14 April, 2010

That Time of the Month, II

It feels like an appropriate time for one of those "state of the nation" posts that become necessary when accusations of a certain gravity have been made regarding this tired old web-site.  If memory serves, the last one was this article from January, 2009.

Such frank feedback is genuinely appreciated, as it keeps a man honest.  So, then...

In an exhange following notes on the 2009 Xizihao "Daxueshan", a reader by the name of "Alex" made the following remark:
I am already pretty well stocked [...], so the cake from your friend at Nadacha isn't as appealing as it might otherwise be. 
Also, your various glowing comments about Nadacha smell like a shill.

Your modesty is comendable, but like it or not, you are an arbiter of taste when it comes to the world of online pu'er. So, in the interest of impartiality and in fairness to your considerably large and admiring audience, I dare you to say something unambiguously negative about one of Nadacha's offerings. I bet you can't.

1960s Huangyin

Of course, the reason for singling out this particular comment for special treatment is that it explicitly states the author's belief that I am happily "shilling" for Nadacha / Essence of Tea, and hence requires a more full and public response, as I'm sure you'll understand.

Regular readers will of course know that I count Nada as a good Teachum, and he's visited Lei and me in Oxford twice now.  As I think I commented at the time, it was a pleasant surprise that he decided to start a business selling tea.

While I am sympathetic (in the looest possible sense) to the commercial ventures of people that I enjoy writing with concerning tea (including Stephane of Teamasters, Scott of Yunnan Sourcing, Imen of Tea Habitat, Steve of JAS-eTea, and perhaps now Toki of The Mandarin's Tea), I have no personal interests in their success or failure.  My concern with vendors, and people who I know as "teachums" who are vendors, is (i) the sale of good tea, and (ii) appropriate pricing.  Good quality and good value are all I'm after, the same as with all vendors.

I am in the difficult position that Nadacha / Essence of Tea is doing a very good job at sourcing good tea (usually through investing time travelling around Yunnan, as far as I can tell) and selling it at very fair prices.  Thus, my comments regarding that venture tend to be positive.  I suppose that you can only take my word for the fact that this is based simply on objective assessment, rather than "shilling".

2009 1000-Year Maocha

Let it be stated again that I have absolutely nothing to gain from writing positive things about Nadacha (or anyone else), as I pay for my cakes the same way that everyone else does.  It's a very simple relationship, and is one I share with all vendors.  With Nada, as with the other vendors, I swap samples - this is a normal function of being an active tea-drinker, and most readers will enjoy similar relationships with their teachums (and, probably, me, given that you're reading this!).

My glowing praise of Nadacha tea simply comes from the fact that this one venture produces tea in which I have very high confidence, because it is sourced so transparently.  For example, we are told, via Nadacha's blog, about the farmer of the 2008 tea "cutting" (i.e., diluting) his laoshu leaves with standard leaves, and how this was caught and remedied in the 2009 productions.  

A more recent example would be the 2005 Gan En tea that I planned (for a while) to buy from Nadacha (the article for this is in the publication queue, by happy chance).  My searches for the same tea on Taobao came up with higher prices than were offered by Nadacha.  I know from many such searches that his profit margin on searchable (i.e., modern) teas is respectably slim.  This compares very favourably to many other tea vendors, whose profit margins are similarly derivable from web searches, and who appear to enjoy significantly larger profit margins.

All of these facets (the good, transparent sourcing and the low, transparent profit margins) results in positive commentary from me (and many, many others).  I can only "call 'em like I see 'em". If Nadacha chooses not to sell distasteful tea, and chooses not to sell it at unpleasantly high profit margins, then what criticism exists can only be that which you read in my notes of his teas.

Rest assured, dear Corresponder, that if you opened a tea business with similar virtues, you would enjoy similar praise from the Half-Dipper, which would recommend your reasonably-priced laoshu tea whenever (moderately overcooked) Xizihao is sold at $100/bing.

Surely, that's the way it should be.

This entire site would be useless if it were at all partial, hence my distaste for suggestions to the contrary.  I trust this has, if not solved your problem, at least clarified my situation for you.

2003 Yiwu Manluo

As always, I encourage you, dear Reader, to air your thoughts for discussion, which I believe to be the healthiest approach to conflict.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation. I too am a fan of NadaCha.
On another topic I see you have changed your site design. Unfortunatley I find the light colored font on this background difficult to see.

