sherubtse said

"There is No Money in Tea" Post

Here is a very interesting blog post from one of my favourite tea bloggers:

Best wishes,

42 Replies
Brian said

The “no money in tea” point was never made… turned into a “be nice to each other” ending.


Brian said

Click bate. :-P

I think he was making a comment that the lack of profitability in tea makes vendors more competitive and less nice to each other.

At this point, there is very little money in doing good, honest tea. Things are changing though.

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Lion select said

Odd that you posted this, as I was just about to start a discussion directly addressing that specific article.

I read it and found my cynicism oozing through, almost tactile, like some soul-sucking goo monster from a Miyazaki film.

2015 was not the year the tea community went to hell. It was the year people realized it was an utter landfill of egos and BS, and why did they realize this? Because some popular names in the tea community/industry got called out and butted heads with other popular names in the tea community. Or, because for the first time the snark-mongers among us became victims to something (like being blindsided by those false marketing claims or disrespectful marketing tactics of vendors they trusted).

I joined Steepster over two years ago and I have always found the tea community to be a catch 22 of welcoming and alienating attitudes. We seem very eager as a community to welcome new blood with welcome arms, but mostly so we can advise them and lead them on their journey and utterly cut them down when their ideas don’t flush with ours.

Examples. A year or so ago I was looking to share/publish a beginner’s Gongfu Tea brewing guide that is something I had put together after at least a year and a half of research, peer input, and experimentation. It was meant to be a jump-start for people who had trouble sifting through all the conflicting brewing recommendations you will see online. I announced my intention on Steepster discussions that I was planning to share this guide (and asked if people would find it appropriate for me to accept optional donations for the amount of work I put in on this thing) and I was shot down with snarky attitudes that proclaimed “This is totally arbitrary and pointless. This is just how YOU want to brew tea and won’t really be helpful to anyone since brewing styles are arbitrary.” Some similar sentiments came in and I took the post down, thinking…. “Wow. I was just trying to help and share my enthusiasm. Of course people are going to deviate. It was just some pointers for a starting point for those who don’t know where to begin.”

I felt wounded, and I recoiled from the tea community for a bit. In the time since, I had decided maybe internet communities (and the Online Disinhibition Effect) were to blame and tried to expand into in-person tea communities. Oh naive little innocent me. In the time since, I’ve found that even in person most tea enthusiasts are a walking cyclone of snark, especially vendors. I met vendors who lied about or talked badly of other vendors. I met tea enthusiasts I’d invite over for tea in my home who would proceed to talk badly about the teas I served them or the vendors who sell them. I met vendors who had active plans to intimidate or belittle other tea vendors. I’ve met people with such heated opinions I have had to disconnect from them entirely. Some vendors in the tea industry seem like they’d be more suited as drug dealers the way they act and treat their customers, and frankly, I wish they’d leave our community in peace.

I’m not sure why I haven’t had an entire falling out with the tea community other than that there are a select handful of really nice people I’ve met that make it worthwhile, or, barring that, a decent pool of people who are at least respectful. You don’t even have to be nice to be respectful. Recently, I mustered up the bravery to share another post on Steepster of something I’d discovered that I thought could help others, which was how to build a really cheap and easy pumidor out of a terra cotta pot, and was met with responses that it seemed complicated or impractical and that I should just ask Mr Mopar for help (to this day, the setup is working well for me and barely cost me any time or money to upkeep). That post got deleted as well as I felt like my attempt to help and share a fun experiment was simply shot down and unappreciated. I’ve gotten to a point where I feel that the only way to enjoy my discoveries with tea is not to share them with anyone. If that’s not depressing in terms of tea community, I don’t know what is.

So no, 2015 was not the year tea went to hell in a handbasket, it was the year enough people got involved in mutual conflicts to realize this community is saturated with curmudgeons and troglodytes with ego problems, as most communities, especially those that explore “the finer things” are. People have been getting treated poorly and shot down in the tea community ever since I’ve been a part of it. I’ve seen it happen on many forums and on many scales, online and off.

I don’t say any of this with malicious intent toward anyway. Perhaps just an appropriate time and place to share some feelings I’ve been largely keeping to myself for the better part of two years. We all play into this cynicism and snark fest at times, we all do a bit of joking or necessary venting in private when we encounter personalities in the tea world that rub us the wrong way, but I think perhaps with all that’s been going on lately this could be a good wake-up call and a time to rein it in and bring some appeal to the tea community for those burning out on it and those bright-eyed and bushy-tailed neophytes who are knocking on the door unaware of what’s about to hit them.

