why review tea, and about online group participation

I usually write about tea, doing reviews, exploring research themes, etc., but this post is about why people review tea, related to more generally why people participate in online groups or forums. I’d be interested in hearing what you think, since it basically is why people blog, or are on Steepster or Facebook tea groups:

http://teaintheancientworld.blogspot.com/2017/03/online-group-psychology-why-review-tea.html

It draws on some ideas from group psychology, with psychology being an interest for the last half a year or so. I’m educated in engineering and philosophy, so that’s just a tangent I’ve been on. The first part of this was on why people review tea related to comparing some methodology from wine review (most of which didn’t overlap directly):

http://teaintheancientworld.blogspot.com/2017/03/why-review-tea-part-1-comparison-with.html

17 Replies
Rasseru said

its too long to read right now, but I review tea simply because I needed reviews of tea because theres too much & I didnt know which to buy.

Also I’m passionate about subjects I like & forums are good places to chat with like-minded folk. My friends will not listen to crazy-tea-talk for long.

I’ll read it properly when I have the time, busy right now but interested in the article :)

KimK said

I enjoyed this blog post. Psychology of group is a very interesting topic. Online discussion forums and tea reviews (as well as other forums) are certainly unique in the ability to form groups of like minded individuals to share tea experiences from all over the world. I agree with your post that these offer a sense of belonging and a conduit for sharing unique, personal tea experiences of the individual with a larger community. The most important component of sharing at this point is not to share and review, though I have added a bit to reviews, but to educate myself on teas, tea culture, growing areas and more. The reviews and discussion offer a rich education that would be hard to find in one place.
I do believe that for the group to remain cohesive is the result of a strong leader (per your blog) or moderator who establishes a set of guidelines on behavior. Group psychology needs guidelines but more importantly the group needs civil participants who abide by the guidelines. In my limited participation on Steepster, it seems we have a great group where individuals value the reviews of others and are eager to help others.
Whether we blog or review to feel association with fellow tea sippers or simply wish to keep track of teas drunk, I appreciate this forum greatly. I also have a little confession to make. Having been in other groups I rarely added anything to the discussions (music and guitar forums)because I felt like such a novice. Here, I feel comfortable in posting along with others. Just the psychology of different groups I guess.

It’s interesting the way that works out, with different groups having a different feel to them. Facebook tea groups vary and become perspective-specific even more than here, since steepster tends to work out for people on different levels. But in general people are nice enough on steepster, and a bit open, and that stays consistent. The last part of that post is an interesting subject to me, the life cycle of online groups or pages, since it does seem normal for discussion to move from one place to another over time. In my work field, a part of IT, I had noticed service management discussion would shift around so that the same core people were active in places that would transition over time.

About the subject of reviews in particular, even though I write those to me they’re not the most interesting part of communicating about tea, related to writing them or reading them. Subjective impression varies enough that you have to sort of interpret what someone says. It often wouldn’t serve as a good description of your own impression, even though a read on most basic characteristics may match. Or at least that’s my take.

Arby said

I use other people’s reviews to decide which teas I want to purchase. I also like reading what other people taste in teas I am already familiar with. Sometimes there is something obvious that I missed. I review teas in the hopes that other people find them useful, and also because I reference them before repurchase.

LuckyMe said

Ditto. I seldom make a tea purchase without consulting Steepster reviews. They’ve have helped me discover some real gems I would have never found on my own and steered me clear of duds.

I also find reviews helpful for brewing guidelines and to compare notes with other people.

I didn’t really get into the use I have for other tea reviews in that post but I do end up checking on those for different reasons, including here and blogs. It’s usually not about ordering tea because I have a loose list of places in mind I want to buy tea from that’s longer than I’ll ever get to, and new sources end up line-jumping into that. For reviews I usually don’t read other takes on tea before tasting or writing about them but sometimes in a research process after the I make initial tasting notes it’s interesting to look around, especially if a tea is unusual. Sometimes it helps provide more information about what a tea is, if that’s still in question, but usually it doesn’t.

LuckyMe said

Reading other people’s reviews helps broaden my own perspective. It’s fascinating to see how different people characterize the same tea. They may pick up on certain flavor notes and aromas that I might miss. Or sometimes after reading Steepster reviews, I realize that I’m brewing a tea incorrectly and I like the tea more after following someone else’s brewing method.

Some great thoughts.

