5 Years in Tea - My Side of The Story
This year, on January 8th 2021, my blog turned 5!
5 years ago, I started my blog with the intent of reviewing teas. After being mesmerized by seeing a photo of a tea cake, I wondering, “What the hell is that?”. With a fresh fascination, and a few impulsive clicks of an online shopping cart, I was well underway to starting my tea journey. While my journey started months before I launched the blog, tea went from being a seldom treat to a serious endeavor until trying a beeng from Bitterleaf Teas. Ever since then, I’ve navigated through tea to find my own voice — fortunate enough to have an audience follow me through the good, the bad, and the over-brewed.
While I’ve been stable and thriving in my current position as a tea blogger, I actually had a rough and shaky start. However, with brewing tea in the community and seeing a lot of ins and outs, I want to ‘spill the tea’ on some important insight and advice for you to sip on when it comes to tea, the tea community, and tea blogging. With this being said, I’m telling my side of the story with this tell-all that takes the form of five stories, lessons, and mistakes in which I’ve had the fortune, and misfortune, of brewing to…
With that, let the infusion time begin!
1. Rejoice! And Enjoy
When first jumping into the arm of social-media in the body of tea, I explored various Facebook groups until I had wandered upon a group, an artery that was strictly pumping the blood and love of puer. Without consultation or guidance from anyone beforehand, I joined with a blind eye. That was until I had posted a photo of a Yiwu tea cake to the group — pridefully bought from an echinoderm-named tea company. While eagerly awaiting a smooth transition into the pack, I checked my notifications to find it full of barks. These were not the paws of praise, but rather, the growls of pure-bred gatekeeping judgment that was directed at the mutt of a blended tea cake that I was now shunned into owning. Safe to say, I took myself off the leash of that Facebook group and never returned to that kennel.
While shellshocked, I maneuvered my way over to a steep-name tea forum. While peeling off the layers of facebook-group muddled discombobulation, I quickly sprouted out of my cocoon —airing out the wings of newly found freedom of forbearing and merciful tea drinkers. After dissolving myself into my newly-empowered love for the larger community at hand, the more I realized that this community’s walls were limited to a smaller coterie. This coterie revealed their-self to become toxic through the cult-like admiration of only one specific tea company. While the ruling class allowed for a massive spam-riddle thread, for the clique at hand, they fulminated the pillars that stood strong for the support of any other company. With hypocrisy as the base of ‘open discussion’, I quietly faded out of the doorway and onto the next.
While starting to feel melancholy over the awakening reality that the only two versions of tea communities I had belonged to were rather unpleasant, I redirected my attention to another tea-forum that belonged in a sub-community, which belonged to a much larger one. After several years of ups and downs, I voted to post a glowing review of a tea shown brightly onto my tastebuds, and heart. And as I mirrored this light onto this form, I experienced déjà vu. Just as the Facebook group and the previous tea-forum had done before, my passions were now being dismantled by mod-mentality -- all of which were driven by superiority complexes. After accusations of ‘being shill’ were being thrown towards me like arrows at a dart-board, one-too-many bullseyes sent me into a state of desolation. As much as an oxymoron this is, the feeling of isolation was only repaired by leaving the said community to go be on my own.
What I want you to take away from this lesson is, no matter what ‘is’ or what ‘should be’, do whatever brings light to your tea table. Drink tea for what you want, not for what others tell you to you should want. After all, you are the one drinking it. One person’s way of doing things may be right for them, but not necessarily for you. The only way to make tea is to make tea in a way that you’ll personally enjoy.
Rejoice! And enjoy tea however you goddamn want.
When drinking tea, we all love the art so much that we often share our love of tea with others. Making tea for people who have never had gong-fu tea, especially trying to convert them, is one of the most fun pleasures in self-indulgence we tend to partake in. There is something so entertaining and rewarding when seeing the look on someone’s face when the ‘ah-ha’ moment hits them when trying gong-fu for the first time. Not only do we get to share our passion with others, but we also get to share the passion and history of tea with others. However, when looking back, I can certainly see how I’ve gotten people to dislike tea as well. Despite being well-intent, I inadvertently and blindly turned a few people off of tea as well.