Being nice to people who share a common interest with you is important. Withholding your “expert” judgment because you think you know more than someone else or have a better way of perceiving or doing something is a skill people need to work on, and is often necessary in order to just be civil and friendly and not make the impression that you think the spotlight should always be on you. I wish people could get over it and realize that all this is just tea. Tea is simple. Sure there are complexities about it, but the enjoyment of it is a simple thing, so our interactions around it don’t really need to be so manic. We could just try to be friendly and learn to accept different views or experiences than our own. Right?

I don’t know why that seems to be so difficult for so many people, and I hope it gets better than this.

Uniquity said

Sometimes it can be hard to ‘break through’ a group, if that makes sense. Cliques seem to form everywhere, and groups of friends will accidentally reject anyone else getting though. I like to hope that is at the root of your experiences, rather than any malice or ill will. I actually remember your guide (and enthusiasm!) though I can’t say I recall the reaction to it. If I remember correctly, you either make or made tea related videos?

Perhaps the issue is that it is so easy to leap on what is bad or can be improved, rather than that which is really cool. I read every thread on Steepster (I have no idea why) and I often think something is really neat or gain something out of it, but I don’t always reply with that.

Food for thought, from the original linked post and the responses. I don’t really review teas any more, as I’ve reached a point where I just like to drink and enjoy them. I didn’t stop because I felt criticized but I certainly don’t feel like I was adding anything to the knowledge base. I’m still hanging out here, but generally I keep my tea to myself. Funny how things change.

I for one would love to hear about your terra cotta pot pumidor..

Where I live it’s always a bit humid (Bangkok), likely a great place for storing pu’er, and I drink more oolong anyway, so I’m probably ok on the pumidor details, but sorry to hear about that reception. Of course I’m closer to the opposite of a tea ambassador, in the sense of being at the center of tea networking, but still I can see how that cool reception might work out, regardless of the usefulness of what you had to express. It seems a little of that might relate to how neutral statements or differing opinions can come across as more negative than they are intended, since text messages lack the context cues speech carries with it. Or group inclusion can come into play, with people a bit protective of their hard-won knowledge and experience as being right, so there does seem to be a tendency to reject unfamiliar input sources and information straight away.

Lion select said

Thanks for the comments, and I may come around and share some more about my pumidor idea when I’ve got some time to take a few nice pictures and explain it. I think there was a mixture of some people just leaving particularly unhelpful comments that didn’t really add anything to the conversation and served to discourage (like jumping to conclusions that my idea was invalid and I should just ask others for help) and then others were just downright snotty. Comments like “There’s no point to what you’re trying to do,” like some of the feedback I got on my Gongfu guide idea are just rude and completely unhelpful. I’d have taken it as trolling and just tried to ignore it except some people made comments agreeing to the sentiment.

I think at the core of some of my ideas are my specific situation (I am one broke bloke) and how I’ve adapted to get to be in on this whole tea enthusiasm phenomenon as someone who doesn’t make much money or have much to spend on tea. The pumidor idea for example came from a very utilitarian need to get my few cakes into a humid environment before they dry out and die, and various pumidor ideas online seemed like they wouldn’t fit in this tiny apartment I live in anywhere that is away from strong smells. I also already had a big terra cotta pot and was thinking of how well clay retains moisture, so it was a money saver idea that all came together pretty nicely. I have to introduce water to the setup every 5 days or so to keep it moist, but a lot of other setups I’ve seen are similar maintenance.

Anyway, thanks again for the encouragement.

mrmopar said

Oh gosh. I am always up to learning I hope I haven’t turned anyone away. I always try to help with what I know.
Lion, I hope you keep on tasting. I have been really interested in the stuff and the new shops you turn up. And yes always share. I tend to read a lot more than I talk usually and I really enjoy your insights.
I award you inventiveness with that idea. I have a small outside area that I am moving some things to this Spring.

I’ll have to PM you about the pumidor when I have more time. We seem to have a few things in common, not the least of which being our climate. It seems you live in KC as well. I also have a very tight tea budget and small living space, in my case due to a large family. Not to mention the fact that I typically just prefer doing things myself in a thrifty/innovative manner. I just don’t believe a love of tea should have to be expensive.

