Sunday, April 05, 2009

Tea and the Internet


The internet seems to be infinitely elastic; it has the protean capacity to remake itself, apparently endlessly, and to recapitulate and even subsume everything that it had been previously. In the process, it inveigles itself into just about every aspect of the way we live now -- 'we,' in this case, of course meaning those with access to electricity, a computer, and an internet service provider.

These attributes of the internet -- its ubiquity and indispensability -- seem to number among its more enduring characteristics. The rest of it is subject to change without notice. Do you, gentle reader, have a clear memory of what your daily life was like before the internet? I can remember the era, but for the life of me, I have a hard time figuring out how we ever managed. I can dimly remember what it was like to do email in the mid-90s, before there were dot-com, dot-net, or dot-edu suffixes; my email address (which even in those long-vanished days began with 'corax') ended with dot-bitnet. I remember the excitement that attended upon the increasing popularity of the 'World Wide Web,' and how in 1994 NCSA's Mosaic web browser, which had seemed a huge convenience in 1993, was for almost everyone instantly superseded by Netscape Navigator. (All of this, of course, was in the time before Microsoft's Internet Explorer was launched.) Also around this time (circa 1994), the 'weblog' or online journal began to gain in popularity, as web pages became easier and easier for private individuals to create. By 1999, the website was created, offering previously unimagined simplicity and ease of development for 'blogs,' as they had come to be known. By 2007, according to's 'State of the Blogosphere' report, over 120,000 new blogs were being created every day -- an average of about 1.4 new blogs every second.

For an internet incarnation that has been around already for a full decade, the blog seems remarkably resilient. One might well have expected it to have gone the way of the Dodo by now, but in fact the opposite seems to be the case: Technorati's 2008 report, collecting data on blogs from 66 countries, on six continents, and in 81 languages, found that blog posts were at that point being produced at a rate of almost a million new posts a day. The very software used for blogging -- much of it available on the internet for free -- partly accounts for this, as it becomes both more sophisticated and more user-friendly.

Wikipedia -- another of the resilient and evidently evergreen internet resources -- defines the blog as a website 'usually maintained by an individual.' While that is both true and not true for CHA DAO, I suppose that it does apply to a majority of blogs. But one major blog, or bloglike phenomenon, that is a quintessentially collaborative project, is Facebook -- surely on the short-list of the most important internet entities at the moment (along with Google, Youtube, and Wikipedia). In 2008 terms, which already seem practically pre-Cambrian in their slowness, it was calculated that it would take 13 years to reach a market-audience of 50 million people, as opposed to 2 years via Facebook. Those figures don't even take into account the effect of Twitter, which (now, i.e. early 2009) is one of the newest reasons for people to exclaim that 'email is dead.' For the Twitterati, email takes too long to get there, and a blog post like the one you are reading is impossibly lengthy: whatever you have to say in a 'tweet,' you must do it in 140 keystrokes or fewer. (This is not to suggest that they feel constrained to choose among these media, however, nor to use them in a stationary location: very likely they are using them all, more or less every single day, on a variety of hardware platforms, and sometimes in moving vehicles: you can send 'tweets' from your cell phone, read web pages on your BlackBerry, and so forth.)

Twitter's popularity is increasing by the day, among celebrities and heads of state as well as private individuals: the President of the United States has, as of this writing (April 2009), almost 700,000 'followers' on Twitter -- which means that [a] almost one in every 400 Americans is not only on Twitter, but is following President Obama's Twitter account, and [b] every 'tweet' put out under the name of President Obama will appear on the Twitter pages of all those users. Ashton Kutcher, an actor known for such television series as 'That '70s Show' and MTV's 'Punk'd,' is an avid Twitterer, and hugely popular; he has (also as of this writing) only about 4,000 fewer 'followers' on Twitter than the President.

So ease, speed, and accessibility are now, more than ever, bywords of internet innovation. Assuming that a web application meets a felt need, as Facebook and Twitter obviously do at the moment, the more easily and quickly one can use it, and the more accessible it is to users, the more popular it is likely to become. And, in keeping with the highly reticulated nature of the internet, the more such applications are going to be interactive with one another: you can now, for example, embed Youtube movies on your Facebook page, you can send URL links via Twitter, and so forth).

