The True Story of Tea_Tography, a Tea Community Sensation
Sometimes, there are special occasions in life where you get to catch a glimpse of a shining star. If you’re lucky enough, you sometimes get the rare opportunity of being in the same light of a burning star before its flame burns out.
For me, I was one of the lucky ones who not only got to catch a glimpse of a shining star — I got to know her before her flames burned out.
This is the story of a social-media sensation that helped shaped the western online-tea community, and how at one point, was the pillar of it.
This tea journey inspired so many others, and was the leader of popularizing aestheticism in tea photography, while captivated thousands of others with her storytelling through tea, and photography.
This is the true story of Tea_Tography.
For this tea journey, I sat down with Jordan and talked to her about how where it all started. However, we must go back to 2010 when Jordan joined the US-Navy on a 6-year contract. Halfway through her naval career, she got a terrifying diagnosis. After learning of her diagnosis, she looked for other ways to better her health. With this in mind, a fellow shipmate introduced her to Teavana.
After learning more about the health benefits of tea, she eventually went down the rabbit hole into learning more about the drink itself.
It didn’t take long before Jordan was known as the ship’s ‘tea girl’.
This was even more evident when her ship took part in the 24th Exercise of RenPac 2014 — a global exercise in Hawaii between the larger-global naval community. Her officer even brought her tea back from a visit from one of the Chinese Naval Ships.
“He brought back tea and gave me some. I’m pretty sure it was a tie-guan yin,” she recalled.
Being known as her ship’s ‘tea girl’ made unexpected impressions on others on her ship.
This even led to how she met her now-husband.
“He was working the scullery (the dishwashing area in a mess hall) and I asked him to clean my tea ware,” she said when recalling how the romance started.
Over the course of several visits to the scullery to clean her tea-ware, he surprised her. Her shipmate ordered some of her favorite teas without her knowledge and surprised her with them.
From that moment on, fate was sealed.
(Photo: Jordan at her last day in the Navy cir. 2016)
With being on the ship for up to a month at a time, she leaned into her passion for tea and tea knowledge and started regularly reading various tea bloggers for tea recommendations.
“When I was under-way, I started reading Oolong Owl (popular tea blogger). Her website would load on the ship, I’d read her reviews, and if we still had internet, I’d order teas so I could have new tea when we arrived to port,” Jordan explained.
However, it wasn’t until stumbling upon The Tea Conjurer (now-retired tea blogger) that lit a fire within Jordan that could not be extinguished. Jordan was already a hobbyist-photographer, but it wasn’t until seeing the way The Tea Conjurer captured their tea session that inspired Jordan to take tea photos of her own.
It didn’t take long until Jordan felt inspired to post reviews of her very own. Before long, she launched her very own Tumblr page. After several years of enjoying tea under her belt, she finally made the leap forward to publish her first-ever tea review.
On Tuesday, October 28th, 2014, Jordan broke ground by publishing her very first tea review. The review was from now-closed tea shop Butiki, and their Lemon French Macaron Tea.
After testing the waters of blogging, she picked up steam and became posting reviews more and more regularly.
However, it wasn’t until November 27th, 2016 when she launched her Instagram account and posted her first photo.
With this post, she would soon be launched into overnight success.
When asking her about how quickly she became successful, Jordan said, “It was wild to me at the time. I don’t know if there were a lot of people who were focused with photography at the time, or creating a great review? But realistically, I didn’t know how to put my review into words very well.”
While writing reviews didn’t come very naturally, she learned that she was able to captivate her passion and love for the art of tea more easily through photography.
“But I knew how to take a photo and I knew how to express myself and the way I liked the tea through photography,” Jordan said.
With the rapid growth in popularity, reaching a few new thousand followers every month, she eventually migrated to reviewing teas from Tumblr and other social media platforms, she began exploring ways to publish content on her own platform.
On January 6th, 2017, her website was live.
However, shortly after the launch of her website, this is where our tea journeys cross.
Just like many others, I was also enchanted by the beauty of Jordan’s photos. After coming across one of her photos through White2Tea, I began conversations with her. Unbeknownst to me, she lived in the same city as me. After further conversation, we both decided to meet for tea.
I met Jordan at The Cultured Cup, a tea shop in Dallas that we had both wanted to check out. After pulling into The Cultured Cup, I got nervous over meeting the artist herself. I had now followed her photos for quite some time, and yet, I was still relatively new to tea and tea blogging.
Upon actually seeing and meeting Jordan, I was surprised to find that she was close to my age.
She was kind, sweet, and cool. She had an aura about her that radiated warmth, safety, and intelligence.
(Photo: Left, Fort Worth Japanese Gardens.
Right, Meeting Jordan at The Cultured Cup, Screen-Grab from tea_tography's Instagram Story)
After a day of driving in the DFW metroplex she invited me up to her then-apartment and that’s where I saw it…
That’s where I saw what she was famous for — the windowsill that held her staging area for her photos.
