Monday, October 8, 2007

What's In a Review?

The greater part of the current Tea Blogosphere dedicates at least a portion of their time to writing reviews of teas. Whether it be loose leaf, bagged or even teaware, many authors find it conducive to their own study and to that of its readers to articulate the qualities of a tea. I firmly support this idea, having for a long time now done something vaguely similiar for beer, though not in a blog form. Writing a review for an ethereal or intangible thing, which includes tea for its chronic propensity to consumption, can often be challenging. Tea is often so soft on the senses it is apt to be influenced by mood and setting - both a boon and a curse. And if the review proceeds the drink, the reviewer must rely on a fistful of notes and a scrambled collection of thought to describe the minutest details of the sampled tea. It is a demanding activity, and might explain why food and wine critics give themselves so much professional leverage.

Critiquing, then, is not light work. The gravitas of casting judgment on a consumable product that took many man hours and the labor of many skilled workers demands a cautious approach. The reviewer should have an ethos, a philosophy, a set of rules, something to guide their wreckless hand in the deadly serious business of tea reviews. Anything less and they do a great disfavor to the entrenched and well recieved tea industry as well as the budding tea drinking crowd back home. How can Americans cultivate an appreciation for tea when their neighbors are poo-pooing Pu-erh? How do we intimate the delicate, flavorful whisperings of Silver Needle White Tea when the blogs say it tastes "A bit deeper than water"? How do we convince the Bistro Bums to take a cup of tea instead of coffee when the finer art of tea is lost in a vast sea of cavalier polemics?

We are fortunate, that's how. Tea bloggers are an extremely dedicated bunch. Their love and adoration of tea invokes them to photograph and write. They converse amongst themselves, sharing musings of the tea industry. They pass around well kept secrets, which remain secret only because nobody cares to listen. It is a very poetic type of community seclusion, like the French Resistance, with tea bloggers forming a seamless but subtle vanguard for the betterment of tea and tea drinkers. They stand at the forefront with wagging fingers and well worn keyboards, educating and converting new drinkers to the Church of Tea (or Synagogue, or Mosque, or Temple, what have you). Most of all they are accountable to each other, insuring that the level of dialogue remains open to compliment and criticism alike. It keeps our observations in check and does justice to good work when good and poor work when poor.

With all the reasons in the world to make sure a tea review is good, I've taken some time to develop a personal approach to critiquing tea. It will be a personal coda, now published on the internet, by which I solemly affix myself to the great, grand tea community.

Upon punishment of light and air exposed tea, I will make my best efforts to capture the spirit and essence of tea. In the liquor I will describe the color, the clarity, the hue and the glow. In the aroma I will scour for its flavorful elements, its pungency, and its smoothness. In palate I will seek its texture, tastes and mouthfeel. In the service of tea I will also find the pulse of the drink, its personality and its history. I will find its emotion, time and place. In fairness and proper dedication to the drink at hand, reviewing will be an event with its own dedicated hour and space. It will be aloof from distractions and focused in demeanor. It will be, to all purposes, a review and maybe even a story.


Now that we've got that out of the way I can deal with a few more of the basic matters. Ideally, all reviews at Cap & Kettle will be accompanied by photographs mirroring the essential images of a professional tea tasting: the unsteeped leaf, the brewed tea, and the post-steeped leaves. Reviews will have some orderliness to them, but a block-by-block A.P. style of organization is not my style. I preffer itinerant tangents and off the cuff disquisitions. This'll keep the academics off my back. I'd also like to include lessons on morality, fortunes, short poems and vignettes and miscellaneous punditry to keep things fresh. Expect praise for my favorite things, whether or not they have anything at all to do with tea. Above all, reviews here will be serious, but may take the occasional flippant tone as long as it doesn't sully the good name behind the tea (unless it's deserved).

Here's to many happy reviews.


Steph said...

Hello! Well put, and with a sense of humor too! I am one of your fellow tea bloggers. (I found you from Tea Guy Speaks.) Pop on over to my blog and say hello!

Garrett said...

Link added, and the comments are much appreciated!