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Why have I been rehearsing this thumbnail history of the internet? Because, gentle reader, so completely has the internet inveigled itself into your life, as I remarked above, that you might otherwise not have paid sufficient attention to the fact that this very information -- all the information on CHA DAO -- comes to you via the internet, and because of just such web applications as and Wikipedia and Google. The Internet and Tea: that is our subject today.

How many Americans (or French, or Latvians) could have known what (say) Bi Luo Chun tea is like before the internet? And unless you lived in San Francisco, and had access to Roy Fong's Imperial Tea Court, where you could go in 1993 to find out what such an 'exotic' tea tasted like? Chances were good, back then, that if you knew the names of such teas, you had read about them in James Norwood Pratt's Tea Lover's Treasury (first edition 1982) or John Blofeld's Chinese Art of Tea (1985), and that their names would remain no more than mere phrases in your mind.

Today, on the other hand, without getting up from your chair (in Peoria or Avignon or Riga), you can pay a virtual visit to the Imperial Tea Court, via their Facebook page, and then go shopping for tea on their commercial website. Moreover, if you are not satisfied with their selection or their prices or their customer service, you can choose other North American vendors who have easy-to-use commercial websites (in addition to Facebook or Twitter accounts), such as Aura Teas, Harney & Sons, Hou De Asian Art, Rishi Tea, and probably five more since I last checked. Or, with just about as much ease, you can bypass occidental retailers altogether, and place your tea orders directly, with vendors in Guangdong or Yunnan or Taipei. A number of these are following suit and developing a non-commercial internet presence of one sort or another, in tandem with their commercial site: GrandTea in Hong Kong, for example, already has not only a commercial website, but also its own Facebook page. Other vendors have pursued other online methods of juggling information and commerce: Harney and Hou De Asian Art maintain their own blogs; Adagio Teas offers TeaChat, a multi-thread forum; and vendors such as Upton Tea Imports and the UK-based Nothing But Tea incorporate extensive useful information about tea within their commercial websites themselves.

Tea, in other words, is (even as we speak) inveigling itself into western culture at a rate unforeseeable even a few years ago; and that dizzying rate is in large part due precisely to the ubiquitous presence, and increasing indispensability, of the internet. Many historians have detailed the introduction of tea to the West, and we should not lose sight of the fact that this is not itself a new phenomenon; indeed it has been a process of centuries. But again, what is so breathtaking is the rate of increase over the past couple of years.

I was most recently struck by this when I read an article on the growing popularity of tea that appeared in WIRED magazine -- the online edition, naturally -- on 2 April 2009. I then viewed a short video to which the WIRED article offered a link. Well, that's not exactly correct: the article actually led me first to the movie-maker's Twitter page, which in turn included a 'tweet' (on 28 March 2009) that provided the link to the video, which had just been posted that same day.

The reason I find these items of such unusual interest and importance is because the article is about, and the video was made by, one of the most highly-motivated and successful entrepreneurs on the internet at the moment: Kevin Rose, founder and site architect of Digg -- yet another multi-use web application that is growing daily in popularity. Rose, whom the WIRED piece identifies as 'one of the most influential people on the web,' is young, attractive, engaging, and obviously smart -- and a vigorous presence on Twitter. He holds at least two Twitter accounts: his main one, 'kevinrose,' and a newer one, dedicated specifically to tea: 'goodtea.' The latter account is newer (begun less than three months ago, with only 25 updates total as of this writing), but it already has over 6300 followers; 'kevinrose,' meanwhile -- on which Rose also freely discusses tea-related items -- has well over 400,000 followers as of this writing.