The best example I can think of in regards to turning someone off from tea is my ex-roommate. Yes, the same tool-bag from this post here, also gets to appear in this posting.
Once upon a time, this roommate and I used to like each other. This mountain-dew chugging Iowan never knew that tea could be made hot, much less made without artificially-flavored corn-syrupy carbonation. So, I took on a personal mission to get him to drink tea and see that there’s more to life besides enjoying big-gulp sized Slurpees in the bed of a pick-up truck.
Months went by after failed attempts of coaxing him into trying tea until one day when I decided to brew a 10-Year Old GuShu Yiwu Sheng Puer that I had won in a giveaway. After reaching the tea-sessions peak, my roommate walked by and noticed I was more blissfully relaxed than normal. Without thought, I handed him a cup of aged deliciousness. And when he took a sip, he—
Hold on. Side note: One aspect you might dislike about one tea, is an aspect you might like about another. To add, this is also mutually exclusive with the same tea but with different people. What I find to be oxidized basement/infused fruity euphoria, might be what someone else sees as gritty basement-infused dirt and fungus. Anyways, back to the story…
When he took a sip, he gulped it back like a shot of Fireball and coke and proceeded to run to the bathroom and dramatically thew up in the bathroom sink — trailing behind a path of stomach-acid infused Yiwu Gushu.
It's safe to say, he never tried tea again...
3. Lights, Camera, Acciõn!
For this tale, we’ll be sipping on the teas we subscribe to, or in this case, subscribe by. While looking back through the magnifying glass of the Ghost of Tea Drama’s Past, there’s always one miniseries that always stood out to me. While drama is always inevitable in every hobby community, sometimes, the platform predetermines where the director will call, "Action!" While this screenplay got to unfold in the public eye, the production of this one ended with, “…and that’s a wrap.”
While a lot of companies break the barrier of being an entity by breaching their consumer’s lives through social media, others take the form of a singular individual — lurking in the shadows of a popular forum where discussion can be liked, disliked, and held openly… This platform has an emphasis on hosting open discussion is geared towards the people.
Let's start at the beginning, and air the plot to the origin story that is a tea-subscription company. This origin-story was slated for a popular release, that is until the ego of the lead-role was, undoubtedly, apart of the main cast. The lead-role of this origin story quickly derailed when one of ‘the people’ posted a review of a subscription box — which is geared towards curating a selection of tea for the consumer to enjoy. However, the plot-hole in this saga lies in the fact this subscription company curated a box that included a tea that was laced with an allergen — one of which the individual from the audience firmly stated having when signing up.
With a passion for her community, this critic gave a rotted-tomato review of her experience with this subscription. This screenplays director fired back at their critic in the comment section in the form of an adult temper-tantrum — revealing personal information on the critic, and threatening to sue over 'defamation' (lol). After watching this company leaked the critic's personal information, a few internet warriors (myself included) involved ourselves in the thread and jumped to the defense of the critic. After this company’s account was banned for doxxing their critic, this company ended their cinematic performance of victim-blaming with a plot-twist. As retaliation to their banishment from the kingdom, they surprisingly and unexpectedly blocked everyone involved on every-single media platform they belonged to, myself included…
Several years later, I found myself surfing the internet when an ad for this company came across my screen. Surprised, I clicked the ad. Upon clicking the ad, I was met with a ‘page not found’ error... Somehow, I was getting an advertisement for a company I was still blocked by. After the cliff-notes of this movie’s events replayed in the back of my mind for the rest of the afternoon, out of sheer curiosity, I looked up this company on a side-account to find that this company sky-rocketed in popularity. This company is now a tea-elite with thousands and thousands of fans. They are now a true Hollywood tale of someone who went from tea-bags to full-leaf tea riches.