Is that gongfu guide still floating around out there anywhere? My first giawan should be arriving in the mail any day now…

I’m the good guy then lol I’m not snarky rude or idiotic when it comes to tea :D i dont mind how people make their tea :) i often use more tea than i should. some people say it should not be done like that, but, hey i do things my way and they work for me :D

10g of puerh gets me many cups throughout the day even with a 250ml+ cup :D

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LuckyMe said

Great read. I couldn’t help but think of the recent Verdant controversy when I read this part:

“China, you’re no better. We’ll leave out all the talk of economic slowdown. Some of your growers and sellers carry on with time-“honored”, shifty business practices to sell tea. In many cases, outright lies. The general rule o’ thumb seems to be, “If a buyer believes the lie, it’s their own fault.” Thus putting the guilt of the deception on the drinker.

Worse off, some growers/sellers put up fake signs claiming that certain “ancient trees” are their own, and photograph themselves by them. All of this in order to trick hapless Westerners into buying a bogus origin story. Such acts are being clamped down upon, but they’re practically ingrained in the Chinese tea marketing mindset."

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Uniquity said

I’ve never read this blog before, is there a back story? I often can figure out who people are talking about but I’m not familiar with Lazy Literatus. Just curious.

I think it’s not follow Lazy Literaus per say, but being in touch with all the drama regarding Verdant and Misty Peaks over the last few months.

Uniquity said

Oh, I know all that back story. I just don’t know who the writer is, or if he or she has a horse in the race.

boychik said

this person is on here too. i follow him on IG

Uniquity said

Hah, I know him under Geoffrey Norman here. Thanks boychik!

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AllanK said

While I realize a lot of time the growers aren’t making money, in general someone is making money even if 2015 was a bad year. You know the company that produced countless billions of Lipton Tea Bags made a profit. This being said I realize that there is little money in it for the small producer like some of those active on Steepster. I think however, when I get to my favorite local store, The Clipper Ship Tea Company in Northport, NY that they are making a profit or they would not continue to exist year after year.

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I think it’s moreso what something was brought up back in the Verdant thread. Tea used to not command high prices as many just went to whatever $2 box of grocery store tea, but all of a sudden the market for higher quality tea is here. People shell out tons of money for pu’er cakes of rare and good quality material, and want in that cash. That said, marketing types spin whatever they can to get our money. Or like what it was for this year not doing well, all they can to make back the money.

I’ve seen plenty of cutthroat junk in the tea world prior, especially being a tea blogger. Matcha sellers claiming theirs is the best. I’ve heard a number of yaupon sellers bash each other. With tea getting bigger, it’s all getting out in the open like other brands/products.

In the end, well, money makes people become jerks. I don’t think it’s going to get better.

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Of course the main point was about those higher profile conflicts, the one of which played out a lot in discussion here recently, but he referenced others, indirectly. I think it’s also interesting to consider why a shared interest doesn’t automatically lead to a sense of community, which is really a different thing. Or maybe it’s more natural to consider why that would be an odd assumption, that it could do so.

The sense of community one does get some sense of in places like here relates to more specific shared experience, to real-life contact, past discussion history, more specific shared preferences and perspective, and so on. In individual discussions it’s funny how easy it is for small differences in opinion or preference to turn dark, to become insults. Beyond that anyone saying something that’s not really familiar is hard to do much with, so people either coalesce into groups or conflict or talk past each other. Given that range maybe it’s something of a compliment that not much I’ve ever said here has led to much discussion, or maybe it’s just back to group inclusion, not enough history. I just read a post today where the author mentioned one possible cause, that I live in Asia, so without more common sourcing it’s hard to feel as close a tie. I could always just buy from Yunnan Sourcing to offset that.

Lion select said

I have definitely been contemplating group dynamics and community interaction a lot over the last handful of years, and I’ve found that the issues you mentioned here are very common and come up in nearly all communities. I think people would like it not to be a part of communities that are based around a fairly peaceful interest (like tea) and that’s a nice thing to hope for, but also ignores the nature of people.

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Everyone has a different perspective. For example, this is something I was told:
“You stated on a post your main purpose is to bring smiles/fun to tea with your video of your throwing a Pu-erh bing outside. I understand the fun exploratory nature of this, but I’d ask you to reflect on the history/work/passion that goes into the realm of tea. People have lost their lives over tea, tea brings the world together, tea is but a leaf of a plant and tea is many peoples’ purpose on this planet. I believe a respect for the land, the farmers, the plants and the process (and beyond) can serve a wonderful purpose with a simple tea leaves in water drink. I don’t mean you meant ill will with your video/actions, but if one spends hours daily picking tea leaves in the mountainous regions of Asia and you take their hard work and make a joke out of it, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth, just a personal opinion. Somehow this feels akin to taking a Christian cross and making a joke out of it, now need to believe in any given faith on this planet, but do be aware that to many people that may be an extremely offensive action. Just a word of caution.”

