The Internet's very own tea party!

By Christine Rillo

Jack Cheng

Jason Roos

Mike Potter

Tea, like certain other beverages, can be a communal experience. At tea parties and after dinner dessert sessions, people sit over steaming cups of tea, sip and discuss the events of the day and each others' lives. The conversation is also turning to actual tea, as it becomes more of a drink that people are taking note of; not unlike beer and wine whose imbibers scour to try as many different varieties as possible. The community aspect of tea is now taking on a different dimension: tea connoisseurs and those who aspire to learn more about tea gathering to taste all the kinds of tea out there. It could be an exotic first flush Darjeeling or a fun flavored tea that brings tea drinkers together.

Of course, as tea is still a somewhat niche drink among the masses, one tea drinker may find it hard to find fellow enthusiasts within their immediate circles. This is where technology can come in and provide this missing community outlet for our poor tea drinker. Message boards, blogs, and Facebook applications have popped up devoted to tea, but there is one unique website that provides both a community outlet and organizing tool: is the brainchild of Jack Cheng, Mike Potter, and Jason Roos (it is the first product from their company, Disrupto). Steepster is basically an online tasting journal- a 'tea-log'. Users sign up and can record all the teas they drink, no matter what the brand or type. Users can also add friends who also use Steepster and see what is in their cup.

Steepster came about when Jack was trying to give up coffee. Inundated by the vast types of teas he came across on this new journey, he felt the need to record tasting notes on what he was drinking. He formulated something for his own use to keep his concise notes and after making good use of it, he realized he wanted to share it with other tea drinkers, as they might find a site like the one he built handy. Along with Mike and Jason, they worked diligently while enjoying many cups of tea and built the beta version of Steepster.

The site has really become a true form of social media. Through keeping a tea-log, it makes it easier for the tea drinker to keep track of what they're enjoying and their feelings about each particular tea. In turn, sharing this information creates a network among other tea drinkers where one can discover new teas. It's reassuring to compare your notes of a certain tea to another's and see if you agree or disagree-plus as Jack points out, you can understand the context of these recommendations by finding users who have similar tastes to yours. Sure, there might be another tea drinker that agrees with you on a first-flush Nilgiri, but you might find that their tastes coincide with more flavored and blended varieties, whereas yours veer toward single-estate beauties.

It's a fantastic way to figure out your next tea purchase-Steepster makes this even easier by linking some teas and brands directly to their respective websites. It is becoming quite a marketing tool for many online tea companies. Steepster boasts the internet's largest tea database (at 4000 teas, the number growing almost daily), completely user-generated. The Steepster team also hopes that their site will become an 'IMDB for teas'. If you're not familiar with IMDB, it is the internet's foremost movie site; their goal is for Steepster to become the first place for someone to look up virtually any tea that exists on the planet, no matter who sells it, where its grown, or what it tastes like.

Steepster's future depends on their user base, which is continuing to grow each day. The Steepster community is hands down the site's best feature, since the site would not exist if not for passionate tea lovers worldwide. Steepster's aim is to keep on growing, and they are constantly working on improving the way the site interacts with the users that connect to it.

'We firmly believe the best way to get more people hooked on tea is through other tea drinkers,' states Jack. The tea community on Steepster is helping to spread the word on good tea, merely through reviews and the people who use it. The users are what make the site and from a recent survey of their users they are a wise and educated bunch: many of them state they are the ones who their friends go to for tea advice. Steepster puts their users in the center of the site's interactions and aims to build a reputation as being a credible source for all things teas.

The Steepster crew keeps busy with maintaining their site as well as keeping up with the latest technology, and of course brainstorming about what other things can be done to make Steepster even more efficient and useful to tea drinkers. They hope to work on a smart phone application to make it even easier for those to share their tea reviews. Steepster hopes to take the educational aspect of their site and expand on it. The site is constitantly generating new knowledge and they are also doing so through other social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, by sending out and sharing links on tea related news, stories, and products. is a great tool for the tea novice to take with them as they embark on their tea journey. The site is an excellent way to fuse this time-honored drink, community, and ever changing technology in our society. As Jack so eloquently puts, "To us, tea and technology go hand in hand- with everything moving so quickly, tea's a perfect way of slowing things down!"

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