Monday, August 7, 2017

The end of a tea blog

No, not this blog.  Let me explain.

I love old tea blogs, looking back on perspectives on tea from way back when, maybe even ten years ago.  What Western tea culture must have been like!  The pu'er bubble burst around then, and people kept discovering new and unique versions of teas, like aged oolongs, or obscure forms of hei cha, and new producer countries kept turning up.  They still do; as far as I know I've "broke" the news of two new tea origins, of production in Spain and North Korea (teas I actually did try, in the second case).

A different type of transition relates to a changing of the guard in tea blogging; old blogs go inactive, new ones start up.  This at least partly relates to a natural process of changing personal interests.  I think back to how I loved wine at one point, then tisanes, and craft beer, after English and German beer before that.  I once owned a small espresso machine, and later went back to plain drip brewed coffee, and then switched to tea.  I was into liquors once too, but that related more to getting drunk, kind of a different thing.

This tea blogger's closing remarks in Another Tea Blog sums up all that related to their own transition:

Ok, I fought it and fought it, but the blog is officially dead. It saddens me, as tea has given me much pleasure, as has this blog. Unfortunately for now my interests and hobbies have moved on to other things.

Even without updates, many people still find their way to this blog. It is my hope that it will still be a source of information to some. I have disabled the comment moderation. If you wish to leave a comment, feel free, but I will most likely not respond.

Hopefully this is temporary. Hopefully tea will once again be the source of pleasure that it was to me. And in the mean time, hopefully it will continue to be a source of pleasure for you.

And that is the theme of this post, examining the life cycle of tea blogging, largely through the perspective and words of people that had written a blog but stopped.  With a bit of my rambling added it runs a little long but I found their input fascinating, well worth the read.

If you read through that blog, or any other, the posts tell the same type of story about initial enthusiasm, ramping up knowledge and experience, and writing and tasting skills, about building connections with others who share the interest, then eventually interest tapering off, at least in writing.  That's more or less the type of cycle I summarized in a comment on a seven year old resurrected thread on Steepster about starting a tea lounge.  Based on a little looking around none of those people commenting there probably actually started a tea lounge, and none seemed to maintain an active online interest in tea, or at least the trail goes cold there.

It's similar to this article on the 12 phases of every coffee snob's life; it ends with going quiet:

Phase 12: You develop an ability to keep your opinions to yourself

The clouds part. It becomes clear that not every coffee needs three adjectives attached to it. Mr. Coffee doesn't seem like such a bad dude anymore, he's just trying to feed his kids. There's actually a strange pleasure in drinking plain diner coffee, although you'll still draw the line at coffees from bank lobbies and hotel continental breakfasts. 

I could swear that there was a similar commentary in A Tea Addict's Journal, authored by "Marshal N," about stages of tea experience, more related to a form change than an eventual end.  A 2012 post there on tea blogging in general, about what is out there and changes, will suffice as a background reference.  There isn't much there that sums up general patterns but it is interesting comparing that post to his perspective on blogging from 2007 in the Cha Dao blog.  An observation on one reason why people write a tea blog from that:

But in much of the English-speaking community, from which most tea bloggers are drawn, oftentimes the only person who drinks tea seriously whom the blogger knows is the blogger him/herself. What the blogs, and the exchanges that take place both on and off sites, serve are the same needs that a tea drinker in China wants from a visit to a teahouse or teashop -- an interaction with somebody else who is passionate about tea.

That is true of my blog.  Compared to the real life group interaction mentioned in that early post even more of my own tea-related contact remains online.  I talk about tea in different places, all online, like in this FB group I helped found and moderate.

Old blogs coming back to life

There are few cases of old blogs continuing for a long time, on the order of a decade.  Besides the Tea Addict's Journal the Half Dipper comes to mind.  Both are perhaps quieter than before but both are well worth checking out, with both authors now drawing on a wealth of experience.  There are a few recent examples of classic blogs going dormant for years and then returning to some degree of activity:  Matt Cha's blogBear's blog, and Tea Obsession.

They don't tend to become too philosophical about re-starting, to examine their motivations for not blogging, or blogging again, or delve into cultural shift examination.  They just go back to talking about tea, probably from a slightly different perspective.  There might be more insight to draw on related to those cases but I didn't turn up any, so I'll move on to a few descriptions of why people stop blogging, input about personal experiences.  This short tangent can stop at mentioning those special cases.

The end of two of my favorite tea blogs, and one from before my time

I asked one of my favorite former tea bloggers about her experiences, and why she thought people let the writing interest go, the author of the Snooty Tea Blog.  The video form of that blog is under Natasha Nesic; following the trend of most early bloggers her real name wasn't connected to her work at first, but later on it was.  I'd like to include what I liked about her blog but it's hard to pin down; watch a video if you're curious about that.  Her input:

I believe that recreational blogging takes a certain dedication and outside support to maintain motivation. The ones who can do it sustainably are in fields with a much larger audience--therefore greater support network, greater opportunity to make cash. Income speaks, at the end of the day. We want to be paid for doing what we love.

These days it's more of a thing that personal training clients find fascinating--"You're a tea sommelier? And you had a blog?" but then we go back to squats. Fitness is where my real passion is, though I still enjoy a good cup of Pu-Erh. 

her iconic blog profile photo (and of course she's actually in the videos)

So a few different points there; overall support network issues and balancing different demands comes into play, and interests can change over time.  It does seem like tea blogs tied to a tea business tend to last longer, and that in cases when a tea blogger not working in the industry moves into that it helps solidify the connection.

