Tea Pricing – What Makes Tea Expensive, Part 1

Dragon Pearls Green Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)
Dragon Pearls Green Tea (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Tea pricing is one of the most complex pricing “systems” of all, comparable to that of precious stones: in both cases, only an experienced expert will be able to tell. I discovered a 400g box of loose broken Chinese green tea in a branch of an Asian food store chain in Germany last year, costing less than $5.00US, and 2 weeks later, I met a friend at Bremen, who told me he received a sample of a Chinese green tea as a gift that is sold at the price of $750.00US/100g on the market.

Yes, just like on other market, tea prices might not always be completely transparent and there will be the usual distortion bias due to different supply lines, and the idea or dream involved traders have about their margin. However, this approach won’t serve to explain the huge differences in prices for tea, at least if you compare prices within larger categories, such as Chinese green teas. Now, if you start looking for a more specific tea, you will find that the span between offers narrows, and will further narrow the more specific your search gets regarding the tea you are looking for.

Now, what makes cheap teas cheap, and can you actually taste the difference?

To answer the second question first: you can, and you cannot, but wherever you cannot I bet there is somebody who can. All clear? No? In my experience, the average human being (to keep it simple, that would be me, so the peaks might vary within some reasonable thresholds for other individuals) will be able to tell nuances in the $750.00US Chinese green tea mentioned above, I could convince my friend to throw a round, and there I was, attributing my incapability telling the value of this particular tea only by its taste to the “average human being” factor. Then, admittedly, there are people who will be able to tell. I have seen experienced tea masters tasting teas that were coming out of the blue blindfolded, and yes, they could tell, at least got very close in all cases. And they will not only be able to tell you, which tea it is, but also how much it costs.

Now, many of us, including myself, might never reach those higher ranks of sanctification, but still we love tea and, spending considerable amounts of money on our hobby, try to gain at least some basic understanding of its pricing. So, as for the second question, just as with precious stones or metals, the decisive factor for the price of a tea is its “rareness.”  What about quality, you might ask. Of course, you are right, but as we will see in part 2 of this article, quality on the one hand is logically just one of the factors contributing to a tea’s “rareness”, and on the other hand, with tea there is a level of quality that is rather beyond said average human being’s assessability range, where only rareness beyond the concepts of taste or quality is what remains a defining factor.

There is quite a range of factors that contribute to the degree to which a tea is considered as rare, and we will have a close look at these in part 2 of this article.

See more of Thomas Kasper’s articles here.

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6 thoughts on “Tea Pricing – What Makes Tea Expensive, Part 1

  1. thomaskasper

    Yes, I have been covering some of the mentioned aspects in part 2 of the article. However, this is admittedly a highly complex topic that won’t be exhaustively covered by this 2-part article, so I do appreciate all the inputs here. As for the 2 tea examples chosen in the article, I do not remember their names or anything in particular about them, but that did not seem all too important for me, since I didn’t intend to establish the components of a price for a particular tea, but rather general components that are defining the different price classes.

  2. Indeed there are many factors can affect the price setting for an amazing agricultural product like tea, starting from tea plantation is being taken care of, WHICH DATE tea was picked and HOW tea was picked, HOW WAS the weather………. The list can go on and on.

    What is behind the name of tea? Which Chinese green tea? Because there probably are more than 100 famous teas in the category of green tea in China. Which tea and which grade that we are talking about? Perhaps the answer goes to another question – why tea lovers in the world are attracted to the 1st flush? What can be different before- and after Gu Yu period?

    The fundamental criteria for fine quality tea as Stephen wrote – hand pick and hand process that to ensure the perfect state of the whole leaf and control its every step by experienced master. It is unthinkable to compare such fine handmade quality tea with machine pick and fully automatic machine processed tea.

    Furthermore, same type of tea tree can produce different flavor and taste of tea if it’s grown in different region or country. Also are you aware the percentage of aroma flavored tea in the market is high? Can you compare flavored tea with authentic and nature tea?

    Perhaps we can compare tea with wine. For some people table wine is good enough; but for some people they prefer Grand Cru.
    Those who are willing to take time to understand the difference between table wine vs. exclusive wine would most likely to understand the same issue that we are dealing with in the line of tea.

    Flavor and taste are very individual which I prefer to leave room for individuals to explore their own imagination. Because their experience and preferences are real to them.

  3. This may fall under the category of “rareness” that you discuss but I believe that two other extremely important factors are “hand picking” and “hand processing.” Particularly the hand processing will drive up the cost but with the hands of a master, the quality is significantly increased.

  4. Pingback: Tea Pricing – What Makes Tea Expensive, Part 2 | Tea Blog

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