While we have access to reaching out to companies personally through social media, and while certain entities have made their-self so present on certain platforms, it’s easy to forget that they’re only allowed to project the film of their choice. If you’re a consumer, remember that behind the facade of fame and celebrity, behind these accounts are still people who are running a company. It's business. Rather if you’re a tea company big or small, remember to leave your emotions out of the business side of, well, your business. If your mammoth-sized incompetence allows you to have an old-fashioned ‘fuck-up’, don't throw a fit, apologize for your mistake, and leave your ego behind in the deleted scenes, or, back behind on the cutting-room floor..
To this day, this company has yet to apologize for their actions, nor have they unblocked me and a dozen others who criticized them.
4. Truthfully Told in Fantasy
One year after being featured at the Houston Tea Festival as a speaker, I somehow managed to stumble 800 miles further north, and on October 3rd, 2019, ended up at the Mid West Tea Festival. Now in a strange and foreign land, I was arriving in a place where, unlike Houston where Beyonce and Arcade Fire called home, I was smack-dab in the middle of white-people central. While wondering how such a city could survive on such a lack of diversity, I was slated to be a guest speaker at the region's largest convention that was not a gun convention.
While at the Mid-West Tea Festival, I was able to lower my sun-shades from the extreme and offensive lack of culture, and easily dissolve in something that didn’t inherently involve dry-rubbed barbecue or culturally-appropriated football memorabilia. I quickly forgot about being in a foreign land and felt at home with my fellow kind — tea drinkers. Except, at the end of the 2nd day of the festival, I embarked on my endeavor to teach the greater tea community about debunking some of the most widely-claimed marketing myths that riddle the tea industry.
After feeling proud of myself for explaining the ins and outs of how specific marketing claims manipulate the masses, I looked upon my audience of hobbyists and note-takers to see the hand of a woman raided high in the air. Ready to bask in the glow of newly-found eye-openers, the woman asked a question; the question that turned this experience from a fun one into a disbarring one…
“So, I read in a health magazine that drinking tea will substantially lower my risk of getting cancer. Is that not true?”
There it was…
While this woman inquired about Camellia Sinesis shielding her from cancer, a different kind of cancer got to her instead. After explaining the science behind tea and the manipulation used by money-hungry marketeers, she bowed her head in defeat. While leaving my workshop with a cloud over her head, I heard her mumble to her plus-one, “What’s the point in drinking tea anymore?”
If you’re unaware of what the issue with this is, then I’ll spill the tea for you: If the larger tea industry trains its consumers to drink tea on false-hope and wildly exaggerated medical claims, which are driven by marketing manipulation, then the mass market will never allow for people to drink tea for honest reasons. The ‘cancer' now infects the meditation, the history, the culture, the tradition, and the beauty of the leaf itself; the cancer kills any and all chance to appreciate tea’s organic beauty before it ever has a chance to live.
However, before we think ill of the woman at the convention, I must ask you… How are you, or her, ever supposed to know if your knowledge of tea is accurate or not?
Before you drink a tea that’s been harvested from 600-year-old tea trees or drink a tea that’s going to help you cure a terminal illness, ask yourself the following: Will I be drinking this tea that comes from a personal choice that’s made by the love of tea, or will I be drinking this tea from a personal choice that’s structured off of fairy-tail laced disillusionment?
The tea industry failed the woman who sat through my workshop, and not just her, but hundreds of thousands of others as well.
Photo: The lecture I was giving regarding marketing in the tea industry.
5. Simmer, Don’t Boil
After aimlessly wandering through the trenches of finding a tea community in which I felt like I belonged, I became indoctrinated into a discord-server by other fellow photo-takers and tasting-note jotters. When slowly making myself known in the chat, organized by a personal hero in the tea community, I quickly learned the two tenants of the chat: Every tea must be brewed with boiling water, and metal was the official music genera of the community. While making connections, and navigating separate conversations of the chat, this quickly became the family I woke up to and fell asleep to.
This was my new home.