It was not just surreal, it was magical.
I was right in front of the actual social-media sensation.
To make the moment more magical, Jordan gifted me an extra temperature-reading tea kettle and even sent me home with tea (which I later pissed her off by posting my most-viewed Instagram story by tossing it in the yard when it broke -- video below).
In another adventure, we even met at the Fort Worth Japanese Gardens. After some time, Jordan moved to a closer part of town. In this period, we went to The Cultured Cup several more times. She even came over to my new place to have tea with me in Fort Worth. And at one point, Jordan also attended a birthday party of mine at a pizza-joint and gifted me a Bitter-Leaf Teas gift card (where I bought my gaiwan, which I still use to this day and feature in blog posts and social media posts -- photo here).
During this period in her tea journey, Jordan was becoming more and more popular. She had reached a milestone of 10,000 followers, was recently being copied by various social media accounts, and was doing free-lance photography for other tea companies. She also hosted several ‘intro to gong-fu workshops at The University that she then attended, and was continuing to post and upload more and more content.
Jordan’s tea journey was not only at full speed, and she was in demand.
Tea_Tography was now dominating the western-facing social media tea community.
However, she wouldn’t hit a personal peak with her photography sensationalism until January of 2018, where she has over 15,000 Instagram followers and was invited to cover the 2nd Annual Houston Tea Fest.
At the time, I was scheduled to host a workshop on puer-tea and also cover the event.
After talking again, Jordan and I decided to carpool and head down to Houston together…
(Photo: Tea_Tography's Instagram Story, Friday Janurary 25th, 2018)
“I don’t remember that,” Jordan said after asking her if she recalled that we listened to the entirety of ‘Reputation’ by Taylor Swift on the 4.5-hour drive down to Houston.
I specifically remember because after the first few seconds of ‘I Did Something Bad’ where Taylor sings, “I don’t trust a narcissist, they love me,” I abruptly shouted oh god no and immediately changed the song.
Thankfully for me, Jordan also didn’t remember how socially awkward I was for the remainder of the drive.
Later that afternoon, Jordan and I detoured and arrived at Tin Yen Tea and Herbs where Jordan and I got a pot of AliShan Taiwanese Oolong and had gong-fu service. It lasted for a little over 2 hours — two hours of pure bliss.
Up to that point, this sheltered tea-blogger never knew that shops offered gong-fu service like that.
I was in awe.
I dropped Jordan off, I went to my hotel, and the excitement of attending my very first tea festival kept me awake all night.
(Photo: Tin Yin Tea and Herbs, Tea Session with Jordan)
The next morning, Jordan and I met for the free breakfast at the hotel restaurant before heading to the convention. I was slated to speak at 4:00 PM that day, and after touring the entire festival, thirty minutes later we had seen everything.
We even popped into a guys lecture about his in-depth look at how Starbucks stinted the entirety of the tea industry….
After finding out that it was just a disgruntled 30-y/o channeling his inner Karen over his thoughts on corporate capitalism, we quietly and quickly hauled ass out of his never-ending bitch-fest.
With having toured the entire tea festival, and a little more than six hours to kill until my very own lecture, we decided to leave the convention and mosey on over to the NASA Johnson Space Center.
We got rained on when taking a 2-hour tour of the facility, looked at historical NASA memorabilia, and then concluded our outing by grabbing Jimmy Johns.
We arrived back at the convention with just enough time for me to set up my power-point.
At 4:00 PM, I taught a packed audience of 6 people about puer tea before Jordan and I parted ways.
I went back to the festival the next day, voted for my favorite chai in a chai-tea competition, then started my long drive back home after learning that Jordan wasn’t returning to the festival…
(Photo: 'What is Puer Tea?', Lecture by The Oolong Drunk
on Saturday, January 26th 2018 at The Houston Tea Fest)
Jordan and I only hung out a few more times. During one visit, we met at The Cultured Cup for a final time, and a little while after, met back at her then-house in Fort Worth. She invited me in, and upon walking into her house, she gave me a tour of her new home. She first guided me over to her entertainment center that housed her entire tea-ware collection.
There it all was.
Lined up perfectly were pieces of tea ware, many of which I had recognized from her photos. It was almost like a museum exhibit of the many iconic pieces that helped her with her artistry.
Then, she showed me her new camera — a camera she had begun using to develop film with. She then showed me her bathroom, where she had been doing at-home film development.
During this tour, I noticed something. I noticed that when showing me her home-photo lab, she was more excited and passionate to show me where she developed photos when compared to her tea ware. In fact, a sparkle in her eye was noticeable when talking about her original passion for photography— a sparkle that no longer existed when it came to tea.
She took me to her new staging and we prepared for tea. She dug through dozens of teas that were sent to her for review but picked something she had bought for herself — a Japanese Sencha. This wasn’t something she was supposed to promote, not something she was gifted — this was something that was personally for her.
After a few hours, it was time to pack up and leave.