Hobbes said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for the comment - I had an article just about to be published concerning the site redesign, which I paused to deal with this response. Thanks for your feedback, do please revisit in two days when that rescheduled article resurfaces! I am very keen to ensure that the site remains readable for all, while taking advantage of the pretty new lay-outs that Blogger now offers.



flo said...

hello again Hobbes,

my grain of salt on this topic :
> I share none of your tastes in vendors and teas (except one or two). Plus, I am french. This does not prevent me from reading what you write.
> A blog writer has no obligation for "objectivity", and he is no journalist. So, yes, you have your own criteria, them being subjective (or not) is not a problem --the term is not equivalent to "biased" or "arbitrary", I just means that you build your own map for appreciation ; you explicit your criteria. Subjectivity is too often underrated. Not only "objectivity" can be solid and properly argumented.
> It seems to me that what this reader meant was that friendship might favor... a favorable appreciation. Maybe it is the case, I too tend to like and esteem my friends, it even occurred to me that other human beings might even do so. If so, it is no big trouble. and it is your right as a "personal publisher", the concept of some collusion is off topic.
> Now, the real problem is maybe partly that readers of a blog may tend (more or less consciously) to consider a blog author a "leader of opinion". i have often experienced that people sort of build a social position for us, which we did not necessarily ask for, and sometimes did not imagine we were occupying. You're sitting in your wooden chair to post, all of a sudden your ass is on some throne of influence. Not very comfortable.
> I like Heidu very much.
> as we say, "te prends pas la tête"

Wojciech Bońkowski said...

As it has gradually become the standard for many internet commentators and reviewers to obtain free merchandise or even monies in exchange for endorsement, so the casual internet reader associates this kind of behavious with all internet content.
It is a sad situation but one that we must face in the future. While I fully agree with Flo's comment above that you're free to like what you like, I think it's a healthy strategy both for professional reviewers and those not in the 'business' to fully disclose their interests when reviewing and recommending stuff on the internet. In the world of wine blogging - where I come from - it is quickly becoming the norm. Tea tasting is a far less cost-intensive and more peaceful activity, but I think an explanation of the kind you offered here, from time to time, might only be to the benefit of the readers. Be it only for the sake of differentiating the Half-Dipper from the numerous blogs that are effectively run (sometimes exceedingly well) by tea vendors.

Ruqyo Highsong said...

I do think you are an arbiter of taste...for yourself.

Each and every person is the arbiter of his or her own personal tastes. If some wish to agree, well that's fine. If some beg to differ, well that's fine as well.

Comments like Alex's are, well, in my eye, good examples of internet trolling. The comment only serves to get a rise out of you. Of course, you responded in a respectful way, with plenty of reasoning and explanation, and have thus proved yourself quite mild-tempered and mild-mannered. I applaud you.

I'm not certain is this fits, but I was reminded of the poem 'Invictus' by William Ernest Henley, and especially the last stanza:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Let each person determine what is in his heart to do. Let each person make, ultimately, their own decisions. If you appreciate Nadacha's teas, and you want to be positive about them, then all the more power to you.

Besides, really, negativity is something that I believe should not be found within tea and tea-drinking. Sure, you might find a tea you might not like, or is just not all that great, but there is always something positive to be found even in the worst of tea sessions.

The more you try to be positive, the more positive you will be. Simple. I earnestly hope that Alex will take that to heart, and try and think more positive about tea and fellow tea-drinkers.

Anyhow, I've rambled and written a short essay. I best end it here.

Corey 'Asiatic Fox' King

Matt said...


"Spring comes in like a lion and out like a lamb"...

so does Hobbes regular return to the blogosphere!

Thanks for all the heated tea talk, excitment, and differing opinions. Hopefuly you won't be going "out like a lamb" anytime soon.

Much Peace

Giri Mandi said...

My solidarity and deepest thanks to you and Nada for constant quality in teas (Nada) and blogging (You). For yours statistic: the new site design looks great with Mac, and no scrolling problems. (Unfortunately I am not shilling for Steve Jobs).

Anonymous said...

It's me again - the person having trouble viewing your blog. Hmmm...when I view your blog at work it is a very difficult to read silver font on light orange background. However at home I see white font on a black background - looks very nice. At work I use Internet Explorer on a PC - home is Firefox on a Mac.
Good luck getting this corrected. I would email you directly if I could find your email address.

