A Tea Addict's Journal

Steepster is useless

August 30, 2012 · 72 Comments

According to the folks at Steepster, you should love the website for six reasons.

1) It’s an online tea journal – this is the only point I agree with. It’s probably a pretty good and stress free way to keep a journal of the teas you’ve tried, which I personally think is a good way to help you learn and develop your tea palette. Trying new teas and writing down what you think about it is an important process that helps you think about what you just drank. So far, so good.

2) It’s a different way to discover new teas – ok, hard to argue with that, it’s new anyway, but at the end of the day, you have to buy and drink it. The problem is not so much that it helps people find new teas – yes, it does that to a degree, by showing you things that may be similar, at least according to their algorithm. But their reviews don’t seem to allow pictures, and usually there’s only one relatively useless picture of the tea, so to get anywhere, you still need to head to the vendor’s page to find out more about the tea. Unhelpfully, Steepster doesn’t link you to the vendor’s page for the tea, but only to the vendor, so you have to go through the trouble to find the tea anyway. While for some vendors this is easy to do, for others it’s a non-trivial task, especially if the vendor has weird categories, such as puerhshop.

3) It’s the largest – well, that’s both good and bad. The size of Steepster would make it seem like a good thing, and on some level, I suppose it is – it has more reviews of more teas than anywhere else on the web, and it benefits from its critical mass so that, right now at least, it seems like the only player in town. Other rating sites, of which I only know of one, are basically dead, which means nobody will bother to go visit.

The size, however, is also a problem. First of all, the rather endless stream of reviews on the site is more than overwhelming, and if you happen to be following a few dozen people, chances are you have no way of sorting out one review from the next. Also, for the most part, the network is pretty much anonymous – you have no idea who’s posting. The person posting a poor review of a black tea could be a lifetime green tea drinker who hates anything black. The person reviewing a wonderful Yiwu might be drinking raw puerh for the first time without telling you so, and thus describes it as tasting like a drain cleaner. You have the option to “like” a certain review, but like is more ambiguous than Amazon’s “did you find this review helpful?”. Like might mean you agree, or you liked what the person said for other reasons, or because you’re their friend… there’s no way to tell. The volume of information on teas, in written form, is completely overwhelming on this site.

It also is very unfriendly for people who reinfuse their teas multiple times, which most readers of this blog probably do. So, there’s no way to indicate what you do with your tea, other than in written form. Unless you’re the only reviewer, nobody will ever read it.

Moreover, because of the sheer volume of written information on the teas, the only thing that people actually will pay attention to is the ratings, in numerical form. That’s easy, simple to look at, and quick to comprehend. So far, so good, but there’s a problem – almost everything on the site rates somewhere between 70 and 85, which means that, as a mechanism for picking out teas to try, the score is almost entirely useless – how different is something that rates 78 really from something that rates 82, especially when each of them only have, say, 5 ratings each, three of which have no number attached?

Let’s take puerh for example, one of the genre of teas that I think are least reviewed there. Sorted by rating, it takes 36 pages for you to reach the first tea rated in the 60s. That’s 36 x 28 on each page, totaling slightly over 1000 teas, many of which, I’m sure, are no long available. If you look under Menghai Tea Factory, almost everything is within the narrow band of 71-81. As a selection guide, this is more or less utterly useless.

As someone pointed out on Teachat, the name of the vendor is fungible, so that someone might enter Menghai Tea Factory, while another person might attribute the same tea to Yunnan Sourcing. Likewise, referring to what I talked about earlier about teas being anonymous, it is quite possible that two or three or four tieguanyin being reviewed (with different impressions!) are actually from the same wholesaler, rendering the ratings rather moot.

Curiously, among the top ten rated puerh are a number of teas from Verdant Tea, which as Hster has uncovered, has some issues as a puerh vendor. Is that shop really that great, or is something else going on? I can’t say for sure. It might, however, have something to do with the fact that he seemed to have distributed samples to folks on Steepster. Verdant Tea in general seems extremely active on Steepster, which might explain something. Seems like that’s a good way to goose your ratings.

4) You’ll broaden your horizons and try new teas – same as 2, really, but here they’re talking about their revenue stream, aka vendor sponsored sampling, which at the moment seems dead. Also, referring to the above point about Verdant Teas, I wonder if the key to high ratings is to send non-offensive teas to a bunch of people who’ve only had teas from Teavana.

5) It’s a place to hang out and talk about all things tea – yes, but the discussion on Steepster is exceedingly shallow, mostly because it is not designed for anything more in depth. Each review can have comments, and once in a while, you might have good comments on one thread – if you can ever find such things, that is, buried deep within each thread for each tea. The discussion board is largely useless, because it is only categorized in the most general way possible, which means that it is nearly impossible to follow specific topics for very long. If you search for a term, the search engine will completely overload you with information again, in the most useless way imaginable – by highlighting every instance in every thread where the search term has been mentioned, ordered in the number of times that term has been mentioned in each thread (at least that seems to be the way they’re doing it). This means that the longest threads will tend to be read, whereas shorter threads will drop off the radar. That’s great if you’re looking for something exceedingly specific, but if you just want to find some discussion on, say, sencha… good luck.

6) It’s free. Well, it better be.

I’m not trying to rain on someone else’s parade, but Steepster, while it is a great tool for someone to keep a personal log of teas to drink, fails on the sharing and discovery part of the equation. Is there a better way? Perhaps, but I think to start it might be more useful to introduce/tweak features that will result in more depth in the comments, notes, and discussions. Right now, reading reviews on the site is like reading a stream of consciousness writing, much of which is completely useless to anyone other than the drinker. The scores, likewise, is not very useful as it is. It doesn’t even really help you weed out teas, unless perhaps the ones that are universally hated, but those seem to be few and far between. Lastly, it might help to, for example, be able to toggle whether or not a tea is still available – listing a bunch of teas that are no longer available high on a list when you click “teas” really isn’t a good way to introduce more people to good tea either.

I’m not sure if there’s the right balance of information and quality, but right now, Steepster is high on information, but low on quality – you get a lot of stuff, most of which is noise, and it’s set up in a way that makes it difficult to filter out the noise. I think something like TeaChat, flawed as it is and hampered by an ancient discussion board engine, is nevertheless in some ways a superior forum for talking about teas than the more newfangled, social-media craze inspired Steepster.

Addendum: Some, fans of Steepster, for example, may see this as an out-and-out attack on the site. I have zero financial or personal reason to hate the site – I signed up a while ago hoping that it will be a good forum for more discussion, but came away pretty disappointed. I think there is no progress if there’s no criticism. I’m not saying I’m the one qualified to do it, but on this blog, I tend to say what I think without dressing it up too much. As I’ve mentioned, I think Steepster is a great tool for one purpose – keeping the journal of teas you’ve drunk. I hope the site’s creators can improve on the other aspects of it so that the users there can engage in tea more deeply, maybe even without knowing it. That can come from all kinds of angles – changing their algorithm in what it recommends, improving the way comments/notes are displayed and scored, organizing the discussion page using tags, instead of just what looks like an unfiltered stream of threads on unrelated topics, etc. There is a lot of space to improve upon the site now that they’ve gotten people to use it – and don’t do what Digg did and screw everything up with a drastic revision that everyone ends up hating.