In other words, Rose is hardly to be classified as a private individual: every time he types a 'tweet' on 'kevinrose' and presses 'update,' whatever he has just composed is instantly distributed to almost half a million people. Very few television or radio spots could aspire to such broadcast power; and, by virtue of its performative nature, the spot, once played, is over -- and disappears, unless it is played again. An internet post, on the other hand, can remain potentially indefinitely: simply by using the archive function on the right-hand side of this page, for example, you can read and re-read every single post in CHA DAO from now back to its very beginning in 2005. So internet distribution is potentially both immediate and lasting; and when one has a following the size of Rose's, one has the capacity to impact, and even change, the very behavior of society. Moreover, the mechanism of an application like Twitter, Facebook, or (recently) the blog is somewhat different from that of a television or a radio: like the computer or handheld interface on which they are typically accessed, these internet applications are interactive at various levels. If a user elects to 'follow' a Twitter account or a blog, he receives updates every time he checks the Twitter page (or his email). Every time a user logs in to her Facebook page, she sees many (if not all) of the latest updates by her Facebook 'friends.' So by sitting down and logging on to the internet, the user is not only engaging in physical interaction with the hardware device, but also preparing for some sort of social interaction in cyberspace. The ways in which such activity differs from the passive 'couch potato' relationship a viewer has to a television -- and its potential cognitive, affective, and actional consequences -- are quite significant. I have no doubt that Rose is deeply cognizant of all this, and bears it in mind as he oversees the development of Digg -- or whenever he posts content to Facebook, Twitter, or his own blog.

We should also note that WIRED, both in its print and its online format, is not only an influential and well-regarded journal of technology and culture, but is also perceived as decidedly hip. Maybe the only thing hipper than reading WIRED is to be read about in WIRED. So when an article appears in WIRED, announcing that 'Tea is the New Coffee,' an intelligent and upwardly-mobile crowd of readers is going to take note. Intelligent, upwardly-mobile, and probably mostly younger; and age-demographics are significant here, because as societal cohorts age and die, ideas or customs that had previously held strong sway over their cultures begin to morph or disappear. When articulate and well-placed public figures such as Kevin Rose make it clear that they love and drink tea regularly, the notion that it might be as 'normal' a daily drink (and stimulant) as coffee becomes more accessible to the mainstream of western culture.

And Rose is cited, in this same article, as praising tea unreservedly: 'It's one of those things where you want to turn to something really natural and from the Earth -- and from something that isn't going to give you a big crash .... Once you start consuming tea it makes sense: This is the best of all worlds.' When such citations are published in WIRED -- with the prediction that 'specialty tea' is about to 'hit the mainstream like coffee,' and that 'we're getting closer and closer to the tipping point' -- the rhetorical force, upon one of the most style-conscious (and solvent) sectors of society, is massive. A thousand ordinary bloggers might cumulatively not have the kind of oomph that Rose has, though it should be noted that he himself is in fact not blogging 'conventionally' in this instance; rather, he is producing video content, and posting information and links on his Twitter account and his new Facebook page (to which, incidentally, I discovered the link on his Twitter page).

So I regard the apparition of this WIRED article, and of the concomitant video, as not only good, but also unusually momentous. Kevin Rose may not only have discerned the imminence of the 'tipping point' for the popularity of tea: he may also actually be helping to cause it. If only one in ten of his Twitter followers were to start drinking tea, that would account for more than 41,000 new tea-drinkers. If each of these were, in turn, to communicate h/er enthusiasm for tea only to one other person, that would now be more than 82,000. And so on. This is precisely how ideas 'go viral' at the turn of the new millennium.

It helps that Rose actually knows something about tea, and communicates that knowledge simply and clearly in his video. He is no neophyte to tea; he says he has been drinking it seriously for 'eight or nine years.' (The one major factual error in his presentation concerns the caffeine level of white tea, but the misconception is extremely common, and nothing that a little reading on CHA DAO couldn't fix.) Much more important than any one detail, correct or not, is his obviously sincere and abiding interest in tea and tea culture, and his desire to share this enthusiasm with his enormous and burgeoning online community. He knows how to speak to a camera, and how to use visuality to great advantage: despite or because of the fairly low-tech nature of the video, he appears to accomplish with ease everything he sets out to do in it. And the viewer comes away aware, perhaps for the first time ever, that there are several different types of tea -- each with its own provenance, flavor profile, and brewing needs -- and also that they all are made from the leaves of the same plant, camellia sinensis.

