Sunday, April 3, 2011

Confidence in Writing About Tea

One thing that I take for granted sometimes is confidence in writing reviews about tea, or about any type of food or drink for that matter. I'm not necessarily the best writer, but I tend to be pretty confident putting my thoughts and ideas on paper. I also have a number of years of experience writing about drinks, as a reviewer on RateBeer, and writing mostly about restaurants on Yelp, and I review all sorts of products on Amazon. Sometimes I'm surprised though that people seem to trust and respect my reviews. I think to myself: "I'm no expert on this topic. Why do people trust my opinion?" But then I realize that I do have a good dose of confidence when it comes to my own ability to write about what my experience is.

What do people want to read? Do they want an expert, a connoisseur who knows what is "best" in some more objective sense? I cannot offer this, at least, not yet. All I can offer is an honest description of what my own experience was.

People often feel intimidated by the idea of writing reviews:

When I tell people about RateTea, they are often interested, but a vast majority express a sense of intimidation about writing a review. The people who feel intimidated surprise me, as they include among their ranks people whom I consider to be outstanding writers (far better and more experienced than I am) and people who are outstanding cooks, and regular tea drinkers who prefer high-quality loose-leaf tea. Yet many of these people, including those who fall into all three categories, express the same sentiment:

"I just don't know what to write."

Another common remark I hear is:

"Teas all taste the same to me. They just taste like tea."

I do believe that most people actually know more about food, drink, and have greater potential for distinguishing and talking and writing about taste than they give themselves credit for. Recently I served Rishi Tea's Wuyi Oolong to a couple of my friends without . One of them remarked: "This tastes like oolong tea!" I found this encouraging -- it certainly establishes that my friend possesses some ability to identify teas by taste, including teas that she does not often drink.

People often don't give themselves enough credit--many Americans don't even know that oolong is a type of tea.

How can you establish more confidence in writing about tea?

A while back, I created a page writing about tea which offered a few concrete tips. But I think that it's not specific advice that most people need.

The best way to become more confident in writing about tea is to write more about tea.

If you don't know what to write, a good tip is to write down the first thing that pops into your head when you're drinking a tea. Remember, tastes and descriptions of aromas are inherently subjective. There is no right or wrong, as different people perceive taste differently, and people also have different preferences about what qualities they prefer, and different associations of what various aromas remind them of.

Sometimes you don't even need to say much. Ask yourself do you like the tea? Do you like it more or less than any other tea you've tried recently? Talking about how much or how little you like about a tea is one of the key aspects of a review. If you don't have much reaction to a tea at all, then say that! Many teas just aren't that interesting; often, I'll try a tea and I will find it a bit boring, so I write that. It's a simple reality of statistics that the majority of teas are going to be be rather close to average. While it's sometimes good to look for interesting things to say about an average tea, there is no need to do so, and in a sense, if the tea is pretty typical and unremarkable, the most honest thing you can do is to say so in plain language.

Other times, I enjoy a tea and find it interesting, but I struggle to find words. It's okay to say: "I like this tea, but I can't find words to describe why I like it." That's honest, worthwhile to write and to share with others, and in my opinion, a better course of action than making up something about what you think you "should" write.

Try it out:

If you are one of these people who avoids writing reviews because you are too intimidated, I would encourage you to push yourself to write a few reviews! Write reviews of tea, or of anything, post them on your blog, on, or on any review website! Or just write a brief review for yourself as practice and see how it works. You may be surprised that once you start writing, you develop a new confidence and you start more easily finding words with which to express yourself.


  1. Very interesting! To me, sometimes writing about tea is like free writing. I would revise and structure it before putting it on the blog. But it feels very relaxed that it's not something mandatory but for my enjoyment. I used to feel like doing free writing on a lot of other topics rather than on tea, and I didn't do free writing very often. Then last year, at certain point, I decided I should take a writing course in a community college to improve myself. Although writing skills cannot be rapidly improved in just one semester, I feel this course somewhat "plumbed" some pipes in my brain and made me want to write more :-D I think the more one writes, the cleaner the pipelines remain themselves :D

  2. Fantastic post!

    I was scared to death to do my first review of a free sample, but I just started writing whatever came to mind as I was sipping... my first impression, after thoughts, changes of heart, everything.

    I agree that the more you write, the easier it becomes, and the more confident you get. Now, I am excited to try new teas and relay my thoughts. I am okay if someone doesn't agree with my review or has different thoughts about the tea. So be it. We all have different tastes... which is why the community of reviewers is so awesome.

  3. I tooootally sympathize with the feeling of not knowing how to write a review. Part of what holds me back is feeling like I don't know the proper terminology to talk about the subject. I've been attempting to add some notes to my account more recently rather than just saving a numeric rating. And I've found it works best when I take note of the first reactions I have while I'm actually drinking the beer, instead of trying to remember my reactions to the taste, smell, etc. several hours later.

    btw, you should join :)