Categories: Information

72 responses so far ↓

  • Will // August 30, 2012 at 12:51 am | Reply

    I think (and the founder basically said as much) that the target audience is for folks who are into more casual tea drinking, rather than nerds like us. So, I wouldn’t say so much that it’s useless as that it’s not really trying to appeal to you in the first place. I think it has its place (and I do occasionally post on the forums, though I tend to keep my notes about my own tea drinking privately, if I take any at all).

    I agree that star-ratings are especially difficult to make work with tea (even beyond the problems that are common to anything with star / score based ratings), because the tea changes from season to season, and because there are so few teas that are both good and widely available. On top of that, brewing technique, water type, personal preference, etc. vary quite a bit.

  • Hektor Konomi // August 30, 2012 at 7:49 am | Reply

    I can see why Teavana (or David’s Tea) might seem so crass, but it is a huge improvement to what was generally available before. Lots of people use it as a stepping stone to better things.

    • MarshalN // August 30, 2012 at 8:12 am | Reply

      Up to a point, I agree. However, when Teavana spreads things like “white tea is good for your X while black tea is good for your X” when that’s patently not true…. well, I have a problem with that. Tea is not western medicine – it doesn’t target specific organs.

  • Hster // August 31, 2012 at 12:02 am | Reply

    The fact that the swarm of Steepster defenders have not yet materialized would indicate that either
    1. readers of your blog have little overlap with Steepster
    2. or those who do don’t feel strongly enough or brave enough to post.

    One of the weird things about Steepster is that you get reviewers like teaequalsbliss of SororiTea (http://steepster.com/teaequalsbliss) with “5886 TASTING NOTES” in 3 years. That’s a grueling schedule of 5 teas a day but sometimes she will go through 10 teas in a day.

    Out of curiosity, I read the Steepster reviews of a ripe cake I bought months ago. It was awarded 95+ points by two reviewers (one of whom is teaequalsbliss) who were provided free samples by the vendor. My personal experience was that the wodui was so barnyard strong even after four rinses, I just dumped the tea. This shu was not yet ready to be enjoyed in my opinion but here were these two reviewers gushing on. Very strange.

  • John Grebe // August 31, 2012 at 11:14 am | Reply

    I have used Steepster myself for a few years when I stopped tea blogging because it was too much work to keep up. I agree with you that Steepster to discover new teas is a bit useless but I have used it to check for reviews on teas that I was thinking about buying from other heavy puerh drinkers that have similar views as I do, but has never made the difference between me buying or not buying a certain tea. Overall the main reason why I use Steepster and find it useful is that the cupboard is useful in allowing me to keep inventory of my tea to prevent me from losing track of what I have in my tea supply which has happened more times than I’d like to admit and is especially frustrating when it happens with types of tea that are best fresh. I think overall tea inventory is something and how one keeps track of their tea collection is a topic that should be talked about more, but then again the people that have the most to contribute are likely the ones that are the least willing to admit how much they actually have out of fear of somebody accusing them of being a tea hoarder.

  • Jason // August 31, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Reply

    Hi all! Just wanted to swing by and respond to give some insight into our thoughts and explain some of the intentions behind the site.

    FIrst off, as always we welcome and encourage friendly feedback/criticism/questions/suggestions. We know Steepster isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. As web developers we embrace the idea of getting a minimally viable product out in the wild and seeing how people use it – don’t assume too much and force your assumptions on the users and their interactions. Steepster is still very much a “work in progress” and we have many more ideas for the future, even if we’re not actively developing it.

    With that said, I think you make a number of valid criticisms. There is much room for improvement with the search algorithms, the intention and use of “liking” tasting notes, addressing a tea across different flushes/seasons, organizing discussions, and many more. Nothing on the site was intended to be the final version, there are always ways to improve.

    My main concern, however, is that many of the criticisms seem to be positioned as “Steepster is inherently wrong and therefore not useful for anyone” whereas your true position actually seems to be closer to “Steepster is not right for me and how i want to use it”. The headline says as much, even with several points basically saying the site actually does what it says, but you think it could be better.

    Admittedly, the site might not be nearly as useful for people who are already running their own separate tea blogs and have extensive experience with tea (although, I truly think it could be useful for you). Steepster is geared towards a broader audience and it embraces flexibility. Our main goal is to encourage people to drink tea, and to do that, we intentionally made the site flexible to accommodate a wider variety of tea drinkers, practices, and tastes. Do we miss some details by appealing to a larger audience? Sure. Is it ideal for gongfu style brewing? No (although it’s still definitely possible). But it does encourage people to start logging their teas, to have a better sense of their taste for tea, and to reflect on what they’re drinking. In this sense I think it remains very successful.

    On a daily basis I see people talking about how a new tea sounds delicious, or finding out about a new company. I can’t understand thinking this is useless. We may not always help guide users towards the most refined teas, but if we can help get the next cup of tea into someone’s hands, and then another, and another, we’ll be very happy with what we’ve built.

    Are we perfect? No. Can we improve Steepster? Yes, a lot! Does the capacity for improvement or less than ideal functionality mean the site is useless? Certainly not (at least not for most people). I hope this gives a better idea of where we’re coming from and why Steepster is the way it is. If you have any other thoughts or questions about specific functionality, I’d be happy to keep discussing. BTW, sorry for being so long and rant-y 🙂

    – Jason, Steepster.com

    • MarshalN // September 1, 2012 at 9:02 am | Reply

      Hi Jason,

      Thanks for commenting. To begin, I think I have never made any claims that this blog’s opinions are anything more than personal opinions, which means that when I say “Steepster is useless” or “this tea is great”, it is nothing more than my unqualified, biased, limited opinion as an individual, and should be treated as such.

      I think it is amply clear that I believe Steepster is useful at least as a tool for keeping a journal of teas you’ve drunk, and for some level of exchange about tea. However, I do believe that this social exchange that’s going on is happening at a very low level, and can be upgraded considerably without scaring away the more casual drinker crowd, who in any case won’t read this blog. Since I pressed the “publish” button on this post, I’ve received no less than half a dozen private communications from tea friends and readers who told me that, yes, indeed, they agree that Steepster leaves a lot to be desired. Again, it is quite self-evident that there are lots and lots of uses who find it useful, but among the tea nerds you might find reading this thing here, you’re not finding many converts. Nothing wrong with that – we’re, after all, a small market subset, but I do think folks here probably have collective experience and information that can enhance your site.

      There are indeed a lot of “this tea sounds great” sort of posts, but think about it from a perspective of someone who isn’t really into tea at all, and just hopped on your website for the first time. They want to find a nice tea to drink, and figured a social media site with lots and lots of tea reviews might help him in that process of narrowing down things to try. This person clicks “teas”. You show him the highest rated things. Fair enough, so far, but what does he see? Out of the 28 things on the first page, two are teaware, which is fine. A whopping 10 teas are from one single outfit – Verdant Tea. Another 4 are from Teavivre. Two each from Butiki and Pure Matcha. That’s 20 of the 28 items you have listed already. Honestly, a rating mechanism that results in 10 of 28 of the top rated teas to be from one single vendor, and 20 out of 28 from four vendors, when there are literally thousands of teas out there from hundreds of vendors, is a pretty questionable one. There are many, many teashops that sell teas that are just as good and perhaps even at a better price than these offerings, but you wouldn’t know, because your ratings are dominated by a few outfits and the rest of them all seem to hover in the 80s range in a gigantic, undifferentiated mass. I’m not sure what your algorithm is, but something is wrong, because in my years of drinking tea no vendor I have met has ever been able to provide more than a handful of world-beating teas, and Verdant Teas surely isn’t going to be the exception here if true tea masters from China and Taiwan can’t do it.