Rose's presentations also convey subtly the chic factor of premium teas. The WIRED article says that Digg, his company, 'spends about $1,000 a month just on specialty tea for employees.' This 'chic factor' is actually vitally important to the 'viral' spread of tea culture in the West, because ready availability of high-quality and/or rare teas depends on a circulation of capital sufficient to support the enterprise (and its entrepreneurs). In order to mobilize a substantial international tea commerce, in other words, there must be enough continuing revenue to make the undertaking attractively profitable. And this is precisely what has been happening in the USA since the early 1990s, with the rate rapidly increasing over the course of the last decade.

A related, clearly important aspect of Rose's presentation is the company that he is seen to keep. Both the WIRED article and another video involving Rose (in which tea-drinking is mentioned at around 09:30) feature another young, attractive, engaging, obviously smart, and highly-motivated entrepreneur: Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek. Ferriss's book rose to the #1 spot on the best-seller lists of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Business Week, and has been translated into 34 languages. A page in Ferriss's website tells us that he 'has been featured by more than 100 media outlets, including The New York Times, The Economist, TIME, Forbes, Fortune, CNN, and CBS. He speaks six languages, runs a multinational firm from wireless locations worldwide, and has been a popular guest lecturer at Princeton University since 2003, where he presents entrepreneurship as a tool for ideal lifestyle design and world change.' It would be difficult to imagine more glamorous or successful companions in the world of information technology; and these drinking buddies have a lifestyle to match -- one that includes 'tea shots of gyokuro for $50 a thimble full'. If the reader needed any reassurance that Rose's interest in tea is not somehow eccentric or idiosyncratic, Ferriss's presence and complicity provide it. Not surprisingly, these two sip tea at Samovar, one of San Francisco's toniest and most inviting tea emporia. Actually Samovar has three locations to choose from -- not to mention a sophisticated website, a tea blog, and, of course, a Twitter account.

The sorts of sociological indices we have been considering here are metrics of power. With power comes money; with money comes increased commerce between Asia and the rest of the world; and an increase in commerce, as the last four hundred years have shown, brings with it the increase of tea in the West. So Kevin Rose may be spot-on when he predicts that a nationwide (global?) 'tea renaissance is just five years away'; but if and when that comes to pass, the power of the internet will have played an integral part in bringing it about.


Jo said...

Dear Corax,
thanks for this wonder- and insightful post.
With your "thumbnail history of the internet", you reminded me of an article that I read circa 2001 in a German computer magazine called C't. The (German) author lived on a farm in the U.S. and had installed a (then very cutting-edge) wireless network on his farm so that he could access the internet with his laptop from anywhere on his farm. His experience of "always online" he called the Evernet. I distinctly remember the odd feeling I had reading through his account, just imagining the impact the Evernet would have on our lives if it ever became reality. Well, we all know that it did and I (just like you) have difficulties to remember how exactly we managed life before the net.

I agree with you on the role of the internet on the spread of tea culture (or any culture for that matter) in the last decade or so. With the right connections, you were able to buy some good tea even in Germany about 15 years ago. But your connection quite likely could only supply you with tea from a specific region. Today, there is an increasing amount of (online) sources that can supply you with virtually anything that's produced (or not, like the authentic monkey-picked tea).
While I see a lot of beneficial effects from an increased media hype for tea, it also worries me that tea might follow the Starbucks Route. More and more big corporations are investing heavily in the tea industry and might determine, where tea in the West is heading.
But then, if people like Kevin Rose evangelize high quality loose leaf tea rather than the corporately owned tea brands, who knows where we'll be heading...

corax said...

dear jo,

thanks in turn for your thoughtful comments. i guess i'm not entirely surprised to learn this about germany in the 90s -- the same was true in paris, if not the rest of france. but for americans, it's still all very new.

i love the notion of an 'immernet' [was that his word?]. but some friends of mine would find it a punishment! a life sentence.

as for starbucks -- there is a small [browing?] chain in chicago called ARGO TEA [] whose stated goal, when i was last there, was to become 'the starbucks of tea.' this was probably inevitable -- but it won't be the only option available, i think and hope. [i just wish they wouldn't call their shops 'tea cafes' -- seems a contradiction in terms.]

yes, kevin rose is drinking the real thing. watch his video and you'll see some of his actual samples -- he shows them to the camera.


Jo said...

Hi Corax,
the "Immernet", that's quite good. But as common with techie literature worldwide, the author didn't use German to describe his experiment, but used the English term Evernet.