I tend to look at tea as an art at this point. With that being said, from a philosophical take on the ‘online tea community’ objectivity rarely exist. However, as we know… there are things that are passed as ‘art’ but truly are not. For this alone I have to approach tea as fully subjective due to the nature of the community being comprised by those who are not myself nor my clones. This also applies to anything else that has a rich history to which brought forward a artisan marketplace; such as cheese, wine, beer, chocolate, bread… anything really. For that reason, I don’t see an issue regarding the rating or remarks towards specific teas just as I don’t get mad for someone reviewing a movie and giving it a 88/100 when I might say 50/100 tops. Right now the issue is if someone is the first to try it and reviews it bad, will it end up not getting any more attention? Sometimes this is corrected within the community easily by swaps which helps give a new perspective on the tea. All of this being said as if someone is reviewing tea with one objective in mind: Was it enjoyable? If that’s how we ought to review a tea, are we suppose to compare it to others that may be out of its league? Do I take a farmers second batch and compare it to another who has been doing it a lifetime?

Regarding online groups… This one is touchy because it is all to real, psychology and evolution play a huge role in here. It’s part of who we are to need to be involved and part of something; however there is also levels of self awareness and consciousness that can break free from the unfortunate reality that most people do not possess free will, but that is a whole different subject. Online communities revolving around tea are like different denominations in the way they go about things. They all believe in ‘The Leaf’, if you will, but little things change here and there which end up in alienation or elitism… breeding exclusivity. Easily picked up on if you look around. In the end I still find the online communities to be helpful, but I also believe tea just like anything else should be majorly a self discovery type of experience. A little help here or there is okay, but when it comes to tea I want people to drink the way Jean Paul Sartre would and not Kant.

I’m going to read Sam Harris’ book called Free Will and then try to write some weird tie in with tea for you : )

andresito said

I think people saying a tea is bad because they did not enjoy it is different than a tea really being bad…like it has bad storage, mold, loaded with chemicals, etc. I wish people who say a tea is “bad” would instead say “I did not enjoy this tea…because of xyz”. That makes it a personal and subjective opinion, as opposed to calling it “bad” which is more objective. After all, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. A tea that comes to mind is W2T’s 2015 red star. a few people reviewed it on steepster as fishy, I took a chance and was rewarded with a delicious tea.

I think you’re right on about the collective adjusting for skewed reviews, that if a tea is good it will be brought to light. And talking about puerh specifically, if nobody is buying it because of a few negative online reviews, perhaps that will only preserve the tea for the next generation of tea drinkers who will have the opportunity to appreciate it at a future date, when its hopefully improved even more from additional storage.

I really agree with you both. For me, reading other people’s reviews used to help me on my journey of discovery, learning and appreiating tea, especially when I first became interested in it many years ago. Now I love reading other people’s reviews, because it shines a new light on the same tea and broadens my perspective. Tea is a self development tool for me, so this allows me to become more sensitive and more mindful to my environment and more open to other people’s opinions, starting with tea.

I found it very fascinating how some of my friends who know nothing about tea tried some of my dragonwell last week – The girl detected a sweet nutty flavour in it immediately, which is the general consensus with dragonwell, whereas my guy friend compared it to hay and walnut – a description which really opened my eyes to other world views, a description not given to this tea usually, but I could really see where he was coming from. :) I’m actually finishing off editing a video on that as we speak.

But I also don’t agree on the elitisism that tea connoseurship and discussions can breed e.g. people believing that a certain way of brewing a tea is the only ‘correct’ way, or that there should be a common consensus on how ‘good’ a tea is, when this is so subjectve.

I believe tea is a tool that helps to bring people together and make their lives happier, and I hope online tea reviews help people in their own self-discoery and to connect and share their worldviews with others, rather than segragate people. :)

John, it’s really lovely, as I am also interested in both tea and psychology – I’ve actually written an article bringing the two together, but in a very different way – the psychology of how tea improves my life, specifically, how tea ‘has made me happier’ and the purpose of tea in my life. :) https://www.eastcottandburgess.co.uk/single-post/2017/01/17/How-Tea-Made-Me-Happier

Yulia X

I reviewed records in my teens…and always enjoyed reading reviews that were a bit more complex than “This rocks!” I’ve enjoyed using the internet to explore in depth the things in life I enjoy, from shaving with a safety razor and mug of handcrafted soap, to metal detecting with classic analog equipment. Reviews by enthusiasts not beholden to the manufacturers are of great value to me. So it is with tea – I am lucky to have a top notch tea shop around the corner (Divinitea) and am newly interested in this beverage as I have embraced sobriety (again). Your reviews provide fascinating insights not only on the products, but about your everyday lives. To really enjoy something like tea, to explore it thoroughly, from their histories, to where and how it is grown and processed, opens up a world that is at once luxurious and accessible to the initiate with the patience to learn.

Very well put! I enjoy reviewing tea as a way to focus my mind on the process of truly tasting and experiencing the different stages of each infusion. Sadly, I’ve not had the time to write tasting notes for the past year.