      Even if someone is piqued in their interest by a certain tea, they have to go through the rather arduous process of having to try to find the (sometimes sold out) teas on each vendor’s own website. Sometimes you don’t even link to the vendor, so the person would have to search on the internet, sometimes for stores that sound rather similar. Then they have to figure out which tea it was. Sometimes, the teas are separated by year by the users. So, is something from Spring 2011 really the same thing as Spring 2012? A newbie would have no clue and might have been lost on the way. I understand that you are probably trying to keep people on your site, but as outfits like facebook, gawker, etc have shown, if you consistently provide what people deem valuable, even if you link out a lot people will keep coming back to you.

      These are just some of the issues I see that can arise out of the ratings/feedback system as currently constituted. I can go on, but I don’t think it’s useful or important. I’m not saying Steepster is entirely, completely, 100% useless, because as I’ve said I think it’s a useful tool for keeping a tea journal, and to a limited extent share what you have drunk and what you thought of it. As a guide for other people, however, I think it falls far short, and will tend to steer people to other mediocre, uninteresting teas that basically amounts to a goose-chase in tea drinking. People who want better tea, more interesting tea, and more refined tea will not be able to use your site to find it, which is why I said it’s useless – I’m not sure what it promotes, but I don’t think it really promotes better tea, which is what it appears to do at first glance. I think given what it could be, and what it is right now, there’s still a fair distance to go. Of course, you folks may have a different idea of what it should be, and are happy with where it is or where it’s headed. I think the site can get better and can be more useful for more people – some of the heaviest tea drinkers (who are also the most willing to spend money on tea, I should add). I think that’s not a bad thing for you to at least explore, instead of letting the site wallow at a superficial level. You may disagree, in which case I guess we can part ways. Thank you for visiting the site and reading this long response.

  • mark causey // August 31, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Reply

    steepster seem to me,to be for those people who drink fruit flavored teas whether white, oolong, black or puerh. tea geeks will quickly see it for what it is, and i hate to admit it but i am too serious a drinker to play the unhappy, always trying to correct someone who is popular on that site. i hope new drinkers that may want to try green puerh will find better places to learn about better teas.

  • booncek // September 1, 2012 at 3:11 am | Reply

    Out of many variables to judge the quality of a tea, I think it would be fair, if there is a universal recognized method exists, that people acknowledged and accepted.

    • psychanaut // September 5, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply

      There are, as there are also universalyl recognized methods used to judge the quality of wine; yet, no one has yet to uncover the ultimate algorithm to determine the #1 wine or #1 tea that we can all be in agreement with, thank god..

      • BC // September 5, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Reply

        Yes, there is no ultimate algorithm to find out the #1. But I believe there is a way to uncover the content of the tea, regardless of the personal’s favouritism.

  • wh&yel_apprentice :) // September 3, 2012 at 3:17 am | Reply

    think a version of cellartracker.com might work for steepster to make it more usable???

  • Jenny Wren // September 3, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Reply

    Steepster was hugely useful to me a couple of years ago when I was really just beginning to delve into tea past PG Tips, but I rarely use it now. There is good info there from a select group of users, but it gets frustrating digging for it. I think rating systems are mostly useless with teas. (or maybe just useful for blends that are consistent from batch to batch, and for people who drink these kinds of teas.) I understand why some people like it, but mostly agree with your comments. I was also annoyed with how many comments in discussions were from vendors promoting themselves in a round about way.

  • gingko // September 14, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Reply

    I think steepster is good. It’s never good enough. Nothing is ever good enough. But it’s a big step for American tea world, considering its number of members and influence.

    As a vendor, I appreciate it very much that many people on steepsters truly appreciate discussions from vendors. Of course there are always self-promoting posts, and sometimes I feel steepster’s anti-spamming polices are a little too loose. But overall I like it that people there don’t see vendors as “a different species”. And overall most vendors I saw there are nice enough. That’s also one of the few places where I had opportunities to communicate with other vendors and get their valuable opinions.

    Besides, I don’t think it’s weird that teaequalsbliss of SororiTea post tons of tea reviews. She also makes tons of tweets about music. There are people like her, super enthusiastic about things. And I think, there are not enough people like her. If it’s weird, it’s in a good way. Like a friend of mine said the other day, we don’t have enough weird people in our surroundings anymore :-p

  • Bonnie // September 25, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Reply

    I was looking for a venue just like Steepster because it is just the cross section of non-snobbish tea drinkers I can relate to. I have an educated palate that I honed working in the California Wine Industry. I’ve seen my share of Wine Snobs and Tea Snobs are the same.Their own opinion of what is correct and right has become rigid, and they’re suspicious of the younger tea community that is still learning about tea.
    I for one did not get a pay-off with free Pu-erh Samples from Verdant or Butiki Tea (Purple Pu-erh) or anyone else when I joined Steepster. I was buying some awful stuff from all sorts of vendors before I looked at the ratings and decided to buy from the top rated vendors. I also have traded samples of Pu-erh from Yunnan Sourcing and Menddla (etc.) in quantities that I never would have been able to afford on a fixed disability income.
    As far as samples, I know of almost NO tea company that doesn’t send out samples with orders. A few new companies arrange tastings before launching new tea’s. I’ve never heard of a company except Teavivre sending out introductory mailings of samples in a more massive way and it is appreciated. All of us want to taste lots of tea to gain experience.
    A snob is a snob. I want the world of tea to move out of the tea-bag dust age and into a new awareness of what tea can offer for all of us. We should be able to get along. Tea is about hospitality. It is a beverage for goodness sake.

    I am 64 years old and I hope that the mud slinging stops.

    The Steepster people are at the very least kind.

    • MarshalN // September 25, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Reply

      Hi, thanks for coming here. First of all, I want to make it clear, again, that I have never met and never interacted with the people behind Steepster, other than Jason who posted here once in response to this thread. I’m sure they’re nice people. At the same time, I don’t believe personal niceness has anything to do with whether I like a product or not. Steve Jobs was a world class jerk, but people love his products. I think it’s only fair we judge a product (in this case, Steepster) on its merit alone?

      Having said that, since you mentioned that you’ve had a long experience in the wine industry, let me ask you this – if you go to a social media site that has rated a total of over 30,000 wines, and out of those 30,000, 13 of the top 28 wines listed come from the same vineyard in as diverse a number of genres as you can imagine, do you really think the algorithm in rating and ranking them is ok? This is the case with Steepster here and Verdant Tea in particular. I just went to the top 28 teas, and Verdant takes 13 of the top 28 spots. I’m pretty sure you’d agree that no winery is that good, if nothing else simply because human taste are so varied and so we don’t all like the same thing. Then why would that same rule not apply to tea? Clearly there’s something going on with the rating algorithm and the ranking mechanism that’s making this happen, and Verdant, credit to him, is very good at getting his name out there. Such close alignment between one vendor and one rating site, however, makes me suspect that something’s wrong with the rating mechanism, given the very large number of teas reviewed on the site. There are dozens of very good tea vendors in the US alone, Verdant does not have a monopoly on good tea.

