January 4, 2013
Dear Mr. Walker,
From one tea-lover to another, Mr. Walker, let me start on a positive note. You’ve done a lot for tea over the years. Regular video reviews, a consistent scoring system, one of the founders of the ATB. Very nice, well done. Lots of us who love tea inordinately would love to make a career out of it, and not only that, be considered a “big player” in the industry, who feels they can charge money to the public to read “exclusive content”. I know I would, except maybe that last part.
So I’m coming at this letter from a position of respect, albeit respect from a distance without actually liking you very much. That respect has since evaporated, and I certainly don’t like you any more now, due to a recent blog post of your yours. The one where you called TeaTrade, quote, a “clusterfuck”. I have chosen to omit your original censoring because I believe sentiments this strong should not be sugarcoated. My own sentiments in this letter are not going to be sugarcoated, either, so I hope you can handle a little salty language directed at your own person.
Where to start with calling a website a “clusterfuck”? Let’s start with this: how utterly and completely unprofessional. You sir, who have made a living in the tea industry, should know better than to talk about fellow professionals in such a manner. I’m not opposed to strong opinions, I have them myself, and believe they should be voiced more often. But not in the way you did, not by being an asshole, on a professional website. Some degree of tact would have been called for, at the very least. Not everything has to be wishy-washy and sanitized to avoid hurting people’s feelings, but the website you so “wittily” called a clusterfuck is somebody’s professional livelihood. Imagine if the CEO of Google called Yahoo, say, a “complete fucking disaster”. Of course, Google stands to benefit from that statement, just as you, I would argue, would stand to benefit from people going to your site instead of TeaTrade. Remember those Apple ads where the Apple Dude made fun of the PC Schlub all the time? Funny, but it made Apple look like complete dicks, and didn’t really endear them to people who maybe didn’t like Apple to begin with and might have been won over by good advertising.
I can afford to be an snarky asshole sometimes, Mr. Walker, because I am not a professional. I can be catty about, say, David’s Tea or Teavana as much as I like because I don’t stand to benefit from that criticism. Should I enter the tea business as a vendor, you can bet your sweet bippy that I would NOT call them what I call them now. It’s just not good business to call your competition horrible. It lessens you. Best to play the positive game.
The above wouldn’t apply to you if you were just a blogger, Mr. Walker, but you charge money to folks to access certain content on your site. That makes you a kind of business, and that means you play by different rules.
Let’s move on to your criticism of TeaTrade itself: It’s not a very good marketplace. Well, maybe it isn’t, but that’s not the point of the website. I joined TeaTrade on invitation from the site owners, and I liked what I saw: a good community of tea bloggers and tea friends. The marketplace is a secondary thing, which might explain why it’s not in the best shape. Yes, TeaTrade’s tagline is “Tea’s Social Marketplace”, and maybe that should change. But the key part there is “Social”. We get together on TeaTrade and talk about tea, that most social of beverages. Yes, there is a marketplace on the side, much in the same way that some blogs have sales. If the marketplace isn’t the greatest, well, so fuckin’ what? I haven’t seen TeaTrade primarily as a place to sell tea in quite some time. At all, in fact. Which makes your criticism of the whole site quite myopic, and frankly more mean spirited than it already was.
Now, I said before that I didn’t really like you. That wasn’t entirely true. I simply wasn’t a fan, which is not the same as outright hating you. I find your videos to be dispassionate and boring, and your blog posts to be terse and not particularly well-written. Is this mean-spirited of me? It might be, but I always tempered my criticism with a fundamental respect for what you were doing. Certainly your business wasn’t affected, and not a lot of people really care what I have to say, anyways.
For some reason, people DO care what you say. And your comments about TeaTrade may have very well affected the business of two very hardworking people who have kept this site afloat on not that much money, and until very recently without advertisements (advertisements being something you openly ask for on your own site). TeaTrade may not be the slickest website on the internet, it isn’t perfect, but it’s my home, it’s where my friends are, and I will defend it from pointless slander to the best of my ability. It’s a clusterfuck I love.
Christopher Gibson, AKA Happy Gaiwan