As misleading as tea cafes are, I found it disturbing that there is trend towards tea bars. But that might be just me.

But your post also brought some concepts of interactivity to the surface of my consciousness that I had never actually formed as thoughts but which I was aware of in a less tangible way.
Exchanging ideas and experiences, as well as giving advice and guidance are so much easier (without the limitations of physical distances) over the internet. It is also much easier to find people who share a passion and who might just live down the road, since a passion like tea is not necessarily easy to spot in the street (i.e. you're not usually parading your Yixing pot around town).
With all this in mind, I created a social network aimed at tea drinkers, with a focus on the really small group of conscious tea drinkers in New Zealand. While I've created this network at some stage last year, I have only in the last couple of weeks put some energy into getting it up and running and was just about to announce it on our blog today. And then I read your very related blog post. Coincident? Well, you chose if you want to believe that.
If you're interested, you can have a look at the network at New Zealand Tea Lovers (it's not exclusively for Kiwis!).

corax said...

jo, thanks for sharing that link. it looks terrific. i am betting that others will want to emulate your model here. you may have started a worldwide trend of your own!

Jo said...

Hi Corax,
there are plenty of little islands of cooperation and exchange out there (you are mentioning quite a few in your post), but all isolated from one another. There's also a tight community of dedicated bloggers (and RFDT posters), but these groups are relatively small. And they can be intimidating to people less experienced and knowledgeable than those bloggers.
I am envisioning a network that brings together people of all levels of expertise who have tea as a passion and want to share it with others (in the form of stories, photos, tea samples, advice, you name it). Just starting out, but who knows where it takes us...

BTW, it's great to have another post on Cha Dao, it's been pretty quiet recently.

Cinnabar said...

This is an excellent post. I can say that for me the Internet has been and continues to be indispensable as a resource of information on tea. I also recognize that if I didn't spend time in traditional Chinese tea shops tasting and listening my interest may not have been sparked in the first place, at least not in such an engaged way. But I love finding the balance between the theoretical, symbolic, historical aspects of tea culture and the visceral, sensory joy of tea itself.

I have also found a lot of value and vitality in the social aspects of connecting with other people who care about tea through Twitter, Facebook and blogging. That interactive element adds a lot to the experience, I think, more so than just publishing endless streams of monoblogs about tea.

Unknown said...

Dear Corax:

I love this blog post-- in fact, I'm delighted to see you post again, because Cha Dao is one of my favorite reads and I've been working my way through your archives over the past few months.

Like you, I have read Rose's article in Wired, joined his Twitter feed, and become his friend on Facebook, where he is interesting and very informative.

It strikes me that maybe a generation ago, Americans were not a coffee-drinking generation; or, more to the point, coffee was percolated and boiled, poor quality, and certainly not something that average people chose to learn or become passionate about. But now, any American can easily find good-quality coffee, and if they look hard, can get their hands on the truly great stuff. And what about the burgeoning American wine culture? Because of the explosion in interest, the quality of good-quality wines has increased exponentially.

And it's my hope that this will happen with tea, as well. If taste makers like Rose can do for tea what has come about with coffee and tea, it might be possible for any American to find a decent tea shop and be able to learn about this incredibly rich field.

For myself, I find myself (providentially) within a mile or so of one of two Tea Gschwendners in the U.S., and this has allowed me to get to know what makes a first-flush Darjeeling from Castleton Estate, say, different from a second-flush from Phuguri. This is knowledge I treasure, and it's fed my interest and passion even more.

And I love the Internet. It allows me (through the truly magical Google) to find more information and knowledge than I ever dreamed possible. Reading Cha Dao, for example, is completely enjoyable. How would I have ever heard of you before? How would I come to know the first steps to learn about pu-erh? Or even know that pu-erh, or aged oolongs, or specialized green teas existed?

