oh, am I obsessed?

Yes, I know it is absurd, I now have three tea blogs, four if you count RateTea's Tumblr. But hey, it makes sense to me? Different blogging platforms have different strengths and I think are good for different things.

I hope you enjoy this new blog!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Teacology: A New Tea Blog

Today I published the first full post of a new tea blog. The blog is called Teacology, communicating how I like to talk about tea together with ecology, and take an ecological approach to my thinking and writing:

The first full post is titled Locally Grown Tea and Herbal Tea – Sustainability, Ecology, Economics, and is a rewrite or derivative post of my original post on this blog, Locally Grown Tea.

I am looking to have a higher standard for the posts on Teacology. I will likely update much less often, but I am hoping to put a greater amount of effort and care into each individual post.

Wordpress vs. Blogger:

The main impetus for this new blog is a switch from Blogger to Wordpress. I explained my reasons for making this switch in my introductory post Teacology – A New and Old Tea Blog.

But here's an explanation anyway:

  • is really on top of spam blogs. Blogger isn't. I think this devalues blogs hosted on Blogspot domains, and I'm concerned both about the eyes of the public, and impacts on search engine optimization. I want to blog on a more reputable blogging platform that has higher standards for keeping out spam blogs.
  • The team is extremely responsive about bugs. For example, when setting up my blog, I encountered a glitch in the CSS of a theme that I wanted to use. I posted on the Wordpress forum, and within a matter of hours, I had a response from staff that the problem had been fixed. This level of service is outstanding for any online service, and almost unheard of for a free service.
  • offers better options for networking in new blogs with an audience. For example, when posts are tagged on blogs, they are interlinked in with a master site feed, and new blogs will be shown in this feed even before they have established an audience. As example, check their master feed for the "tea" tag. This helps new blogs quickly reach a broader audience, and it also helps anyone (including bloggers looking to engage with other bloggers) locate posts on specific topics.
I basically have come to see Blogspot/Blogger as a semi-dead blogging platform for some time now. It is owned and administered by Google, but the company clearly does not put as much effort into it as their other products, like Google+ or Gmail. Over the past year, I've been irritated as I've seen chronic problems go un-addressed, problems as diverse as a lack of crackdown on spam blogs, the terrible spam filter for comments, and bugs in the default themes. Without addressing these problems, the Blogger admins have forced changes on us without our consent, like updating to a new back-end system, while doing so in a piecemeal manner that for a time left some components in the old system while we were forced to use new interfaces on others.

I do not plan on updating this blog regularly any more, but I will leave it here for reference, and I may post periodic updates if I ever feel a compelling reason to do so.

I hope that I will continue to see all of the readers who have been so engaging here in the comments, on my new blog Teacology! I look forward to interacting with all of you!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why I Stopped Updating so Frequently

It's been aeons since I updated! Well, more accurately, since some time late-September, a little over two months.

This morning I'm drinking Dao Ren Tea from Mountain Rose Herbs, a pretty straightforward Zhejiang green tea, organic certified, that was sold for a very reasonable price. You can read my review on RateTea. I have still been posting reviews there.

So why did I stop updating so frequently?

Short story, I wasn't getting anywhere near as much out of blogging as I was putting in. RateTea requires some maintenance and upkeep, and RateTea is more of a priority than this blog. Some good news is that RateTea's traffic has picked up and is close to establishing a new record high level!

I really appreciate the comments I get here, but to be blunt, my posts here don't attract enough attention to make it worth my while to post as often as I was. So I needed a break. I don't feel satisfied with putting as much energy as I was into my writing, if my audience is as small as it was. I've been brainstorming why this is. I have another blog on that I've used as a convenient comparison, and I am starting to think that Wordpress is a better blogging platform for attracting views. On wordpress, even without having any subscribers, I would post something and BAM, a lot of people would read it, and I also would get fewer spam comments. (I get an unbelievable amount of spam here on blogger, AND the spam filter frequently sends sincere comments into the spam bin, from lovely people such as Steph of Steph's Cup of Tea or The Teaist.)

