I happen to serve as the Pennsylvania state coordinator for www.Teamap.com
. Simply put, I like to visit tea rooms and drink tea. I have no formal authority, nor am I compensated by Adagio in any way, notwithstanding a cute little space for my picture. I yet find myself in a uniquely uncomfortable position.
Tea Map is a great resource for locating a decent cup of tea. It has an efficient design with handy organizational features, while users have the freedom to maintain the site from the bottom-up with their additions and comments. With all this freedom for user input, Tea Map can be many things to many people. I therefore have a hard time understanding how any user could feel like s/he is being misled. Amazingly, this is the case.
I encounter many reviews that complain that a particular establishment is "not a real tea room." I would like to point out that Adagio is not visiting each of these establishments, certifying them as "authentic tea rooms," nor would any one entity be capable of doing so. I feel lucky that so many businesses that serve loose-leaf tea are surfacing, and there is one website where we can locate them. As long as it's in a room, that's tea room enough for me, although I would be eager to visit any open-air establishments also. I would love to see some "authentic tea room" purists battle it out over a set of standards. Does an authentic tea room have to serve flavored Earl Grey with blue flowers? Must there be pink wall paper? I am sure they would all agree finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off must be presented on three-tiered etageres. This is starting to sound dangerously similar to debates of other contemporary social issues, but this narrow conception of what a tea room must be is by no means rooted in historical necessity.
We are all to be forgiven our foibles and prejudices, but it is important to realize how they do not serve our interests. In my function as "Pennsylvania state coordinator for Teamap.com," I have been directly contacted by the proprietors of several Pennsylvania tea rooms, and they all have the same complaint. They encounter negative, snippy reviews of their tea rooms (or even other tea rooms!) and subsequently want their listing removed. Apparently, users of Tea Map are so undesirable that free advertising targeting them is not worth it. I would hate to hear how many of us it takes to change a light bulb. Because of our poor behavior, the amount of tea room options available to is is diminishing. For all our complaining about Starbucks coffee, I imagine there will come a time when a large tea room franchise engulfs the market, settling our squabbles once and for all.
Before that time comes, let us be generous to our tea room owners and ourselves. Please support your local tea rooms by posting reviews highlighting their unique strengths. If there is something you do not like, be specific; those who do not share your tastes can respectfully disagree with your opinion, rather than being assailed with your indignation. Better yet, speak with the tea room owner directly. Their presence might prevent you from saying the kind of snippy things that can easily crop up on anonymous chat boards.