Ethics and Sampling
One of the obvious perks of writing a tea blog is indeed receiving free samples. However, getting free samples should not be the reason that your blog exists. The same rule applies for press passes to World Tea Expo and other events. Unscrupulously greedy bloggers give the good ones a bad name, making some retailers avoid us all together. The CEO of a major tea chain famously painted us all with one brush in a LinkedIn group several years ago for this reason. I have never once solicited a company for samples yet I usually have more tea than I know what to do with. If you write good quality, engaging content companies will contact you.
Another important part of blogging is being upfront and making your process is clear to any company that you’re dealing with. I strongly recommend that every blogger put together a review policy and permanently post it on their site. Some things you’ll want to include are personal likes and dislikes, how to get in touch with you, and lead time to publication. Most of the email inquiries that I receive don’t take the time to read my review policy but it’s a lot easier to have a link I can forward them to rather repeating myself over and over again. As your blog evolves, your taste in teas will too. Don’t be afraid to politely decline a sample if it’s not something that you’re interested in.
Above all else, a blogger must always be honest. This can be difficult when we receive product for free or other forms of compensation. Your readers will know the difference though and they will stop reading if they think that you are acting like a shill for a particular company. On the flip side, you should avoid being unnecessarily mean or harsh. It’s important to keep in mind that just because you didn’t like something doesn’t mean that other people will feel the same way. I learned this when I first started writing reviews for Teaviews.com. I was sent a sample of a tea that contained chili peppers. My sensitive sinuses screamed from all of the spice and I absolutely hated it. Another reviewer who grew up in Southern California loved it and thought that it tasted like home. If a tea is really undrinkable, I won’t publish a review of it.
When you first get started, it’s often hard to articulate what a tea tastes like. Reading other blogs can help you with the basics. I’ve also referred to tasting wheels from the wine world when I’m struggling to find the word to describe what I’m experiencing. It will become easier as you become more experienced and your train your palate for tea.
Tea Reviews make up a large portion of the content of many tea blogs. That doesn’t have to be the case but most folks do seem to start out that way. Everyone has their own style and you should try to find the one that works the best for you and the way that you drink tea. However, there are a few rules that you should follow:
-Let your readers know how you made the tea.
They might go out and purchase the tea after reading about it on your blog. What you write will be their guide so be sure to include information about leaf volume, the tools you used (gaiwan, infuser basket, etc.), steep time, and water temperature.
-Follow the retailers brewing directions!
If you want to play around with steep times and water temperature afterward then, by all means, do so. It is one of my biggest pet peeves to read a bad review of a tea because it was prepared incorrectly. Tea is one of those few consumables that can be truly ruined by user error. If you aren’t sure how to make a tea, find out before even attempting a review (i.e. don’t make green tea with boiling water and complain about it being bitter).
-Try to include a link to the product page whenever you review a product.
It helps your readers find the tea and brings attention to the company it came from. This is especially important if the tea is a free sample that was provided for you. It’s also essential that you disclose whether or not the tea was provided by the company (and use “no follow” links if that is the case).
Is there something that you think should be added to this list? A topic you’d like to see covered as part of this series? Let me know about it in the comments!