As an example of the phenomenon you're describing: I lately joined Facebook. I joined a tea-oriented group there, and found people who were interested in discussing this obsession of mine. We engaged in a tea swap, and I started reviewing the teas I experienced. At some point, I copied the reviews onto a blog so that I would have control of the content, should something happen to the group. So now someone Googling "Rembeng Estate Assam," for instance, would have an independent review with links that would allow them to decide whether they are interested in buying this. So within 30 seconds of typing "Rembeng Assam" into Google, they could find their way to a Web site allowing them to purchase it for themselves, if they were so minded. (I make no claims on the title of great reviewer of teas; certainly the knowledge of all the contributors of Cha Dao is an example and inspiration to me.) Anyway, the folks on the Facebook group then can respond to the reviews as well, in a community setting, which encourages them as well to make their own reviews and responses to my own drinking and purchasing behaviors. I've already been told of other group members making online purchases of teas, based on my descriptions.

This is probably what would contribute to the tipping point Rose was speaking about. These networks, combined with Google sorcery, enable the world's Great Teas to become available and known to people for the first time. And because we're all engaging in that Long Tail behavior-- "If you like Darjeeling, you'll love Pussimbing Estate 1st Flush SFTGFOP-1 from last year's season"-- that draws people in to ever-finer distinctions and discernment.

Thank you again, Corax (and the rest of the contributors here), for your beautiful and thoughtful contribution to tea culture in the U.S. I wish I were able to easily get myself to San Francisco so I could immerse myself in the Tea Renaissance that seems to be breaking out there.


Steven Knoerr

Icetea8 said...

hi corax;
it is amazing how such a short event had such long effects, "the boston tea party", for a few years afterwards it was not politically correct to drink tea and culture is forgotten fast. coffee took over later on tea did come back but not with the culture, but you have a good nose corax, tea is in the air, and since america has been slow to coming back to asian tea, the tea is coming to america. in the next few years you will see waves of tea and information, and people more educated in the Leaf. China is growing, puerh bubble bust or not, world economy problems or not, tea is coming...

corax said...

@ jo: thanks again for your kind words. and good luck with the launch of NEW ZEALAND TEA LOVERS. the interface is beautiful.

corax said...

@ cinnabar: i completely agree with you. experiencing this stuff first-hand, with real people f2f, not only brings it all into sharper focus, but also gets one excited about the social factor entailed. it's just a delight to share tea with real people. and for westerners above all, it's a way of brushing up against asian culture/s at its/their most inviting. as 'icetea' at TEA ARTS is fond of saying: 茶是我们的桥梁 ['tea is our bridge'].

it's also true that not everyone has that opportunity, so for them -- for all of us -- the interactive element of the internet is an absolutely vital window on this world.

as for maximizing the resources of the internet to helps spread an awareness of tea, the rest of us definitely have you to thank -- not only for your superlative work at, but also on twitter and facebook as well. oh, and youtube too, i now see!

corax said...

@ steven knoerr: thanks so much for your warmly appreciative reading of CHA DAO. folks like you are the reason why we publish it. i'm abashed and delighted by your praise on 39 STEEPS -- a blog which by the way i recommend in turn to readers of CHA DAO! -- and i'll be adding your blog to our blogroll here.

tee gschwendner -- so you must be in chicago then! for a long time, before moving to coral gables [or 'corax gables' as my waggish friends call it], i lived about 2 hours south of chicago. i spent some pleasant time in the tee gschwendner shop in lincoln park. do you ever get up as far as evanston? if so, you should definitely stop in at DREAM ABOUT TEA -- it's a pleasant and friendly space to be in, i have never had a bad tea there, and they definitely know their stuff.

corax said...

@ icetea -- yes, tea is coming [back] to america, and you are doing your part to bring it. thanks for that. it's exciting to see that it's arriving on other continents as well, including [see above from jo] down under.

Trioxin said...

I've nothing of real interest to contribute, I just wanted to say I love reading your articles and am happy to see my hometown of Peoria mentioned. I can't imagine what my tea life would be like without the internet. I'd more than likely still be drinking my OP from teabags.

corax said...

@ trioxin -- glad you are enjoying CHA DAO. stop by often!

and yes, 'tea is our bridge,' but surely the internet is an important one too.

Cinnabar said...

Corax -

Thank you for your reply, your kind comments and links!

corax said...

cinnabar, you are most welcome!

Unknown said...

Dear corax:

(Ah, this time I notice the peculiarity of capitalization of your handle, and am careful to use it correctly.)