I’m glad some people here could relate to the ideas. Out of these different comments that one part about teas being “luxurious and accessible” stood out. That’s a big part of what we’re all experiencing and trying to get across, isn’t it? The interest and products aren’t expensive (or don’t have to be, but they can be), and it’s not that difficult, but the range of experience available is endless. You’re lucky to have a good shop nearby since that does abbreviate the learning process, to taste teas before you buy them, and to have a person to discuss that with.

onjinone said

You brought up some really interesting points such as the part where you mention introverts/extroverts.

I think one of the aspects just goes back to the social nature of human beings. Part of our communication is sharing knowledge, things we find interesting, etc. with others.

Being able to do this online peaks an interest in others because the subject obviously intrigues the person and it also has to provide some sort of satisfaction to the individual who is sharing, whether it be for identity like you touched upon, personal record keeping, happiness, or any other reason.

Cwyn said

Sigh. You still haven’t read Kant’s Critique of Judgment? Writing about wine, much less about tea, in terms of subjectivity vs objectivity just seems like a deliberate forgetting of history by someone with your credentials when the basis for all of it was written in 1790, more than 220 years ago.

What LiquidProust said, “…when it comes to tea, I want people to drink the way John Paul Sartre would and not Kant,” shows that this guy has a clear understanding and background reading and has a clear thesis guiding his efforts. I’m certain LiquidProust could rewrite his statement for an audience not familiar with philosophy, and leave out the names, but clearly distinguish the subjective, and in fact he did so in the rest of the paragraph.

I could leave this alone, and it isn’t that I want to be insulting but you posted here. I realize you are writing a blog which can be about any old ramblings and fair enough. I don’t mind people lacking the background writing on these topics, but when someone does have the background and muddles it all further, well it’s just annoying. Blogs and forums are not the same activity, either. More muddling, IMO.

Fair enough; thanks to comment. For people that want to catch up on that background here is a blog post on what Kant said or didn’t say about tea tasting (although it has to extend what he said about wine; he didn’t address tea directly):

http://teaintheancientworld.blogspot.com/2016/05/kant-on-tea-tasting.html

That post doesn’t go into it but I do have a background in philosophy, a related BA and MA, although I focused on Kant’s metaphysics and ethics more in the only two classes I took dedicated to studying his work. His ideas came up in an aesthetics class but my own studies focused more on developing a broad background in philosophy along with a focus on Buddhism.

That blog post covers the first 1500 words worth of discussion. It’s problematic that even if one accepts Kant’s thoughts as correct—which wouldn’t necessarily be a good assumption; a lot of modern thinking builds on his work but it’s not as if philosophy stops with Kant—it’s not easy to sort out what he was saying. Moving on to evaluating that related to other ideas within aesthetics is a good project for a grad study program focus, but not as suitable even for in-depth reading. This post did move into objective versus subjective a little but I saw it more as relating to psychology. It’s quite true that related to a philosophy term paper or journal article the scoping for this post is quite loose, it rambles, or as you say is “muddled,” but it is a personal blog post, not one of those types of works. If an idea is clearly wrong then tight scoping isn’t the concern but not tracing back use of those terms—objective and subjective—to a framework that even Kant himself didn’t make clear, at least not in Critique of Judgement; maybe across his whole body of works it emerges better, isn’t practical. Of course I’m not claiming that I know that background as well as LiquidProust, since I don’t know what he knows, but that extrapolation from his comment seems a stretch. He surely knows Sartre better than I do since his works did not come up at all within the analytic philosophy studies I did, which sees Continental philosophy as something else entirely, no more relevant than psychology.

For people interested in hearing just a little more on this, Cwyn did comment on a post here (in Steepster) about that Kant related blog post. She surely does have a deeper background and interest in aesthetics than I do; my own philosophical interests steered outside of philosophy into the scope of Buddhism. I related to that in ways that overlap more with psychology than analytic philosophy, which is mainly the context I studied it in.

It might be interesting to consider what Buddhism would say about the distinction between objective and subjective interpretation of reality, but perhaps problematic that “Buddhism” isn’t one distinct and clear thing. It covers a few time periods and schools, and is interpreted differently as a religion versus a philosophy, or as closer to psychology. At a rough guess (which Cwyn probably should rightfully object to) Buddhism might say that experienced reality is a construct that is typically based to a large on error in interpretation, in adding a layer of mis-interpretation related to attachment and views related to self, and as such inconsistent interpretation would be normal. Buddhism is not about theories of aesthetics, though, and I’d think per most takes whether or not there is a correct interpretation of aspects of a tea would be seen as irrelevant. The experience could be regarded as more or less direct, in some schools, more or less free of error, but that wouldn’t typically extend to concerns about explicit and accurate description. Back to that Kant post related thread:

https://steepster.com/discuss/13269-kant-on-tea-tasting

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