Curation by experts is the ideal for making artisan selections but seasonality and the overwhelming sea of tea at retail greatly limits the number of samples reviewed publicly by professionals. Marketers, meanwhile, undermine their credibility by heaping affirmative praise while consistently ranking their own offerings above the competition.
Crowdsourcing tea online is generally unreliable since few people are skilled in tasting. Reviews resemble YELP. The best, while not displaying the discipline of a skilled taster, read as authentic observations.
RAVE Reviews offers a new approach. The website recently published a 3,100-word post written by journalist Blake Adams, ranking 10 green teas. The Tao of Tea’s Jasmine Pearls Green Tea was named “the best green tea out there.” In selecting this tea, the website writes that it considered a combination of price, processing, and packaging. Jasmine Pearls “strikes the perfect balance between a smooth green tea flavor and floral jasmine aroma.” A four-ounce tin lists for $18 (discounted to $15.14 on Amazon). It scored 100% on the RAVE meter. Second on their list was Matcha Saiho no Mukashi sold by Sazen Tea Market Place, Kyoto. It was named the most exotic green tea, scoring 96%. It is grown in Omotesenke, a famous tea region of small growers near Uji, Japan. A 20-gram tin sells for $18 (one ounce equals 28 grams). In Te Veritas from Bebington’s Tea Room in Italy was named third with a score of 95%. It is priced at $27 for 100 grams. The Republic of Tea received 93% for an $11 Daily Green winning praise as the best tea for drinking every day.
A green from Benjamin Tea in Chicago earned 87% RAVE; Numi scored 89% with its gunpowder green ($23); Rishi Tea’s Organic Sencha which sells for $24 for 60 grams earned 94%; and an organic Gyokuro by Tealyra, grown in Yame, Japan and priced at $16 for 3.5 ounces was ranked 91%. Harney & Sons organic green tea with citrus and ginkgo ranked 10 with a RAVE Meter score of 86%.
The above are credible selections.
While RAVE evaluated a narrow band of tea in a moderate price range, the site “makes a point of collecting authoritative data, field testing, interviewing and good old-fashioned research by teams of veteran journalists, credential experts and researchers.”
Equally important, “We take pride in our rigorous standards. Our recommendations are always made entirely by our editorial and research teams without input from our business department.”
RAVE explains that it earns an affiliate commission for its reviews of foods and beverages, appliances and games but “if you return your product, we make nothing. Therefore, we are incentivised to only recommend products we believe you will truly RAVE about too.” Maximizing commissions explains why the Harney tea mentioned above, for example, was linked to Amazon instead of the Harney & Sons Fine Tea website and why the matcha was linked to an online sales portal instead of the small grower who produced the tea.
RAVE Reviews is ultimately a popularity contest for teas structured to generate broad appeal for readily available teas. The post accompanying the list was well written with descriptions of various styles of green tea and instructions on preparation and background. The review combined with the website’s simply ranking is likely to entice tea drinkers to discover sophisticated specialty teas.
RAVE Review does not want to be known as a product review site.
“A pure product review site will give you an exhaustive rundown on the features of a coffee maker or a vacuum or a set of headphones you’re considering. But life isn’t just about features — it’s also about fit. Does it fit your lifestyle? Your brand? Your needs?
“That’s what RAVE does,” says Hillary Miller, marketing coordinator for RAVE Reviews.
The online tea community Steepster is a product review site founded in 2008. Its tea-friendly reviews also encourage tea discovery. A single contributor might produce two or three thousand reviews, averaging three or more per week and developing a following. Thousands more reviewers have zero, one or two followers.
Terri Langerak, known as Harp Lady is not typical but her reviews demonstrate the inherent value of authentic observations. Langerak plays the harp, composes, loves tea and lives in St. Louis, Mo. During the past seven years she has penned 3,294 reviews on Steepster. In these she describes her preferences across a broad range of teas, leading others to give them a try. She is direct about her preferences “whites tend to be bland” and when it comes to rooibos “I’m not a fan in general” but she swoons over oolongs and “black tea, oh how I love thee!!” She writes of her quest for the most wonderful breakfast cup! Langerak has 464 followers and 330 pages of reviews totaling 315,000 words.
Teas are ranked by the Steepster community receive a numerical score from 0-100. A high-ranking tea with a large number of tasting notes (several hundred in many instances) appears a good bet. Few score above 90. There are 2,500 pages of “best tea” reviews making a search daunting unless you have a specific tea in mind.
Langerak acknowledges in her first reviews that she is not a tea expert, “although I love tea in all its varieties & drink it often, I’m not in the habit of putting words to the flavors, images, & emotions I get while drinking it, so please be patient with me, as I’m new to writing these things down. Even more difficult is the idea of rating a tea…that will take some thought!”
Here is a typical review: “I just finished my first cup of the day, the wonderfully deep & mellow Kenyan from The London Tea Room (oh how lucky I am to live in St. Louis!). It’s beautiful reddish-brown color & aroma speak of unsweetened dark chocolate & hints of a coffee-like, but not coffee-like earthiness. This is a tea that I enjoy often, usually with breakfast. It doesn’t have the malty character of my beloved Assam, but it still gives a great caffeine jolt & is not for the faint hearted!”
Her work retains the same folksy style, but followers can see that her reviews have evolved after drinking many hundreds of teas over the years.
RAVE Reviews does not employ the rigors of Consumer Reports. The description of the overall winner is general, without specific flavor notes. Reviews, like that for the winning jasmine tea, are more focused on back story and providing product information: “Grown and harvested in Hunan, China, the pearls are made by plucking freshly sprouted spring leaves. They are dried on bamboo trays and rolled between the thumb and index finger into “pearls,” the same size and shape as those on a necklace. It takes 2,000 pearls to make one pound of tea. The pearls are then heat-infused with jasmine petals at least five times before being packaged in airtight tin canisters.”
Reviewers score the teas from 0-100 on four scales: “Quality” and “Taste” as well as “Packaging” and “Value.” Reviewers ask: “How carefully were the tea leaves cultivated and processed? Can they be steeped multiple times? How is this tea distinct? What does it offer the palate? Does the bag or canister extend the shelf life of the tea? Is it aesthetically pleasing and presentable? How much does it cost? The higher the price, the lower the score.”
In a release Miller writes, “You have a lot to gain from drinking green tea. This ranking lays out some of the best options available.”
“I drink so much coffee that I sometimes forget how wonderful green tea is. It tastes great and has been proven to have benefits ranging from the prevention of multiple chronic diseases to elevated cognitive function,” she said.
Miller explains “RAVE Reviews is an authoritative and entertaining guide for consumer goods, entertainment, and travel. It’s not a product review site or a lifestyle magazine. But if those two met on an online dating site, 9 months later, you’d have RAVE Reviews.”