Seriously, thank you for putting my little blog up on your site's blog roll! I hadn't thought to expect such a thing. I use the blog mainly for myself, to remember the things I love, so later I can come back and find those teas again. It's an act of love, and I am delighted to be part of the burgeoning tea culture in the U.S.

The Cha Dao site really has been so helpful to me, as I grow in learning about living more fully in the moment, and paying close attention to my senses as I experience a cup of tea. I'd like to think this would positively affect other areas of my life, as well. I love reading the descriptions your tea lovers bring to the experience.

Thank you again, and do keep writing!

Unknown said...

OH, and yes, I do live in the Chicago area. Specifically, Huntley, which is the very last suburb to the West, and my home is about two blocks from the wilds of the Illinois prairie.

I am only a few minutes away from the Algonquin office of Tea Gschwendner (aka TeeGschwendner), which has been a great delight. Having them nearby has been a wonderful opportunity to learn. They have quite a wide variety of Darjeelings and other Himalayan-type teas, which are my favored teas.

I had just discovered the tea place in Evanston, which you mentioned. It's really not nearby-- Chicago is really a region, not just a city, and it would probably take me 1.5 or more hours to get there-- but still, a worthwhile visit when I can get the chance. I love Evanston, and have spent a lot of time there.

corax said...

steven -- i know what you mean about 'chicagoland' being huge and sprawling. but yes, when you find yourself in evanston, by all means do check out DREAM ABOUT TEA. i forgot to mention -- they have nice teaware for sale too.

Aeyal said...

I am replying late to this post having given it some thought. On the one hand I am excited tea is gaining more popularity, esp. now in US. On the other hand, reading this story, it seemed a bit like "once we bought a 1000 USD Petrus now we buy a 50 USD Gyokoru"? Well, if the new tea interest among the dot-com crowd will be about show off of that kind, which can be part of the story, than it's troubling. I already saw one retailer advertising Kevin Rose's tea starter kit...
so with all my respect to him and what he is doing to have people more aware of teas, I see commercial interests here, which is totally fine, but I wonder what they do to tea knowledge. Also it's a matter of taste, but I'd rather a taster kit will include a basic green, oolong, black and maybe Jasmine or something like this, than massala chai etc - just doesn't seem to me what I would start with if I wanted to introduce people to really good teas. I'd rather give them this or something similar:

Which is a set I used when I was a novice and learned a lot from.

Hype is a scary thing as it can allow a lot of things to pass as good teas (esp. with the labels "rare" and "free-trade" attached to so much crap). The interent is a huge tool for everything now, and my tea life would have been much poorer without it. No doubt! But since you mentioned the Wired/Digg scene in this post, I do want to draw the attention to the promises, but also risks, of hype. Risks that we will be getting tea places which pretend to serve fine tea serving all sort of stuff I personally would rather not drink, risks of a certain branding of fine teas as a status symbol, and who knows, maybe prices of some stuff can go up as a result.
OK enough ranting. To each their own (tea).

Lainie Petersen said...

Sorry to be so late to this comment party, but I wanted to mention that I loved the post! I am so glad to see someone chronicling the impact that the Internet is having on tea culture.

I am a tea newbie myself: Started drinking it regularly last year as a weight-loss tool, but started to realize that it was delicious and as quite as nuanced as wine. I would log my tea drinking on my Twitter and Facebook statuses, and people started asking me questions about the teas I was drinking. I finally started my blog in self-defense.

I am also in the Chicago area (Evanston, in fact) and love both TeaGschwendner and Dream About Tea. Both shops are very different, but have excellent teas as well as learning opportunities.

Again, thanks for writing this wonderful post!

corax said...

@aeyal: thanks for the heads up about the samovar link. i had no idea about that. but there you go -- another example of online marketing *separate* from the commercial website.

you are not alone, btw, in your worries about quality and cost. the solution to all this, of course, is knowledge and education -- which [as you know and are indeed a part of] is what CHA DAO is all about.

@lainie: it's never too late to join the party! thanks for your comment [and kind words]. i'm delighted that you enjoyed the post.

Souda Ghar said...

Sorry to be so late to this comment party, but I wanted to say that I loved the post! i'm so glad to ascertain someone chronicling the impact that the web has on tea culture.