In 2004, Josh Chamberlain started to build up his business and eventually opened J-TEA on Friendly St. 2007. Since J-TEA’s renovation in 2010, it has become one of Eugene’s most unique tea houses. Chamberlain became extremely educated about tea after living in Taiwan for six years. He visits Taiwan twice a year to maintain relationships with tea masters and growers that he met during his time there. During his visits, he selects teas that J-TEA will feature and distribute.
Q: Why did you start blogging?
A: Originally, I have no idea why, other than to try and share. I started blogging a long time ago about tea. But then recently I have been getting more and more into social media. I have always been drawn to blogging because I know that it generates online sales, and I know that it generates more of a national brand.
Q: Are there any problems that you run across in blogging?
A: One of the big problems for me for blogging is just that I am doing everything myself, I have employees, but I run the shop, and by the time I get home I am too tired to get the stories in there.
Q: Is that one of the reasons why you actually have guest bloggers on your site?
A: Yes, and that is what I learned from a social media person on Twitter that I was following. I think it was called “INK Magazine”. They said the key thing to do about blogging is don’t do it yourself. It is sort of like an editor of a magazine trying to write all of the articles, too.
Q:You mentioned a past in blogging, what are some things you discovered through that?
A: Well, you know one of the key things for me about blogging is to keep in mind that I am not trying to sell something. I think that is boring. If I go and review my teas, and push my teas, I think it is sort of transparent. Meaning that some people might think that “this guy is just trying to sell his tea,” it is not an effective way to sell tea. The more effective way is to inform someone or to share a story. They can then take something away that they have had a connection with, and it effects them on a deeper level. This is more inline with what tea culture is.
Q: What started your interest in tea?
A: I lived in Taiwan for 6 years, and I have these relationships with these tea masters in Taiwan. I have experiences that are very unique. I speak Chinese and I have a cultural window into Taiwan that I feel is of value. I am always trying to find an avenue to share with people, and tea provides that.
Q: What is tea culture like in Taiwan?
A: It is like what coffee is here in the northwest. It is everywhere. Also, the tea houses there are a place where people come from to meet. It helps them brainstorm or relax.
Q: Does tea culture in Taiwan focus more on a spiritual aspect?
A: It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. It is very individual, the relationship with tea. There are people who are say Buddhist who bring elements of that into tea. However, not everyone. In fact the majority, no.
Q: What makes tea culture unique in Taiwan?
A: What is really cool in Taiwan is that it is not just about tea there. It incorporates potters, poets, writers, photographers and artists from all disciplines who come together around tea.
Q: Just to bring it back to your blog site, what do you look for in your guest bloggers?
A: They are my people. What I mean by that is that they are under my wing. We have a relationship. I haven’t gone beyond that. For example, I have many consumers who are very involved in learning about tea. Their experiences are profound, so at some point I ask them to write. It is so open, and there is so much you can talk about. I am not interested in what 90% of people have to say about tea, really. It depends on what your relationship with tea is. We have a focus: tea culture. But, in order to get people into what I am talking about or what tea culture is in my mind, because it doesn’t exist here. We are defining it, so it has to have direction. We brainstorm and we sort of think about what will be relevant to the tea world.
Q: If you were talking to someone interested in learning more about tea culture or defining it as you said, what would you advise?
A: Part of getting people more into the tea culture is making it something they can relate to. Most people who don’t have a lot of experience with tea, I want them to connect it to their life right now. Say they just had a cup of coffee, and it made them feel certain way. My hope is to help them think “oh maybe if I had tea, I would feel different,” or “this is how I feel different”. We also used to do a class here. The point of it was to get someone to look at twenty different teas, just as they look from their outward appearance, and be comfortable making those teas. You can tell a lot from a tea’s outward appearance. One thing I would tell American tea drinkers is to stay away from flavored teas. Not like, stay away as in don’t drink them. But, if you really want to learn about tea, buy tea that is not scented or flavored. What real tea experts know is that the only reason you would ever scent a tea is because it is flawed. If you drink tea that is of low quality, it will give you side effects. It will make you have acid reflex or it will hurt your stomach a little bit. But with high quality tea, that isn’t the case, your body can tell. If you stay away from flavored teas, you will have a closer idea of what the tea is. Go looseleaf, that is number one. Second is to go unflavored. Keep your mind open, and keep trying. In the tea industry we refer to that as tuition. Be open to trying things, and if you don’t like it, that is okay. But give it a second chance.