      I think I already said this before, but Steepster is good at helping someone keep a log of teas they’ve tried, and to write quick notes on them. These notes are indeed public, so you can share them as you like. However, I think it fails the user by not giving them more tools to share these things in a more meaningful way. The discussion forums are a joke, mostly because of the factors I already mentioned above which I will not repeat, and also because there’s no barrier between a vendor’s blatant advertisements and users’ posts. I think a more useful forum would confine the advertisements to one section and let the users talk about teas without vendor interference in another area.

      I also mentioned how many teas on the site are not linked to anything, so trying to find them online can be a real project. So, what happens is that users who stumble on some teas might give up on it because they can’t seem to find it on the vendors’ website, possibly because the teas have been discontinued. Instead, the vendors who have a high profile on Steepster, such as Bukiti and Verdant, get all the traffic. This is not an ideal way of sharing more and better tea from more places, and this is something that I think the folks behind Steepster can fix with some effort.

      I’m all for sampling widely – I’ve said that repeatedly on this blog about the need to try things from a variety of genres, but also from a variety of vendors. Steepster can be a great tool to help people do that. Right now what I see though is that it’s primarily dominated by about half a dozen vendors, and I don’t think that’s healthy. A Steepster with less vendor interference will be a better Steepster for everyone, except those who are currently benefiting from the system, of course. This is why I like going to Teachat instead – Adagio administers it at arm’s length and never really pushes any tea there, and Chip, the moderator, does a really good job separating the tea forum from tea advertisements, so people can speak without the constant loudspeaker of tea vendors blaring at you.

      “I want the world of tea to move out of the tea-bag dust age and into a new awareness of what tea can offer for all of us. We should be able to get along. Tea is about hospitality. It is a beverage for goodness sake.” I cannot agree more. At the same time, I also want people to steer clear of vendors who sell things at inflated prices, and who withhold information from buyers because of the fear of price transparency. You wouldn’t buy a bottle of wine with the label ripped off, would you? I’ve been drinking tea seriously for 15+ years. When I see a vendor putting up smokes and mirrors, alarm bells go off. It has gone off for Verdant. This is a separate issue from Steepster, but because they are so closely related (or at least that’s what it looks like to outside observers) it’s hard to only talk about one and not the other.

      Mudslinging is when I throw insults and accusations that are completely unfounded. I’d like to think that I have at least some ground to stand on here. If you disagree with my thoughts here, I’d like to hear why. Thanks.

    • gingko // September 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Reply

      I’m with Bonnie on this. I guess I’m older than most commentors of this blog and I guess I just value more of seeing what’s positive from a new tea community than critiquing on it without a benchmark – to the general public, steepster is less useful than ______ ? I don’t see the blank filled. And steepster itself filled a blank for American tea scene. I don’t have enough time or interest to read most of the posts on steepster. But that doesn’t say anything about how useful it is. The size and activity level of steepster says it.

      • MarshalN // September 30, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Reply

        Gingko: Steepster is less useful than Teachat in advancing knowledge of tea for the wider community and as a resource for engaging others in discovering new and different teas. Is that better? Teachat doesn’t do certain things, like helping you keep a tea journal, but its organization (and moderation) is far superior in getting people talk about tea on a level that’s higher than “oh, that sounds really tasty”. I think people are responding to the headline title, rather than the substance, of my post, but I didn’t think a 40 words title is a very good idea.

        • gingko // September 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Reply

          As you put it, teachat and steepsters are different in design and functions. I do spend more time on teachat. But I also know a bunch of people who have an id on teachat but spend more time on steepsters. Part of the reason, I guess, is intimidation, which is often unintentional but constantly exists among seasoned tea drinkers. I grew up in highly intimidating education environment so I don’t get intimidated easily. But there is nothing wrong that many other people would like a more fuzzy place to hang out.

          Beside, a big difference between them is size. By teachat standard, no large tea community would be ever useful. By steepster standard, the discussion of vendors and products on teachat is of too small range and has a tendency of focusing on relatively expensive products. It’s not a problem of teachat, but simply because there aren’t as many people there. So there is always a trade off about size of the community and small and large are not comparable. One may barely gather 5 people for a book club for Ulysses, but probably 200 other people would join the Oprah book club, and there is nothing wrong with it. I guess steepster wants to be big, not elite, and that’s not a bad choice. The few times I got tea-related free stuff or big cut of price were through steepster (where I do think the removal of steepster’s choice is sort of a recession).

          Also we have to keep in mind steepster is only 3(?) years old. I guess teachat in its earlier years was by far not as good as the current teachat but I wasn’t there to have experience to compare the baby teachat with the current steepster.

          • MarshalN // October 1, 2012 at 12:23 am

            Yes, they are different, but the teachat three years ago (when it was about three years old) was already a pretty good place for people to ask and answer questions. Steepster just has a lot of noise.

            I should point out that I find it rather curious that you seem to be defending Steepster. One of the main problems I have with the site is that the ratings, as currently arranged, seems to be quite broken. I’ve already made that point above, so I won’t repeat myself. I think you’d agree with me, however, that out of 30,000 teas, one vendor dominating half of the top 28 seems to me to be pretty questionable – you’ve seen enough tea vendors to know that it doesn’t really happen, even if you are Zhou Yu. So, the only conclusion I can draw is that the rating mechanism is a little wonky, and needs fixing. My post is partly about pointing out those problems. Whether the folks at Steepster think that’s a problem or not is not something I can control – but I can point out what I see as, well, questionable.

            I’m sure, for example, if Tim of Mandarin’s Tearoom decides to do it, he can get his NYC posse to all go on Steepster and start reviewing his teas like mad. There’d be 100 reviews on there in very little time, all praising the tea to high heaven. Tim can even give them a discount for doing it – Verdant, after all, is offering exactly that kind of program where if you talk about his tea on social media, you’ll get “points” that can convert to tea. That the ratings can be easily manipulated this way is pretty troubling to me. I’m surprised you, as a vendor, don’t feel that way.

          • gingko // October 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm

            “I find it rather curious that you seem to be defending Steepster.” I guess it’s pretty much the same reason why you critique on steepsters. People think differently, as always. There are good and bad aspects on thing, as always.
            The rating system problems you pointed out happen pretty much on any large rating system. I myself am a savvy shopper and read between lines. Usually I can make sense out of some large rating system, despite of the noise. I wouldn’t get any information though, if no large rating system exists on the type of products I want to buy.

          • MarshalN // October 1, 2012 at 10:00 pm

            Of course, people think differently. I agree that any rating system is inherently flawed. That doesn’t mean it can’t be better. One where it seems like it’s easily gamed by enterprising merchants is VERY flawed, despite its very large amounts of reviews. I think it’s fair to say that there’s a lot of room for improvement, no?

            Just because you can weed through the BS doesn’t mean others can, especially since you are a tea vendor!

          • gingko // October 2, 2012 at 12:55 am

            I believe most savvy shoppers can. When I talked about reading between lines for reviews, I mean other stuff I buy, not just tea.
            Yeah I think the rating system can be improved. But it doesn’t bother me (even after I got anonymous low ratings). Low tech fake ratings themselves are informative too, and many tea drinkers would use that information to avoid certain vendors. For a few times, some fake ratings were discovered by people and I guess people just had fun on finding them out. Once it even involved some semi-professional level of IT expertise and it was a good story for people to gossip on for quite a while. It also gave a lesson that seemingly high-tech cheating, once discovered, looks completely stupid. So overall I don’t think anybody can really make a fortune by gaming the system, at least not worth the hourly rate of the labor. Even when it happens, how bad can it be? I guess I just tend to see things as more good than bad.