I think blogger has poor spam control, both for spam blogs and comments, and I think this hurts blogger's visibility. Over the past year, I've reported dozens of spam blogs to Blogger, only to see them stay up for months, and some never get taken down. With, it's different. I report, and usually I get an email 3 hours later, a personal reply from a human being, thanking me, and the blog is taken down immediately. I love this. So I've been toying with the idea of moving this blog over to

I also keep considering the idea of starting a blog hosted on Tea Trade, but the site's slow load times have been a barrier to me doing this. But Tea Trade does have a really rich community of tea bloggers, and it makes a difference to me that it's run by people, Jackie and Peter, who really seem to love tea and love reading and writing.

More reasons:

But there are a lot of other reasons that I slowed down blogging. I also have a lot of other things going on in my life, and I've been publishing more things online on other topics and in other avenues. Here are some things I have going on:

Why This Way:

One of the most exciting things is Why This Way, which is a new group that some of my friends and I co-founded back in January. It's a belief system and organization that is run by consensus, a little like a hybrid of organized religion and Wikipedia. We started out calling it a religion, but after bringing more people into the group who did not think it was a religion, because it is run by consensus, we stopped presenting it as such. It's really hard to know what to present it as. It presents a system of beliefs and practices that are related to all aspects of life--but it is not exclusive with other religions or belief systems.

I think this group can potentially be really transformative. At the beginning of this group, we developed a way of communicating which is based on respect and truthfulness, which is designed to create fulfilling, positive dialogue on controversial subjects. So far, it's been working very well. Our group has had people participating from a broad range of religious traditions, and we've had a remarkably easy time reaching consensus on normally controversial or emotionally-charged issues.

I want to write more about this, but it's getting a bit off-topic here so back to tea.

Branching out:

I've also been thinking more creatively about ways to reach a broader audience of tea drinkers. Sometimes I feel like the existing tea subcultures on the web are a bit saturated and somewhat stagnant. Blogs have their dedicated followings, RateTea has a certain type of viewer, as does Steepster. There is some overlap, with a few die-hard fanatics like myself having presences on virtually all major online tea communities. But I also think there are untapped resources.

A while back I discovered the tea subreddit, which I wrote about. I like this community because it seems to have more of an influx of new people--but it's also limited by the format. If you like upvoting, downvoting, and brief comments with occasional links, that's great, but it's not always my preferred medium of expression. More recently I discovered Tumblr. Tumblr is a little bit of a big uncensored ball of teen angst (something I can relate to and appreciate), but it does have a lot of people on it who are interested in tea, who sometimes post about tea.

I also have been publishing more tea stuff on Squidoo lately. I've been finding my stuff on Squidoo is attracting more of an audience than my blog, relative to the effort I put into it, and the site also provides a lot of interesting opportunities for engagement, including polls, discussions, quizzes, and the like.

So I think I want to dedicate more energy to exploring these other communities, and perhaps searching for yet more.

But I'm hoping to keep updating this blog regularly--although not as frequently as before. I'm aiming for 3-5 posts a month now.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lingering Lemon Myrtle in a Cup of Dragon Well

I haven't been updating much, and I have not yet explained why, but perhaps I can save that for a future post.

Today I am drinking a cup of dragon well green tea from TeaVivre (quite outstanding, I might add), and I used a basket infuser, brewing it in a mug. When I brewed it, I had forgotten that the last thing I had brewed in this infuser was lemon myrtle.

In spite of washing out the infuser, the cup has a noticeable lemony quality. I've noticed that lemon myrtle tends to linger like this, more than other lemony herbs.

I find I actually really like the result...dragon well with a hint of lemon, more than I like most blends involving green tea and lemon. The reason is that it is subtle; often, when people add lemon flavoring to a tea, the lemon is intense, often masking a less-than-high-quality green tea. In this case, I'm drinking a very good green tea, and the lemon is just a hint.

How about you?

Have you ever tried lemon myrtle? Have you found that its lemoniness lingers on your teaware even after rinsing it out? Have you ever enjoyed a hint of a lemony quality in green tea? Do you think you'd like this more than the strongly lemony blends sold by most tea companies that sell lemon-flavored green tea?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Blind Oolong Tea Tasting with Evan, Brandon, and Others

I recently had the pleasure of attending a blind tea tasting, hosted by Evan Draper, who runs the not-so-active blog Pluck Tea. Incidentally, Brandon of Wrong Fu Cha also attended.

Pictured here is the setup at the very end of the tasting:

In addition to the tea, there were bowls of figs and concord grapes to snack on.

