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What You Need to Know About Expensive Tea

Fabulously expensive stuff, whether it be tea, shoes, cars, or jeweled doggy dishes, makes for good press and you can curse or envy (or both, if you’d like) the people who can afford such items, depending on your inclination. The topic came to mind recently when I found an article that claimed to list the Top 5 Most Expensive Teas In The World. Maybe they are and maybe not, but they are expensive.

Ti Kuan Yin Iron Goddess (ETS image)
Ti Kuan Yin Iron Goddess (ETS image)

Tea economics is a topic I’ve discoursed on before, but it’s one that’s important enough to revisit from time to time. For my money there are basically two guiding principles when it comes to tea economics, each of which I offer with a caveat attached.

  1. a. Buy the most expensive tea you can.
    b. Except when you shouldn’t.
  2. a. Expensive tea isn’t necessarily so and is often well-worth the investment
    b. Except when it’s not.

This might be seem confusing, but it’s not really. Let’s take look at these suggestions in more detail. The bottom line, in my opinion, is that if you’re going to buy cheap tea you’ll probably get what you pay for. There may be exceptions but if you want good tea you’re probably have to pay for it and I choose to pay for the most expensive tea I can afford.

That covers 1a. 2a is a critical one because many people often don’t understand that a pound or even a hundred grams of tea actually goes rather far. Let’s take the $3,000 per kilogram tea in the aforementioned article. As an aside, I’ll point out that Tieguanyin is not an inherently expensive tea, although some varieties can be. The point to note is that a kilogram of tea makes about 444 cups of tea, if you steep your tea once. But if you’ve gotten your hands on a good batch of this oolong variety, you’d be missing out if you don’t steep each bunch of leaves twice – or more. I’ll do the math for you – if you’re double steeping that works out to a little less than $3.50 per cup.

The trick to all of this and it’s why I’ve added 1b and 2b, is that expensive tea can conceivably be overpriced and may not be very good. Which can be tricky if you don’t have a good tea shop nearby and have to use mail-order. But there are strategies you can take to guard against getting burnt by expensive tea, namely shopping through reputable dealers and ordering tea in small amounts you can sample to decide if it’s worth ordering more.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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