    • Charles T. Draper // November 2, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Reply

      Yes Bonnie….

    • beccac // June 29, 2013 at 10:16 am | Reply

      This is a year later and probably no one will see my comment here, but Bonnie, I really do appreciate yours. I’m both relatively new to decent tea and a person with a fairly well educated palate in general. I’ve been all over Steepster and totally get Marshall’s concerns, but I’ve also been all over this blog, mostly to find out how and where to get a decent deal on some good teas, and honestly, the process that emerges here for tea buying is just too arcane and complex and fraught for me to manage. Worse than Steepster on the other end of the scale, with all respect for Marshall.
      The idea that there are just two classes of consumers – vulgarians who want candy-tea or “easy”, inferior teas (suckers) and specialists who have access to inside-ish markets of the only worthy product – is as annoying to serious newcomers to tea as it is with any other item.
      Marshall, if you genuinely want to promote good tea, then might you consider assembling a really useful option to Steepster? Who ARE the most reliable and honest US vendors for various teas (rather than what is the best current version this or that particular tea, that can be had only by navigating a difficult Chinese website)? I’d love and respect your opinion on that. If you and some chosen peers could maintain an ongoing simple list of suggestions, with coherent descriptions, in various categories, for persons who are exploring, like to buy tea in smallish lots (I’d not get much educating variety without that option, and the samplers that I purchase), it would be wonderful.
      It’s easy to talk about what a very paranoid thing the Chinese tea market is, and how easy it is to be cheated by wholesalers and those who purchase their products (you’re interesting and informative on that), and it’s always easy and often correct to dismiss the opinions of the unwashed masses (your real beef with Steepster, I think), but to create that sort of tension without providing a workable resolution is somewhat withering to the budding enthusiast.
      HERE it is crazy-making. (I know that’s not the function of this blog, but if you’re going to go on about it, steer us.)
      Also, anyone who has difficulty navigating Steepster’s site or locating vendors, etc., is really not awfully good at such things in general – I think it’s a breeze. I agree re the ranking system to some extent, it’s a pop-tea mish-mosh. But trying to locate a variety of actually excellent tea to purchase in tentative quantity is either quiet easy (there are MANY vendors nowadays) or not (how to discern when the best part of the product is in clever marketing?). Are there any small, affordable, consumer-friendly importers that you approve of in general?
      As for Verdant – I’d so much rather read an unbiased tasting review from you than a put-down based apparently on popularity (that really does smell of ungrounded snobbery, I’m afraid). I’m liking their teas very much, but what do I know? Would love an actual review from you of their more popular teas, and if there’s much better that’s affordable and reasonably straightforward to acquire, perhaps you’d share.

  • Ira // September 26, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply

    one thing, among many many more, i have learnt from MarshalN, is that any tea can taste pretty good if you use less tea leaves and in a grandpa/non-gongfu style, which i feel is what a lot of beginners do – that is why, IMHO, ratings on Steepster generally fall into that 75 – 85 range.

    in addition, tea reviews on free samples would never be as subjective as when one has to pay with money. i have never received anything more than one 10 gram sample (sometimes none!) from the various vendors i buy from – with orders almost always more than $150 each and i have spent thousands of dollars. it is great that some tea vendors would send out massive samples but i also feel that dependable reviews cannot be based on free samples, that would be called promotion/advertisement and should be categorized separately as just that.

    i myself find Steepster to be useless – Steepsters please do not sling mud at me, it was not meant to be an offensive nor insult – as several times i went there via google/yahoo links for a tea that i am researching for and found a rating without review (?) or maybe one review (and always positive!) which is not helpful to me.

    i do, however, feel that some Steepsters should thank Hster that they have arrived here at MarshalN.com. this blogsite has been the most educational and eye-opening experience for me and i sincerely hope the same for everyone that comes here too.

  • john // September 30, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Reply

    With out reading all the replies, i’ll add my 0.02… When i decided earlier this year to really try to increase my tea knowledge/experience i went to lots of tea places. I was searching mostly for puerh stuff, but also general tea info.

    I started a steepster account, but found it cumbersome to really find any good info on and more work that I was willing to do at the time.

    But like all forums each has its own personality kind of and draws a certain type crowd in my opinion, and there are always snobs and others on all boards. The ones that say RTFF and you don’t have any teas in your cupboard so we don’t know what you like etc… and there are those that are helpful and share. Hmm just like the real world.

    I may go back and up date my log/cupboard but I have my own notes and find putting notes on several place too time consuming.

    • JLK // October 1, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Reply

      Agreed. I had joined Steepster a number of months back, and quickly left. It was difficult weeding through the poetic BS and getting solid information. “the liquor delicately tickled my tongue like butterfly wings.” is not solid information, it’s farking poetry. Another reason has already been addressed – top teas conveniently being of the same vendor. When I want information, I turn to TeaChat and the few blogs I frequent. They’re on my ‘follow’ list for a reason: they are respected members of the community, and I value their opinions.

  • Seth Vail // December 11, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Reply

    So much of the info on tea is experiential. Having a community of tea drinkers like steepster has opened a lot of doors for tea drinkers worldwide. Its easy to bash someone who put their best foot forward and put down their work. It almost feels like this was created as a platform to showcase something the author is working on. Look forward to seeing whats next but also definitively respect whats happening with steepster…

    • MarshalN // December 11, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Reply

      No, I’m not working on anything on that front. I just think Steepster can be a lot better if they work on certain things with regards to their user interface, etc, that allows for more in depth discussion.

  • Rae O Fearghail // May 6, 2013 at 10:03 am | Reply

    Steepster is not for me, high brow, navel gazing, elitist attitudes in most cases.
    The true experts in my opinion are the working people in the UK and their independant colonies around the world who drink working peoples tea everyday.
    They don’t give a fiddlers fig about sitting round splitting hairs about tea, they haven’t the time.
    They know what they like and drink it with no fuss.
    No need for fancy this and fancy that.
    Keep it simple.
    Find out what company’s “”sells the most tea”” in all of the UK and your 7/8th the way there.
    The masses of working people are usually never wrong.

  • tea_leaves // July 3, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Reply

    Good analysis. I agree almost completely with all your points. The signal to noise ratio on Steepster is far too low for the site to be useful.

  • Bonnie // August 17, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Reply

    It has been quite awhile. I have a little more to say.
    In the beginning of my tea journey, when Steepster was my new Disneyland and I was drinking fancy-named flavored tea’s, I had a ball! I had no idea what a gaiwan was or pu-erh.

    Because of vendor samples sent from Teavivre (and other companies), I tasted my first unflavored tea’s and my first pu-erh. This was revolutionary and changed my life.

    I have chronic migraines and fibromyalgia, and I can truly say that the change from artifically flavored tea, to unflavored and then to quality tea’s has improved the my life and health.

    Yes, I may have bumped into another website that would have helped me, but I didn’t. It was Steepster and the kind people who answered my dumb questions that helped me along.
    This is where I learned about gaiwan’s, gongfu and types of pu-erh.