Before leaving, she took my photo with two of her cameras and we hugged. I walked back to my car, said goodbye, and drove off for a final time.
In the coming months, my own personal life became chaotic and upside down. After a short series of events, including a break-up that left me temporarily homeless, I upped and moved across several states.
Despite my personal timeline being disrupted and taking me somewhere else, and despite our tea journeys parting ways from each other, Jordan’s tea journey didn’t last for much longer...
(Photo: Last 'The Cultured Cup' adventure, and last selfie, with Jordan)
“My reviews were waning at the time. I was in the in-between transition of leaving my thoughts on Instagram posts instead of my actual blog,” Jordan explained as she detailed the beginning of the end of Tea_Tography.
Jordan continued to explain that she was caught in a rut of feeling obligated to keep up with a regular posting schedule. And after a change in Instagram's algorithm, the infrequency of follower engagement, she began putting more pressure on herself to keep posting on a regular schedule. With her becoming more and more in demand, she was putting more pressure on herself than she ever thought she would.
The pressure she was putting on herself became mentally taxing.
“I was drinking tea for the enjoyment of posting about it, and not drinking tea for the enjoyment of the tea itself,” she said.
After feeling the stress that came with the obligation to keep a regular posting schedule, especially with being hard on herself, Jordan quickly felt her passion for Tea_Tography fade.
“I tried to re-spark my passion for tea by transitioning over to youtube. It didn’t last long. It actually became more strenuous than photography,” she continued to explain.
After reaching a new limit with creative fatigue, she quickly realized that blogging has made her not only resent tea, but photography as well.
Then, at the end of January of 2020, Jordan decided to sell her beloved digital camera — the very tool that she utilized to help her get to her spot.
She was done with not just tea, she was also done with photography.
(Photo: The very last digital-camera photograph, by Tea_Tography)
While trying to retain any tangible inspiration for tea and photography, she tried to experiment with using her analog camera to capture tea time. However, that didn’t last long, as the process of developing film was too expensive to upkeep.
After taking long breaks between posting her next three photos on social media with film, she knew the end was coming.
On October 20th, 2020, Jordan published her very last photo of tea. Six years after her initial blog post, and after gaining thousands of followers and becoming a sensation, Jordan’s tea journey came to an end and Tea_Tography was concluded…
When asking her about the final days of her blog, Jordan reflects, “I did feel guilty. I felt like I had to take photos, but that’s when I started resenting everything about it. I felt forced.”
After asking her if she would have done anything differently, she said, “I wish I had taken a different approach and enjoyed tea for what it was, and didn't try to be so show-ey. I wish I did it for me.”
“As I get older, I get more private with what I do. I have a lot of hobbies and I don’t post them on social media. I just do stuff for me now. Getting older and maturing has helped me realize that to enjoy these things, I have to do them alone,” she stated in regards to knowing her true inner-self.
However, she realizes that tea is a massive part of her life’s journey and has played a part in every major life event up to this point and time.
“I still really enjoy tea. It still has a place in my heart. I have so many memories with it if I had not gotten invested in it,” she said as we wrapped up our phone call.
Jordan and I concluded our convo after she said, “I will always love it. I just won’t be so apt to share it on a large community. In a small setting with friends and family, but it will be a time that will now be spent for me.”
Jordan and I hung up and I began reflecting on her incredible journey.
I remember the last time seeing Jordan that the sparkle she once had for tea, was gone.
It was something that was there when first meeting her, and something I didn’t pick up on until writing this article now.
Even now, Jordan’s domain has expired as her blog sits archived — still open to see.
One of her final blog posts was her review of The Houston Tea Festival, and when looking back, saw that the last-4 of her Instagram posts were done entirely on film.
Looking back at the archive of Tea_Tography, I was reminded to appreciate the beauty we have in our community now. I now see various bloggers and photographers who were initially inspired by Jordan and have furthered their own journey in tea with inspiration through Jordan’s work. Many of which, probably don’t even know the story of Tea_Tography or where some of us get inspiration from. This is especially true, especially with estheticism on photographing tea.
It also made me wonder how the balance of being a fan of someone’s work, and demand for more, can inadvertently make them put pressure on themselves to the point of pushing them away from their art.
I got a tear in the corner of my eye and felt it slide down the side of my cheek as I closed the pages on my notes from talking with Jordan, and continued to reflect on everything she had just said.
Tea_Tography was now in the past.
She arrived, captivated an audience, and was quietly gone. Sometimes, we get a glimpse of a shining star.
Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get the rare opportunity of getting to be in the same light of a burning star before its flames burn out.
Just like many of the stars in our own galaxy that have burned out many years ago, their light still reaches us and lights up the inner corners of our hearts.
Their light continues to shine bright, and despite being gone, will continue to shine for many many years to come..…
~The Oolong Drunk
"Blissfully Tea Drunk"
(Photo: Very last photo on film, by Tea_Tography)