There were seven of us, and Evan proceeded to brew up 7 teas, each of which had been packaged with a mystery label that we opened after the fact. We drank four infusions of each tea. We each took note of all the teas while drinking them, and discussed them before revealing their identity. I took separate notes on each infusion.

I think this sort of setup is a great exercise, because it forces us to pay attention to the tea itself, without allowing us to bring preconceptions based on the tea's origin. We knew nothing about the brands or types of teas, although it was quickly evident that they were all oolongs. Evan used a gaiwan for brewing, rather than an Yixing teapot, which allowed for a purer experience of each tea, rather than having it be influenced by the seasoning of the pot.

Brewing for richness of experience instead of consistency:

One thing I liked about how Evan approached the brewing in this gathering was that the way he brewed these teas brought out different characteristics of the tea in each infusion, which I think helped greatly in the blind tasting setup. By contrast, some people (Evan has done this before) often carry out Gong Fu brewing in such a way that the tea keeps a more consistent character through each infusion. Although this can be pleasant for enjoying the tea, I found the approach Evan used here was more fruitful for actually understanding the tea.

The difference between these two approaches? I'm no expert at Gong Fu brewing but I tried to pay attention to what Evan was doing, and from comparing to my own experience, using a briefer second infusion, and a slightly longer first infusion, often seems to result in a more consistent character, whereas keeping the first two infusions closer in length seems to result in more of a difference between the two cups. The difference usually manifests in the first cup being more aromatic but the second being more flavorful, which I find helps to separate these two characteristics of the tea. However, it also can bring out different qualities of aroma between the first two cups.

Brandon's knowledge impresses:

If you are a die-hard tea enthusiast living within driving distance of Wilmington, Delaware, and have not yet had the opportunity to meet up with Brandon, I would recommend doing so. His knowledge and expertise of teas is uncannily reminds me of my Ornithology professor, Greg Shriver, who can walk out in a salt marsh and hear a tiny, brief buzz noise, so quiet or distant that most people in the group did not even hear it, and he would immediately identify the sparrow to species level, long before anyone was able to actually see the bird.

Brandon not only pinned down the variety, county of origin, and style of production of most of these teas merely by sampling them, but was also able to identify the production date of the aged teas with a remarkable degree of accuracy. This level of tea identification skill not only shows that he has sampled a great number of teas, but that he pays attention to nuances of the tea's character enough to identify them with such specificity.

My thoughts on the teas:

I have not yet posted reviews of all the teas, but you can find my reviews of the first two, both from Seven Cups: Old Style Tie Guan Yin 2011, and Old Style Tie Guan Yin 2012. I liked the 2012 tea better, although I did not dislike the 2011 tea quite as much as the others present did, nor did I like the 2012 tea as much as the others seemed to.

The other teas were from the small company Floating Leaves, and I have yet to write up and post reviews.

To be honest, I was not wowed by any of the teas. The first two Tie Guan Yin's were in a similar style to a tea that I gave a 100/100 rating, Life in Teacup's Tie Guan Yin Traditional Roast Master Grade. That tea, granted, is pricier, but I thought it to show a world of difference. I've also had cheaper Tie Guan Yin's that I enjoyed more. The 2011 tea had too much sourness and too little flavor, and the 2012 tea had too much astringency, for my tastes.

There were a lot of oolongs from Muzha in Taiwan, which had been aged in various amounts, and one that was fresher, from 2011. None of these really impressed me. The only tea from Floating Leaves that I really liked was a Dong Ding Select, from Spring 2012. This tea had some interesting complexity, suggesting caramel in the aroma, but with a hint of mint in the finish, something I have never before encountered in a Dong Ding. But at $10 an ounce, it did not seem to compare with other teas in this price range.

The whole experience started to make me wonder if I perhaps have developed somewhat different tastes from the group gathered for this tasting. This morning I'm drinking a rather inexpensive Chinese green tea from Zhejiang province, Mountain Rose Herbs Dao Ren Tea, and I am enjoying it much more than I enjoyed any of the oolongs, in spite of Evan's greater skill at brewing (I've nearly always enjoyed a tea better when Evan brews it than when I prepare it myself).

How about you?

Have you ever participated in a blind tea tasting like the one described here? Have you tried teas from these two retailers? Have you experienced drinking tea with someone who has an insane level of tea identification skills? Have you noticed or thought about the distinction between brewing tea so as to retain consistency between different infusions, vs. brewing it so as to bring out different characters in each cup?