    My wish list for Steepster would include to options for people who are not newbees and improvements to the rating system (which is optional and I don’t use it myself any longer).

    I’ve remained loyal. One reason is that if all the experienced tea people left there wouldn’t be anyone to mentor the new tea drinkers (there is a good core group that has been around for years and answers questions through the messaging system). Another is the kindness that goes beyond tea drinking and extends into hospitality. There is a gradual teaching about kindness that is what tea is about. I’ve seen many begin as I did with candy-tea and end up
    loving unflavored tea’s including sheng and shu pu-erh.

    Marshaln-You can’t blame the vendors for promoting their tea, people drinking and enjoying it.

    If you have better tea, write a review! Don’t sit on the sideline and complain! You end up sounding like you’re envious of other peoples success and it’s childish.

    What would happen if people who are knowledgeable about tea, like Marshal, offered advice on their favorite tea?
    If it isn’t on Steepster, don’t fault the members for lack of knowledge. Add the tea, and write a review? People just might want to try the tea!

    • MarshalN // August 18, 2013 at 11:05 am | Reply

      I don’t want to beat a dead (and by now rotting) horse. Let me just say that the gist of my argument remains the same – and I think your wish list pretty much reflect that too – which is the noise to signal ratio is far too high on Steepster. There’s no way to tell which review to trust, there’s no way to tell which reviews are real, and there’s no way to calibrate any of the reviews by different people of the same tea (i.e. someone’s 70 is someone else’s 80). So, the whole thing looks really good and useful, but I think only the self-journaling part is actually well served by the site.

      I don’t doubt it works out on an individual level – I never criticized Steepster on those grounds, and there are of course vendors eager to pass out samples there. I was only challenging their claim that their rating and review system actually serves a useful function in helping people find tea – I think they are smokes and mirrors that we’re better off without. For example, they still don’t link you to vendors’ pages directly. It’s not that hard, and it’s the first thing to do if they actually want to help people find teas. If I’m not mistaken, you still need to 1) google the store, 2) navigate their website, and 3) find the tea in question (if it still exists, which it may or may not). Integration there would be at least useful, and they don’t have to do it themselves – they can just give vendors the option to do it. Instead, they trap you on the site.

  • sdfsdf // October 7, 2013 at 11:06 pm | Reply

    i have a problem with the tea reviews/scores. i posted a topic about the problems that occur with the review process on steepster, and i was flacked by the community. supposedly, a new comer doesn’t have the “power” to post something like that. they call themselves a “loving community of people who enjoy tea.” well, that isn’t the case when you indicate the flaws.

    it’s a useless site. it’s filled with people who don’t get straight to the point. they don’t focus on the tea, they put their focus around the tea, if that makes sense. they have to share every single piece of information before they arrive at reviewing the tea they’ve tasted.

    • hanna // January 25, 2014 at 9:59 am | Reply

      the ratings algorithm on steepster is screwed. there’s a list on a news website listing “the world’s best teas” and currently everybody on steepster is having a blast ripping to to shreds. conveniently, no one is saying anything about the ‘best teas’ rated on steepster and how 90% of the tea on the first page comes only from three insanely expensive companies.

      strange that steepster is making fun of a tea called pg tips for being on the list but is saying absolutely nothing about the fact that a random tea given 88/100 from only 5 ratings 3 years ago makes it onto the first page of the so called top rated teas in the world.

      through with the site completely.

  • Norah // January 7, 2014 at 5:35 am | Reply

    I completely agree. I had a Steepster account for about a month before I deleted. Snobby, elitist people who don’t like tea half as much as they like bragging about their extensive knowledge of ripe vs. raw puerhs and *insert useless overpriced electronic tea gadgets here*.

    The general thinking on Steepster is that if a tea is bagged and/or you can buy it out of a supermarket, it clearly must be of an almost criminally inferior quality and that anybody who buys it, or worse, enjoys it, is by default an unrefined, uneducated hillbilly who thinks that Lipton is the drink of kings.

    Obviously, say the people of Steepster, the only teas that are even remotely worthy of praise are those that come from small online vendors that charge $25 for a single ounce of tea. “Twinings? PG Tips? Non-variable temperature kettles? Oh gosh golly does anybody actually use those dreadful things? :O”

    When I had an account, one of the funniest yet most infuriating things to do was read people’s tasting notes.

    Review of a $50 Keemun: “Oh, this is one just delightful. There’s a rich smoothness here, a delicately balanced astringency, and a beautiful mix of malty, earthy, and almost buttery flavors. I can see myself drinking this tea while reading John Green under the balmy Parisian sun.”

    Review of Twinings Lady Grey: “Uh. I don’t know if it’s because my pallet has become too refined, but this is pretty nasty. I heard whispers that Twinings was pretty decent for a supermarket brand but I guess they were wrong :/”

    When it comes to bagged vs. loose leaf tea, I prefer loose leaf a thousand times over. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let a bunch of pompous high-hats tell me that I “don’t know real tea” because I enjoy a nice cup of bagged Taylors’ Yorkshire tea once in a while and prefer to make my tea in a normal teapot and not a $250 Breville One Touch.

    Lastly, I do agree that the ratings system is pretty warped. If you check out the highest rated black teas, almost the entire first page is composed of nothing but Butiki and Verdant teas. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tasted Butiki teas before and they’re delicious, but best in the world out of the thousands upon thousands of tea vendors worldwide? Don’t quite think so.

  • John // January 7, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Reply

    Well it seems to me that this rant is useless. Sure, Steepster might not be perfect and there are many areas that can be improved on, but it’s true that if not for this website, I wouldn’t have discovered the vendors and their teas that I now enjoy. There simply isn’t a better place to discover and log teas right now than Steepster.

  • Ryan Terry // April 10, 2014 at 11:02 am | Reply

    I opened this article already relatively sure that I’d disagree (I, probably along with many on the internet, have a bad habit of doing this), but your points are all valid. As someone just getting into tea (finally getting over the initial bump that is Teavana) I found it useful to browse around and enjoy the communal feel, but now that I’ve expanded my cupboard I’m finding it to be more of a time-waster than anything else. All reviews tend to be overly-positive, and the “forum” is truly a mess. It’s nice to see all the available (and unavailable) teas in one place, but getting from the tea page to where you can actually buy the tea seems to be missing entirely, which is a surprising lack of functionality. And with nearly every single tea page saying “Currently Unavailable”, that’s useless. The “Average Preparation”, which I thought would be the best part of the site, is also fairly useless when considering it’s an AVERAGE and when adding your steep time you’re only able to enter one time despite the possibility of numerous infusions (1-15s, 2-30s, 3-45s, 4-1m15s, 5-1m45s, etc).

    Anyway, I appreciate the occasional being-proven-wrong when reading an article title and rolling my eyes. It results in fewer future potential eye rolls.

    • MarshalN // April 11, 2014 at 12:31 am | Reply

      Thanks for the comment. I appreciate a comment that isn’t based on the headline but rather the substance of the post. Now that Steepster is selling their own tea the whole rating scheme thing is, IMHO, further compromised, and they have even less incentive to send you to vendors from the reviews.

    • Alex // July 8, 2014 at 6:31 am | Reply

      “All reviews tend to be overly-positive”

      I completely agree. It’s like every review consists of either “Best tea EVER!!! Can’t BELIEVE how amazing this is!!! 100!!!” or “YUCK. Don’t know what went wrong but this one’s definitely not for me sorry.” There’s hardly any middle ground so the ratings system loses it credibility very quickly.

