Sunday, April 24, 2016

Tealet Tea 101 video review, introductory overview of tea

I recently watched a Tealet Tea 101 introductory video, based on their offer for access to review.  The video was nice, a bit basic, but good for a reference for people new to tea.  As background I'd expect most readers to be familiar with, Tealet is a tea vendor based on a fair-trade-issues related premise, with a direct from farmers approach, with coverage of both wholesale and retail sales (see more here).

General Review

Well-produced, including background on types, history, growing areas, tea processing, and brewing.  In about 45 minutes it would be impossible to go very deep over all that range, so the main concerns would be getting that content right and drawing limits well, and for the most part they succeeded at both.  For someone who's been reading up on tea for awhile, probably for most readers of this blog, most of the content would be familiar, although anyone could have awareness gaps in subjects like history or processing if they don't intentionally look into these areas.  I mostly read up subject to subject but it adds up.

The production quality was good, with lots of nice pictures and video from tea growing areas and processing facilities in different places, along with some use of reference graphics, so a bit more developed than other general content usually is.

In online discussion Elyse (a Tealet founder) mentioned that one purpose was to serve as a training reference for related businesses, which makes sense.  For personal knowledge someone really could watch a lot of varied content online, which I'll say a little more about at the end of this.  That would be more hit and miss, typically not as well organized, or even as accurate.  The range and depth could be a lot broader, with the trade-off that the process would take lots of time.  It probably wouldn't work to have tea shop employees watching 20 miscellaneous videos of different types for a couple of days.  So for a general introduction I thought it was good, appropriate and well chosen.

The next section will cover errors, implying there were more gaps in the material than there really were.  The intention isn't to express my own knowledge of tea (which tea bloggers tend to do), but rather cover some interesting related ideas.

Video error log; some interesting tea trivia

History of tea timing:  The video mentioned the standard history of tea, the part about the Chinese emperor accidentally dropping a leaf in boiling water.  It's a good story, and it would be nice if that had happened, but relatively recent archaeological evidence pushed back the time of intentional tea cultivation in China to more than a couple millennia prior to that time-table.  How is that possible?  Read this reference, or look up others.  The short version is that archaeologists are very clever, and they found some unusual clues from long ago.

History of tea bags:  The standard story they mentioned is that Thomas Sullivan starting sending out tea samples in silk bags in 1908, and these were used to actually brew the tea instead--another good story.  More recently lots of references mention that he actually re-invented the tea bag since there was a patent for the same basic design prior to then.  In a sense it doesn't matter, but then if the standard story is interesting then so is the actual fact of the matter, at least to some people.

From there most issues relate to choices about what to include or leave out instead of errors.  A more notable gap:  a brief white tea mention in the types section really missed explaining that there are two main types, Silver Needle / buds only style and Bai Mu Dan / Peony / buds and leaves style, and implies this is instead just a grade difference.  It's still not much.

The processing section was fine, for being as brief as it was, and that's not easy content to narrow down without including errors.  Same for tea brewing; that subject is endless, but for a short start it worked.  A little more on there being two main brewing approaches would have been informative, those being Gongfu and Western, based mostly on using different proportions of tea to water.  This was less clear since they covered both but made it seem as if oolong should be brewed Gongfu style, but not most others, when really it's just up to preference.

Then again, it gets old repeating "this really varies by preference," and the videos included that at a few other relevant places, about temperature and infusion time and such.  Related to that, most of the brewing section was a good starting point, although maybe the white tea brewing summary could be clearer.  There are two schools of thought on that, in general, that you infuse white teas very lightly, or instead for a relatively long time, five minutes, to get to a more conventional strength for how other teas turn out.  One typically wouldn't brew white tea for longer than that, aside from cold brewing, which is as well to not mention initially.

Other video content online

This subject has come up recently, in a Facebook tea group discussion before I saw this video, about what else is out there for tea introduction.  To me the content by the China Life vendor stands out as a good video-based introduction, like this guide to brewing tea.  It's not set up to be a "Tea 101" short overview, though, so even this "how to brew" video is a half hour introduction versus the Tealet short version, covering all that other range in not much longer.  Given the depth it might be better for someone with time to spare but in a way it's just a different thing.

Tea DB is a good example of a video blog format (their You Tube channel), but it's essentially a blog, not an introduction.  Lots of vendors also produce introductory content, typically written instead of video based, but the quality and objectivity vary quite a bit, much of it clearly just extended product marketing.

Somehow there really was a gap for a clear, short, comprehensive video summary like this one.  Depending on where Tealet goes with this in the "102" video they really could flag and cover other types of related gaps.

A post-script about tea culture

That covered the part about the content, but after posting it I feel like I've left something important out.  Why is it that some people really feel connected to those Tea DB guys, to the extent that an online blogger friend calls them "the boys"?  Why is it that their tea reviews might appeal to people in a much different way than something like the former Walker Tea Review blog, even if there wasn't much room to improve on the thoroughness of Jason's reviews, or to cover more scope?

Jason seems ok, by the way, those were just a little dry, and actually seem to have been discontinued awhile back, but the example still works.  I've been on Indonesian teas lately and here's a good example of an Indonesian Harendong tea video review by him.  In contrast I barely even described the same tea a year ago, five months after this video.

As another example, why would Steepster appeal to someone when Tea Chat wouldn't, or vise-versa (two different tea discussion sites)?

In short, people connect with others that seem familiar, that approach things a similar way, online as well.  From those videos I had a sense that it would be nice to share tea with those girls, and it makes learning the content much more pleasant.  Or it would have, if any of it had been new to me, but then I go way overboard with this tea theme.  Not much of a point, right, a bit fuzzy?  I'm really just putting it out there as food for thought.  I typically don't tend to connect with my blog readers much, but I do help moderate a Facebook tea group and we talk it all through a little there.

If anyone gets the sense that I know too much about tea to talk to that would be an odd form of indirect compliment but it's really not like that.  I'm only three years in to taking it so seriously; new to tea.  My tea-maker friend Cindy Chen says that she is no expert, just learning like anyone else, and she's more like three decades into actually making it (good versions of Wuyi Yancha at that, my favorite type).  I see that as a nice perspective, the humility.  Tea really should be about sharing experiences and ideas, as I take it, not about being proud of some level of mastery.

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