Month after month, more and more members joined this family. This family also adopted other tea community leaders, and the more we discussed openly, the more feely I moved in the chat. However, on the other side of the pillow, my virtual family became a crutch that helped me cope with the cold and harsh reality of real life. I was recovering from a terrible car accident, and the foundation on which my life was built was quickly dismantling. After being subjected to the outcome of traumatic events, all rooted in an LGBT+ discrimination case, my social life quickly mirrored my personal life.
After a stint in the homelessness ward, and a lengthier stay at the heart-break motel, I was needing to relocate — not just in my personal life, but my tea-family life as well. One after another, the dominos that stood tall in my personal life began to fall and crashed one after another — inevitably landing in the world of tea. My personal life was tainted, and so was my tea blogging life. While feeling displaced in the discord-server for quite some time, and through LGBT+ dog-whistling and micro-aggressions were stated, along with false-accusations and other misunderstandings, I felt like I no longer belonged and I knew I had to leave.
So what did I do?
I did the only thing that any rational person would do. While standing at the haul of an already sinking Titanic, and in the midst of an argument within the chat, I ignited a fire on the deck and set it ablaze.
I took my time in this discord-server, stuffed it in a bottle of alcohol, and molotov-cocktailed my way out of there. While setting the baseboards of big-egos ablaze, and while watching my long-reigning hero turn into a long-reigning enemy, I finished sinking the ship on my way out. While they lived by the tenant that ‘boiling water is the only correct way to make tea’, I poured the boiling water from the struggles of my life and poured it over the relationships that I had. Though already failing, I singed the final cord to the anchor that was barely holding everything together.
And long after the water in my personal life went from a boil to a simmer, I looked around and realized I singed the tea leaves in my own life.
I was alone again.
Without a home.
Without a community.
Almost four years into my tea journey, I was back at the beginning….
...or was I?
Today, Where I’m Going Tomorrow…
Over the past year and a half, I started working heavily on becoming a member of the only club that mattered: My own. After realizing that I need to stop looking out, I realized that I needed to look within to find out what I wanted out of tea. Or, what I wanted out of life. In November of 2019, I took it upon myself to organize the cluttered bins of repression and traumas that I had been holding onto for so long. After I unloaded more and more of this clutter onto the blank pages of a word document, and 8 months later, I ended up unpacking the last sentence of a completed novel.
After taking a deep breath of clarity, I looked around and finally realized that after all of the time I had spent trying to find my place in the tea community, I was never going to fit into a place I wanted to be because without even knowing, I was already at the place I wanted to be.
I looked around and realized I had weekly zoom tea-sessions to attend to, inbox messages full of people who messaged me on a weekly basis, and a community that surrounded me all along. All I had to do was not only just be myself, but love myself as well. Before I could love others or the community as a whole, I needed to be whole myself. And although we’ll always be chipping away at the tea-brick of life, it’s safe to say that you should always be looking for ways to get the best out of the brew we call ‘life’.
So remember fellow tea-drinkers, let others enjoy tea for how they want to enjoy it, boiling water can singe your tea leaves, don’t isolate people from drinking tea by making them something so specific that only you would like, and don’t let false and exaggerated marketing dictate why you drink tea. Also, don’t taint your tea-drinking experience with your personal life, but alternatively, let tea shine a light into your personal life instead. Be kind and loving to everyone around you, and don’t forget to be humble when it’s needed. And above all, try and love yourself, and the rest will fall into place.
Over the past five years, my time as a tea blogger has been a chaotic, yet memorable one. For the next five years, I’ll be sipping tea brewed with water that’s heated to 190ºf-200ºf, will be recommending albums to listen to with tea time with my two closest friends, and undoubtedly, will hopefully be having tea with Lana Del Rey in the near future…
From the bottom of my heart, I truly thank you for the past five years.
Here’s a cup of tea for staying blissfully tea drunk over the next 5 years!
~Cody, aka The Oolong Drunk
Blissfully Tea Drunk