      The presence of tea vendors on Steepster is unique, but it also tends to disrupt the ratings. It seems that most users are almost too afraid to say what they actually think of the tea out of fear of hurting the vendors’ feelings. I experienced the same thing when I was on Steepster; I would taste a tea that was either bland and unremarkable or just plain bad, but because the owner of the tea company was so nice I would increase my rating by about 20 points and make my review much too positive.

      I ended up deleting my account a couple of months after I really became interested in tea. At first it was a great and informative way of discovering new teas, but towards the end, it was like you said, a time-waster.

  • John Grebe // April 11, 2014 at 12:46 am | Reply

    I agree with you more than ever. At first I was an initial Steepster fan as I liked how it made it easy for me to keep track of my tea. But now after the remake to try to sell you stuff it has become too much of a pain for me to use anymore. Not to mention I realized that my real problem was that I was buying too much time sensitive tea at a time if I needed a website to help me keep track of my collection on hand.

  • jimvan49 // June 23, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Reply

    I enjoy the discussion board on steepster – especially the pu-erh of the day, sheng or shu discussion which has been going strong for over a year. I also keep track of which teas I own on the site. I don’t like the ratings section but do contribute to the notes on specific teas. I’ve met and enjoyed a number of people and learned how their tastes are similar and different from my own. All in all, I like the site despite its documented faults.

  • Dee Sallows // June 26, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Reply

    I did try Steepster, really gave it my best shot. I was new to tea and everything was fascinating…
    and then I became aware of something. People get free tea for reviews. Seriously, if this is your livelihood and you get free tea, are you going to be honest about it being bad? A lot of these high priced gyokuro teas are nothing more than good sencha. Now I can tell the difference, and the truth is not in Steepster. Talk all you want about notes and liquor, terroir and age, if you are getting free tea and your business depends on free tea, you are not going to express less than a four star rating for a piece of crap.

  • Cwyn // July 11, 2014 at 2:21 am | Reply

    Well, nobody needs to accept free tea, although as a student working my way through school, no loans mind you, I’d have taken free tea if someone offered me the fine teas being offered now. Sure beats the plantain leaves I was picking from the lawn to steep. Another fine thing about Steepster: no one has bleeped out my cuss words yet.

    • Dee Sallows // July 11, 2014 at 11:33 am | Reply

      Yes, I would accept free tea too, but I wouldn’t review it. As for no one bleeping out your comments, it means they don’t care and don’t need to worry.
      Even without cynicism, you have to assume that some portion of this wonderful beverage is counterfeit . There is a statement at the bottom of my Zhejiang Lung Ching to beware of such.
      Why believe Steepster 4/5 star ratings when they are selling it ? Do you believe used car salesmen ? Believe every quack promotion from Dr Oz ?
      I have also found a great difference between brand name teas and the exact same teas that I can buy at an Asian supermarket. Try it.
      Even if you allow for the parameters of individual taste, no way is something going to be universally acclaimed as wonderful, as Steepster does over and over and over.
      Buy tea, enjoy it, even have a religious experience with it, if that is your inclination, but don’t succumb to “Sheepster”. Open eyes and open heart.

      • Cwyn // July 16, 2014 at 9:18 pm | Reply

        I don’t spend any time looking at Steepster teas. I spend my time with reviews written by people with extensive tea experience in puerh tea. All of these people are on my following list and vice versa, all participate on more than one tea forum and all are reading the same blogs, if not writing them, including MarshalN’s blog which everyone reads and enjoys.

        Your post just indicates a lack of experience with the community of hard core puerh drinkers on Steepster and elsewhere. Nobody pays any attention to the rating system. What we are doing is reading what experienced people are drinking and the notes they have made to themselves. The location of this exchange is purely circumstantial. TeaChat and other forums are mostly dead. What makes a site good is the quality of people participating, not the format, which can be bad or good. I am not sure how opening my heart is going to get me better tea, but I am fairly certain that good steeping notes from experienced tea drinkers have and will.

        • Dee Sallows // July 17, 2014 at 12:33 am | Reply

          My point is valid, regardless of how much community I am involved with. I am not so foolish as to judge Pu-erh, this is a delicacy that requires far more time and disposable income than I have. However, all reviewed teas seem to carry the same endless 4 star review even when something is very bad. I bought Gyokuro today, a five star tea of a brand much loved by Steepster and it’s posters and was so disappointed when I came home. There was no whisper of green astringency, no soft bite to the palate, no sweet trip to the hills of Japan. It was dead tea, flat and atonal. I have had better fannings and dust from a teabag, and that is such a shame.
          Part of the mystical quality of tea is it’s intransigence. I know it will be different and yet the same, but at some point you have to define excellence as opposed to sub par.
          BTW, if you ever want to unload some extra Pu-erh, please give me a shout…:)

        • MarshalN // July 18, 2014 at 10:22 am | Reply

          While it may be true that someone who spends a lot of time on Steepster realizes that their rating system is useless, to the casual tea drinker who just hopped on from a search engine that is far from clear. They might even think it’s like the yelp of tea and will use it as a guide, and end up buying lots of overpriced crap from places like Verdant.

  • Steve S. // July 15, 2014 at 6:09 am | Reply

    Steepster fools me into visiting. Often I google a specific tea I want to learn about and Steepster is very good at appearing on the first page or two of results even when it has zero reviews for it, wasting my time. They probably tweak their SEO to bring in anything with the word pu-erh in it. So congrats, Steepster webmasters. You do get me onto your site occasionally, but just realize that it just makes me hate you.

    • Cwyn // July 16, 2014 at 9:22 pm | Reply

      Steepster isn’t fooling you, Google bots crawl forums multiple times a day. The search takes a keyword based on the number of hits. So if you type MarshalN into Google search, you get MarshalN. Nice when it works, but regardless of the keyword search, expect search results to give you a list based on hits. Most retailers online exploit this by raising their hits in order to push their listing to the top of a search, it is a common and wise internet retailing strategy.

      • Hster // July 17, 2014 at 1:00 am | Reply

        This post is on the very first page of a google search on “Steepster” which can’t be pleasing the founders of Steepster. I’ve written off Steepster so long ago but I’m surprised this thread is still going strong.

      • James // July 17, 2014 at 1:27 am | Reply

        Tangential, but this is not totally true. Steepster does well because they have far more links than nearly all vendors. This gives them a huge advantage on any page they create. The reviews also help, because steepster product pages will often have more information than the vendor’s page that actually sells the tea!

  • Steve S. // July 17, 2014 at 12:59 am | Reply

    Interesting. How do internet retailers raise their hits?

  • Cwyn // July 19, 2014 at 12:41 am | Reply

    There are any number of ways to raise your hit count. A retailer can pay for higher placement outright, if they wish. They can use a bot program to hit their site over and over. Or, offer their friends free beer to search for their site repeatedly, if drunk enough and at a party of similarly drunk friends, that will definitely increase the hit count.

    Changing content frequently will eventually get the search engine spider bots to crawl your site more often. A good way of frequently changing content is to attach a discussion forum to your site, hence Teachat (Adagio) and Steepster. All those reviews and tea entries keep right on adding to the hit counts and increases search placement. Our comments here are doing the same for Steepster and MarshalN.