I looked around through old tea blogs to find other examples, really as much out of personal interest as research for this post.  Based on asking around the author of one very well developed and now inactive tea blog, Palatabilitea, passed on her own insights to her own experiences, edited down just a little:

As a teacher, I know that human brains are wired to enjoy novelty, and that I have to develop multiple strategies and approaches to keep my students' interest. But we also end up returning to a few favorites.  I am still very interested in tea and continue to drink it daily. I just no longer have the need to constantly explore it and find new teas and new ways of brewing. I've had hundreds of different teas, each brewed in many ways, and I've gotten to the point where I'd rather just keep a few of my favorites on hand and brew them in my favorite ways.

Why my particular blog dried up was not a reflection of me losing interest in tea or the online tea culture, but more of a reflection of a huge change in my life. The couple of years I wrote my blog was a unique period of time between graduating from my undergrad and moving on to my first graduate program. When I started the blog, the Great Recession was in full swing and the only job I could manage to get was a part time receptionist position.  I started writing the tea blog as a way to keep my writing chops sharp, while at the same time studying to pass the GRE.  I'd fallen into a core group of live chatters on Adagio's TeaChat, and a few of them had started blogs to archive our tasting notes. We realized that a lot of other people were reading our blogs, too, which really bothered some of the guys (I was the only girl), and they stopped writing for that reason. More of us stopped for the same reason I did: our lives changed.

In my case, I got into a demanding graduate program. I went from having tons of 'free time' to none at all, and blogging was actually fairly labor intensive. Between tasting multiple rounds, taking notes, photography and photo editing, and then finally composing and editing, I think I was putting 5 hours of work into each post, and I just did not have that time. 

...And when I did get a bit of free time and funds back, I found I preferred not constantly writing about and talking about tea. The constant discussion had begun to feel performative, and I had developed a critic's lens when it came to tea...and that was keeping me from enjoying the moment and the tea in my cup. Drinking tea was far more pleasurable and meditative when I wasn't evaluating it. And it was a major relief from my "day job" of literary criticism. So I stopped paying attention to the tea chatter that was going on online, and I've been quite happy with my decision. 

I can relate to all of that.  Tea blogging does take time, and to some extent the activity takes away from simply enjoying the experience, even if it does push you to explore some aspects more deeply.  There seems to be a divide between people that enjoy trying to define tea tasting through description, who experience the analysis and communication as enriching it, and for others who find it gets in the way.  That gets compared to photography, how for some that puts distance between them and what they see, and for others it somehow adds a meaningful extra dimension.

While I was writing this post one of my own favorite current tea bloggers posted her sign-off from tea blogging, Amanda from My Thoughts Are Like Butterflies.  That blog won't be updated with reviews from here on out but I highly recommend reading through the existing posts.  She influenced my own experience of writing about tea, I suppose to some extent related to reviewing style, but really more about adding a bit more of myself to my blog posts.  Her closing post tells the story:

Well, all, the time has come to hang up my blogger hat, this is the last update this blog will have. I have given this a lot of thought and realized it was time to move on to other things! Before I get into the meat of the blog, thank you...all of you...all the readers, fellow bloggers, tea companies, tea growers, all the ones that found my words useful and relevant, you guys are the reason I continued with this blog for as long as I did, the reason I went from posting quick tasting notes on Facebook to long-winded rambles. I will never have the right words to accurately express my appreciation and the glowing warm fuzzies I get in my heart.

There are myriad reasons why, so I will give a quick rundown. 

1. I have burned out and no longer feel I have anything worth saying about these teas, which doesn't do anyone justice, and I really do not want my burn out of writing to leach into the tea itself, I adore tea and will do anything to avoid jeopardizing my love of it!

2. It is a job that doesn't pay anything, and I no longer find this job fun, it went from being a hobby and passion to a job. I know from experience this is toxic as hell one's hobbies should never only be a job. 

a pure soul

3. Yes, my health is part of it, I am tired of beating myself up for missing blog days due to being too unwell. I started this blog in part to make myself feel constructive while also being disabled, and that really helped at first, now I no longer need it for the confidence boost and the stress of missing posts got old. 

4. I just want to drink tea, I am tired of having to stop my sessions to take notes and mess with taking pictures, it is so easy with Instagram to take (mediocre) photos and throw them on there while waiting for the cup to cool, the process of taking notes mid tasting and photos were just getting in the way of my enjoyment,I am tired of having to think about it, I just want to get lost in tea.Those are the main reasons I am ending the blog, I feel as though a weight has been lifted from me!

She goes on to sign off a bit more, and explain that disappointed readers can still catch more limited updates on Instagram.

Those last two citations overlap a bit, and pretty much sum it up:  it can shift from being a labor of love to just being work, and for most it's work that doesn't actually pay.  Except maybe in tea samples, or for some limited advertising revenue, but a lot of tea bloggers are doing it almost entirely just to share experiences.

I'm not thinking of throwing in the towel just yet but it wouldn't take much in the way of life circumstances changes for me to scale back the effort I put in.  I've used tea exploration, research and writing to support different ends, to explore a subject I love and also social networking avenues.  Blogging always was about two separate interests, for me, one related to experiencing tea and the other to all the rest, and I could imagine the latter dropping out.  For now it's still a labor of love, and along with the mundane reviews I have a few other interesting things in mind to tell you about.

1 comment:

  1. I can relate to the expressions of these tea bloggers. I am a tea (and book) blogger myself and I had to dramatically reduce the amount of tea reviews that I performed on sample teas because it was preventing me from really enjoying teas. I still feel as though the teas that I enjoy may not be as interesting to others and sometimes I feel pressure to review well-known teas just for this reason. Tea blogging is not easy but if there's still love there, then do it. If one feels like it's time to throw in the towel, don't allow fear to stop you!