The Price of Tea in China…and Everywhere Else

Flavored Black Teas
Flavored Black Teas

While it is true that, as a beverage, tea offers an excellent value for your money when compared to wine, there are some tea prices that can really strain the pocketbook. These teas can cost consumers upwards of $10 per ounce, making their purchase prohibitive, especially when a merchant requires a minimum purchase of two or more ounces. Are these expensive teas really worth their price tag?

They can be. But not always.

Leaving aside the question of the actual costs in producing tea, there is a marketing incentive for charging a lot of money for a very ordinary tea or tisane. Many people associate price with quality, even to the point that it influences their assessment of a product’s quality. In one study, wine drinkers experienced more pleasure from drinking a glass of wine said to cost $45 per bottle than from a glass of wine that retails at $5 (the wine in both cases was the same).  In a similar study, individuals given placebo “pain pills” rated the efficacy of the more expensive pill higher than the pill that cost less.

What makes us think that tea is any different?

Now that tea is trendy, a lot of entrepreneurial sorts want to get in on the action. While I don’t blame them, it’s also true that a lot of these folks don’t have the experience or connections to blend and source truly unique, high-quality teas. To sell their product, these tea sellers “romance” the tea with a good story, put it in a pretty package and then jack the price up to give the tea some class.

And, if they are good at promotion, people pay their asking price.

And then these people will sit at home, proclaiming their tea “rare” and “gourmet” and themselves very fashionable for drinking it.

White Tea Sampler
White Tea Sampler

Now, there are certainly a number of teas that are well-worth their hefty price tag. But there is also a huge amount of tea that is sold at wildly different price points because the merchants who sell it have different marketing approaches. So, what to do?

Well, first I’d suggest drinking the tea that you like and want to drink. I know it is tough to not allow what we think we know about tea prices to affect our preferences, but do give a variety of teas, sold at a variety of price points, a try. Read tea labels and familiarize yourself with tea names and gardens so that you can spot the same tea when it’s sold by different retailers. Also, pay attention to tea reviews written by tea writers that you trust. We can often point you to tasty teas that may be surprisingly affordable.

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2 thoughts on “The Price of Tea in China…and Everywhere Else

  1. Pingback: The Price of Tea

  2. I think tea is similar to wine in this respect: above a certain threshold, you’re paying for the fancy story that the salesman tells you, not for some inherent quality in the tea.

    I was in Wuyi Shan last week, and I asked a two tea manufacturers what was the difference between their Da Hong Pao tea (which sells on the open market for @800 RMB per 500g) and ones that cost more (eg. @2000 RMB per 500g). They said “the sweetness of the salesman’s mouth”, smiling.

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