Originally posted to TChing in two parts here and here.
Odd I've never brought this up before; there are lots of places to talk about and learn about tea online. Writing a blog post about reaching a million answer views on Quora reminded me of the subject, so I'll start there, and list others.
Quora: you can ask or answer questions about tea on Quora, more or less an expanded version of Yahoo Answers. Comments work out like discussion threads but it's not the same. There is a personal messaging function, just no forum or thread-style discussion area. I started writing about tea, and ventured into travel and culture related issues after.
lots of Quora stats to add a level of feedback, if one is interested
Tea Chat (forums): unfortunately this site has ran its course, related to online forums having a natural lifecycle, but this had been the main dedicated tea forum. Tea Forum is a more recent spin off but it's not that much more active. Steepster is really a tea review site, also with a currently inactive discussion section. There's only so much tea discussion going on to support dedicated forums, and the next entry sucks a lot of the air out of the room.
Tea Forum; a new version of an old theme
Facebook groups: this is where people talk about tea online most now. I co-founded one active group, International Tea Talk, which is focused on tea themes in different countries, but others have their own sub-themes:
handy that the groups, pages, and personal profiles all link in Facebook
Pu'er Tea Club: about pu'er, not as snobby as it might have worked out, but still what you might expect.
Gong Fu Cha: mostly US experienced tea drinkers, who don't favor Western style brewing
Tea Drinkers: my favorite beginner oriented group.
Local / city FB groups: I'm in versions related to Thailand, NYC, LA, Colorado, and more recently Melbourne. Groups like these are ideal places to ask for local shop recommendations.
Reddit r/tea: this subforum is unusual, in terms of format and for people not consolidating into a common-perspective group, but it works for a lower experience level general discussion group. Just as Facebook links personal profile details and interest groups Reddit works to make discussion across a broad range of interest areas available in one place, typically more anonymously. They just don't integrate.
Instagram: not a good place for discussion, just about pictures and limited video, but it's so active for tea themes that I'll mention it anyway. I saw a really cool interview about tea culture in Russia by a Russian tea lovers page there but as far as I know those live "story" videos aren't accessible later. They do also upload some videos to Youtube. Youtube is a media channel but not set up for social networking in that other sense, related to interaction. TeaDB is a nice blog there, and Tea Fix hasn't got far as a start on a podcast yet but they're working on it.
Twitter: I don't like Twitter, the format or the vibe (culture, as much as a grouping that broad has one). It could work a lot better than it seems to for sharing information, but it can work out for sharing news links or as a self-promotion feed. Some "tea people" seem to use it for that, and to share other updates.
Google +: that social networking site is nearly as dead as Julius Caesar, but it had such potential. Google tends to really develop what it knows is going to work, like Maps, or Android, and throws the rest at the wall to see what sticks. It would be possible to write an entire post about obsolete or marginal tea-themed social networking options but I'll stop at G+. LinkedIn isn't marginal or obsolete but this would be a good place to add mention of it; tea industry professionals add profiles there, and some groups there relate to tea, as with lots of other subjects.
Tea maps: this isn't conventional social networking, more like a wiki project, but the idea of groups communicating information overlaps. Someone just mentioned creating a private version of one on a Steepster thread, a site that already has a map function, as Tea Chat did, both now obsolete. This seems like a great idea but the details haven't come together for any version to get relatively filled in.
Reddit's tea map version
Issues with online groups
The main problem with online tea interest groups--beyond activity tending to drop off at some point--seems to be people being on the same page, sharing perspective. Facebook groups work well for sorting that naturally; if you talk about scope beyond group theme interest you probably won't hear much back, or feedback could be negative.
That's why it's odd that the Reddit subforum works; it isn't sorted, beyond an emphasis on most people being newer to tea. That's also probably why it has 120k+ members and almost none of them seem to be regulars, beyond the moderators. There are some but they are exceptions. Vendors had seemed to be more active in the past but a few scandals about product promotion inconsistencies may have threw off the friendly neighborhood self-promotion vibe.
this shaving forum previously had a developed tea discussion theme (here)
Related to self-sorting there seems to be a natural split in membership of people relatively new to tea or else really far along a learning curve. That makes sense, that to everyone else in between there wouldn't be as much point. Others who like tea could just drink it instead, and skip focusing on a learning curve. Vendors make up half the people discussing tea on the experienced end, and the rest are probably a bit obsessive to take a drink interest so far. Relatively few don't actually have some form of business interest. Take me, for example; why keep going on about the subject? I suppose it's a long story, only partly because I am obsessive.
Vendors account for a lot of the interest in social networking about tea, related to doing it, and providing content as a foundation, in some cases. But even though tea is a potentially bottomless subject to learn about and experience for most people it's about drinking a version they know and like, so all that only goes so far.
Trying out holding tea tasting events recently reminds me of how important the real-life aspect is to social networking related to tea. People can all talk about what they bought from Yunnan Sourcing together (in their FB vendor-theme group), but in general it helps really sharing the drink in person.
Someone new to tea can try a lot of types fairly quickly through some sort of meet-up or tasting, and experienced tea drinkers can share more interesting versions with each other. Some teas just don't come up a lot, and even if the internet makes really local, rare teas available now the range of all types is so broad that you can't hope to try most of it. Reading blog reviews only goes so far; sharing teas with each other in person covers a lot more ground, the actual experience.
The two themes can definitely work together. Discussing tea online helps with reaching out to a broader group for more information and input, and networking there can help with finding local cafes, shops, meet-ups and events, to bring the experience back into real-life scope.
conference panel; online meets real life, from a post about Polish tea culture