Giri Mandi said...

@ anonymous & hobbes:

Yes, I am also using Mac+Mozilla (no shilling - bis), and I also see white font on a black background, and yes, looks very nice.

Hobbes said...

Dear all,

Thanks very much for the comments. The byline for this web-site should be "In matters of taste, there can be no dispute" (de gustibus non disputandum est), and is something I have tried to emphasise (That Time of the Month, and Mumonkan).

That said, I do like to be fair - fairness is a good virtue to strive for, I think. Plus, I am a natural optimist. I have teas for all occassions, and enjoy finding the good qualities in them all - from a husky, inexpensive 6FTM up to the more grand examples (even one or two $100 Xizihao cakes, no less!).

Thanks also to those who have left comments concerning the colour-scheme and new lay-out, which is perhaps more important than the storm-in-a-teacup of dealing with less constructive criticism! I have noted the reports down, and am just about to publish a quick survey article, so do please return to leave your details there.

Toodlepip all,


P.s. To Anonymous: my e-mail address is hobbesoxon "at" gmail.

五行雲子 said...

Well, if I were to criticise Nadacha then it could only be that I wished he had more of his Bulang!

Nice man, good service and great tea.

-ppp- said...

It is really interesting how all these kind of accusations fail, when the presumption of a objective character of tea is discarded.

Or at least a partial subjectivity is introduced.

Hobbes said...

That is true, ppp. However, there is a world of difference between debating subjectivity vs. objectivity, and alleging that someone is a "shill". I am always pleasantly surprised at the ability of strangers to act so unusually via the Internet. It really is quite refreshing, given that everyone I meet in my daily life seems to be thoroughly sociable.



Anonymous said...

My last comment seems to have bounced, so we'll see what happens with this one. For the record: I don't think you are a shill for Nada, I'm sorry I chose my words so carelessly, and I think this is a great blog.

Now, I'm going to return to just reading and not trying to contribute.

All the best,


Hobbes said...

Dear Alex,

Thanks for the reply. No problem - let's just chalk it up to experience and forget it. What are you drinking today? I've just finished the 2009 Xizihao "Jingmai" - a very good example of the region, with endurance aplenty.



Giri Mandi said...

Oh, nice, dear Alex & Hobbes, we do appreciate serenity in this wonderful nook!
Enjoy your teas, and best wishes to roaming Nada.

mike said...

The world of puerh is hard to navigate for amateurs like myself.

I truly appreciate your reviews of teas that are on the market.

Matej said...

Dear Hobbes,

I'm new in the world of Pu and I enjoy your blog. As far as Nada is concerned, subjectivity aside, he has a good selection of quality tea with a good price tag. I'm a returning customer and if it weren't for your blog, amongst others, it would take me quite a bit longer to find such a great tea vendor like Nada (have you seen any other vendor to disclose his rantings about tea world and constructive criticism to boot? I haven't. Period).


Alex said...

Thank you, Hobbes. I am really a big admirer of this blog and I'd have a hard time looking myself in the mirror if I were banned from it.

Since you asked, I'm doing a side by side of the 2009 YS LBZ and 2006 XZH Taiji Yin (about 2 gm in each gaiwan, and long brew times). I share your misgivings about the YS LBZ - it doesn't have the cooling huigan that it should, plus it is slightly sour - but it does have a nice punch to it, and good depth. The 2006 XZH has lost a lot of its bitterness but still has that cooling effect. Neither of them have much in the way of taste but that's because I'm recovering from a cold.

The 2009 Jingmai *is* good. It's surprisingly intense and at $0.23 (US) per gram it's a bargain compared to the Da Xue Shan ($0.31/g). Now that I think about it, this means that the pot of it that had me hallucinating at work earlier this week (about 5g) would cost just over a dollar. Not bad compared to vintage Port!

Anyway - very glad we could clear this up. Looking forward to your next review.


Hobbes said...

Dear Giri, Mike, and Matej,

Three first-time commenters, I do believe! Welcome, and thanks for the generousity.

Dear Alex,

Water under the bridge. The Jingmai was really rather good - definitely worth a sample, at the very least, to enjoy some of that baseline Jingmai "cereal crop" character.

Toodlepip all,