    Lots of folks review teas on Steepster and don’t use the number system. Twodog deliberately gives all teas an 88 as his way of dealing with the system. Statistically speaking, a 0-100 score, with a sufficiently large enough sample, could approach a normal Z distribution, although it can be successfully argued tea drinking is an entirely subjective, and hence relative, experience, not lending itself well to discreet and consistently measurable variables. That brings us back to the eternal question of “how do we find good tea?” Even if the bandwagon fallacy is applicable to Steepster reviews, so does statistics of small numbers fallacy apply to tea blogs, but hey, we have to start somewhere when choosing tea. Steepster has some great tasters whose opinion I read with interest.

  • Yang-chu // August 1, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Reply

    I feel the point you make about the lack of pictures to be quite valid, as well as your point about linking to a respective site’s page for further examination. This is why I decided to create a “pintrest for the tea enthusiast” preserving what I felt was good about Steepster, it’s community nature, while enhancing interactivity by allowing members who join for free to post pics and video. I’m still beta testing it. I’d appreciate your input.

    By trade I’m a licensed acupuncturist first trained in sinology. My practice had me rediscovering pu’er to help patients with digestive issues, particularly those related to fat-metabolism. I found many of the pu’er offerings to the English only audience rather handsomely priced for the quality, so I made a trip to Yunnan and have been doing a bit of importing ever since. Many of these teas are presented on the Universotea.com site for sharing purposes, others can be purchased by contacting me directly.

    I know the matter of self-promotion can be a touchy subject. Universotea.com makes no differentiation between those promoting a tea or teaware and someone just showing off. The central criterion is visual appeal and to that extent all community members compete freely. No system is perfect, my intention is that this site goes a long way toward building upon what Steepster has undoubtedly started for many.

  • Cindy // September 5, 2014 at 9:34 am | Reply

    Hi Marsha,

    I just discovered this entry post because I wholly agree. I’m a UI/UX developer and front-end developer by trade and really think Steepster needs an overhaul. The UI is not exactly the most compelling visually and a lot of the stats and ratings are useless to me personally. I don’t have the time to go through 50 pages of reviews to search for a good one and that 70-85 range really irritates me as well. What differentiates a 74 from a 77? Why not use the Yelp 1-5 rating? That’s a general enough ballpark to let users know what to expect. I’m not sure if they’ve revamped their search algorithm either, but honestly that shouldn’t take more than a month or two to develop a fairly robust algorithm (cough I’m looking at you, regex, though trie is theoretically the most robust if I remember from my algorithms class). Normally I wouldn’t comment on such things but I recently had a programming interview for a search algorithm and while I sweated for 4 days straight, I was able to develop a fairly robust one in 4 days after trying several different combinations of methods to do it. I’m haven’t even graduated and held a full-time job yet nor am I the smartest person in my major at my school so there’s no reason the creators at Steepsters wouldn’t be able to achieve it either. Maybe they are just focusing on expanding Steepster beyond a tea blogging kind of website? If so, I also have mixed feelings about the shop they opened. Steepster is a “brand” I know as a tea review site, not a place to buy teas. I think it’d been a better idea to open up shop as a whole separate website with a different name (say, “Steepster Selects” or something) and just have a link to it where it opens in a new tab.

    I’m not sure how their back-end is done (the way they’re pulling, creating, and storing their data or what kind of datastructure they’re using) and I wonder if they just have so much data (according to their website, over 50k tea variety reviews and other stats) to parse through that it’s too big a monster to battle without upsetting users or creating a ton of work for them (for example, the process of merging stuff like “teavivre” with “Teavire Company” and misc reviews under both – would the reviews get merged or would the one with 7 reviews get deleted while the one with a billion reviews be kept?).

    Are you familiar with StackOverflow at all? I believe that system would be great for Steepster. Have to have a minimum of 15 “points” via commenting (other people have to upvote your post in order to gain points) so it ensures that you know what you’re talking about. You unlock privileges the more points you get, so something like you earn the ability to submit new teas or vendors after you reach a new level. If a user only drinks tea that no one has heard of or from a brand new company, allow them to reach those points by wishlisting minimum 20 teas or something like that so they can see what tea pages look like and what information is needed when submitting a new vendor or variety.,

    What I’m really confused by is that the guys at Steepster are web developers by trade but the website leaves a lot to be desired – I’ve been on Steepster for several years now and it looks largely the same, except they added the Steepster tea shop. Perhaps the devs spend more time on back end development? I saw that they were hiring for a marketing position recently and really think they should have been hiring an ui/ux researcher instead so they can better tailor the site for the users. Who are their users? I would like to assume that most people that register on Steepster are passionate about tea or want to take it to the next level, and not your run-of-the-mill Lipton drinker. However, since Steepster is the only website like it, it’s kind of like a monopoly so perhaps all sorts of users are on it. Also hopefully the creators know, but there needs to be an emphasis on the Cupboard functionality as it seems like it’s the most valuable aspect of Steepster…

    So I basically rambled and wrote this in a hurry, so hopefully what I’m saying makes sense. If the creators of Steepster reads this, know that I am not trying to attack you – I wholly adore tea and had high expectations signing up for Steepster (your front page tells me all the reasons why I need to use it) but it didn’t quite fulfill the expectations I had. I guess my questions to you Marsha, and perhaps others that are reading this, is what would you do in order to improve Steepster?


  • kirkoneill1988 // November 4, 2015 at 7:12 pm | Reply

    i agree steepster needs some work and is a work in progress. however i use it not really for the notes, as my memory is good enough, but rather as a blog site but not for full blogs. rather small ones but honest reviews. i do not have the skill nor interest nor time to make my own (full) blog site and use it. hope to hear from you MarshalN

  • kirkoneill1988 // November 5, 2015 at 1:09 pm | Reply

    plus yes the ratings can be a little biased. but i try a tea with cautiom

    • MarshalN // November 12, 2015 at 9:13 pm | Reply

      This is a pretty old post – I’m sure some things have changed. I noticed, however, that the same problem with scores, discussions, and dead links to vendor pages is still a problem (many of the “best teas” are stuff from the past, which can no longer be bought). So maybe things haven’t changed that much.

  • Kim Eric // October 11, 2016 at 1:44 pm | Reply

    Hi, I know this is an old post but I was wondering if you’ve found another tea-journaling site that you would recommend instead? (Even if it’s a not very active one.)

  • Jonah // December 21, 2017 at 10:41 am | Reply

    I agree that Steepster is useless. Perhaps if there were more categories for things like Garbage Tea which would include David’s Tea, for example and a special forum for just for excessive reviews of the garbage teas by verbose reviewers who seem to have nothing to do other than drink or pretend to drink the garbage tea and write “reviews” that include the full banal details of their personal lives. That way people like Sil, Roswell Strange, Arby, Evolving Ness and Rosehips who I suspect are all the same person judging by the “writing” styles, poor punctuation and syntax could spew in splendor the ohhs and ahhs of their over flavored and disgusting rooibos concoctions. Really doubt that one human drinks as much tea in a day as she/they claim to. It feels like all the interesting, intelligent posters and reviewers have migrated elsewhere or else they can’t be bothered anymore.

  • Paras Holidays // January 18, 2018 at 3:25 am | Reply

    Hello, I distinguish this is an old post but I was speculating if you’ve found additional tea-journaling site that you would indorse instead.

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