‘Affordable luxuries’ are the new buzz word in consumerism. Artisan chocolatiers promote the concept, as do wine producers, liquor producers, hand-roasted coffee companies and many others. Yes, the most expensive cheese or bottle of scotch is for most of us an affordable luxury when compared to the cost of a new car, fine antiques or precious jewelry.
As the holiday time approaches, we assist many customers who are looking to purchase gifts of tea for friends and family. We often find that those who are new tea drinkers or folks who themselves are not tea drinkers don’t understand what a truly affordable luxury premium tea is. Which is unfortunate, because of all the affordable luxuries, premium tea, when it is being sold at a fair market price and not trumped up in price, may be the best value of all.
The true value of tea goes beyond mere cost. But here, I am not talking about the ‘value’ of flavor or the ‘value’ of the hand labor involved in cultivating and manufacturing premium leaf. Of course both of these are essential components of premium tea and core reasons ( along with a few others such as tea bush varietal or cultivar and terroir ) why premium tea is so different from ( and much better tasting than ) what one finds on the grocer’s shelves or in fancy tea packages that are all marketing puff but no substance.
What I am talking about instead is the ‘value’ of the cost-per-serving of premium tea. I used to be dis-heartened when a customer would immediately react to the price of premium teas ( all fairly priced and not overpriced, I might add ) with a heart-clutching reaction. But now I view that response as an opportunity to educate a potential tea customer to the cost breakdown of premium tea.
We politely explain the following to customers in our store and share it with you here, too.
A pound of small-leaf black tea such as Keemun Hao Ya A or a SFTGFOP Darjeeling estate-grown tea yields approximately 200 cups of tea when measured at the traditional ratio of 2 grams (or 1 teaspoon) of leaf per 6 ounces of water. ( This tea/water ratio is approximate for Western-style tea steeping. Tea steeped Chinese gong fu style or in a gaiwan style requires a different proportion of leaf to water.) Taking into account the ‘give and take’ of more or less leaf used for individual tea steeping preferences, the final number of cups obtained from the pound of tea could be, say, 150 cups when measured at 3 grams per 6 ounces of water.
At a cost of $60.00 to $70.00 per pound for these teas, a yield of 150 cups costs between 40 cents to 50 cents per cup. Contrast that to the cost of a can of soda, a bottle of high fructose corn syrup laden Ready-to-Drink bottled ‘tea,’ or the cost of a purchased cup of non-premium tea in a cafe or restaurant and the premium tea is a downright bargain.
Let’s look at another example. Fujian Yin Zhen white tea is very light and fluffy, and easily triple the volume of Keemum or Darjeeling tea. But as the volume of dry leaf increases, so must the amount of leaf that one uses in the teapot increase. Ultimately, a pound of Yin Zhen, measured at 2 grams (or 1.5 to 2 tablespoons ) per 6 ounce cup, will yield roughly the same number of cups: somewhere between 200 and 150. Adjusting for ‘give and take’ and a purchase price of $100.00 per pound for Yin Zhen, this means that a delicious cup of traditional Yin Zhen costs approximately 67 cents per cup. More expensive for the intial cup than the other tea, yes, but white tea such as Yin Zhen can be successfully steeped more than one time. If each portion of tea is steeped an additional 2 or 3 times then the cost per serving is cut in half or by thirds, increasing the value-to-cost even more.
I usually follow this up with the example of a nice bottle of everyday-drinking wine which costs $15.00 – $20.00. Based on 25/ 26 ounces of wine per bottle and a 5 ounce serving size per glass, this breaks down to 5 servings per bottle at a cost-per-serving of $3.00 – $4.00. While I am not trying to suggest that tea and wine should have the same value, the wine anology is an easy one that puts the price-per-serving information into perspective for most people. Comparing the cost of the wine to the tea, an everyday wine that costs $3.00 – $4.00 per glass versus a fine, premium tea that costs 40 cents to 67 cents ( or less, depending on the number of steepings obtained) per cup makes an interesting comparision.
Measuring tea is not an exact science, and many tea enthusiasts have developed their own measurements for certain teas, for sure. But no matter how far from the above examples the truth may lie, I think that most would agree that premium tea is quite a wonderful, delicious affordable luxury.