I was given my word of caution and what did I do? I talked about it with a few tea friends and shrugged it off. The difference between that occurrence and what has happened with vendors is that it has a large effect because of how many people are involved.

Some take tea to a serious level such as the videos from Global Tea Hut where Wu De talks about visiting the plant you are drinking to say a prayer to it. Then there’s a whole bunch of different views on what tea is and how it is to be treated.

When it comes down to it: I just want to know the truth. I’m skeptical about that ever being a possibility because of marketing, but it is surely possible. If I could go back and learn all of what has had light shined on it from others here, I would be at a different place today… however, I did not know that most tea came from Tea Guys or were all sourced from the same area, ect.
While it may be said that there is no money in tea, there are those who are reaping benefits from it. All last year I had to hear questions about that damn iaso tea bullshit… I’m pretty sure they made money. A lot of what I am observing comes down to marketing such as Skinny Teas using ‘attractive’ people with lots of followers to post about their product; which I doubt causes them to look the way they do.

Blah blah blah blah blah

Tea is something I drink because I enjoy it and I’m here to enjoy it with others. While I want it to be all smiles and all, remember that in the good there exist bad and in the bad there exist good. Bloggers that always give positive reviews and companies that only sell ‘PREMIUM’ tea gets annoying and I’d like for people to speak up on their thoughts. If someone disagrees, that’s fine… just don’t be a dick about it and let’s try to understand everyone’s viewpoint while enjoying tea.
I need to go to work now though and I probably rambled enough.

Brian said

LOL. what a goofball response on reddit. some people will type any crap with their fingers wont they….

Lion select said

I would play Puer frisbee with you!

“Dont’ be a dick.” is probably the only real argument that needs to be made and considered throughout all these recent tea fiascos. Good call.

I’m really curious what this person who was offended by your Puer flight test would say about Misty Peak dude’s latest campaign to create something “exclusively western” by pressing cakes in the shape of his company logo and then recommending you buy one just to sit on a shelf and collect dust. That was something that I thought was a bit “offensive” to the eastern cultures and people who produce tea, but I didn’t go and harrass Captain America or whatever MPT guy’s name is about it. I mean at the end of the day if someone wants to spend 80 bucks on a decorational tea cake, that money benefits the farmers either way. A watermelon farmer isn’t going to shun you for smashing their produce with a giant hammer in front of a cheering audience instead of enjoying it in silent and reverent solitude, I think.

Might I add… that person had to have gone through 30 weeks of my Instagram to have found that, or is following me but created a 1 day account on Reddit to stay ‘anonymous’

Anyways, @Lion

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OMG… I am going be lambasted for eternity!

mrmopar said

I wouldn’t think so.

@mrmopar 2016 it’s a new year!!! Yunnan Spring Harvest of black tea is just 1 month away! I’m gonna drop off the map soon. Too bad I’ll miss all this!

Sparks said

Looking forward to it.

To make an omelette you have to break some eggs. The convention that unusual claims typically go unremarked should have been questioned at some point, just odd it overlapped a little with counter-marketing. If the saying “there is no such thing as bad publicity” is correct then it’s all win-win all the way around.

I didn’t really see it as lambasting you personally (notably names were not named). Geoff was just expressing frustration with the state of the industry as of late and using current events to illustrate that.

MzPriss said

@Scott – I would hope you wouldn’t spend a nano second thinking about that post, especially since plenty of people disagree with it. Your time would be MUCH better spent finding me the perfect teeny and beautiful pot please and thank you.

@MzPriss Warm fuzzies. ;-) Yes maam… how many ML?

MzPriss said

@Scott – 100 or less please – 110/120 max :)

@MzPriss – got it… unfortunately Chinese New Year has shut everything down. I will try for some small pots after CNY.

MzPriss said

@Scott – whenever – it’s not like I have a shortage of pots (bless my heart)

@MzPriss true dat… I promise to never teapot shame you…

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Psyck said

I went through the article and could not find a single reasoned justification for the statement that there is no money in tea. Instead, the article primarily deals with various conflicts between vendors, workers, and consumers. All of which leads me to the conclusion that – there is money in tea.

I think that’s called a false dichotomy.

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