There are few consumer product sectors that – when reduced to their most basic form – offer you a significantly better experience. Imagine walking into a car dealership and telling the salesperson you want to buy new wheels with every bell and whistle available, but were only prepared to pay their basic version price. You know full well the options available on the top-of-the-line vehicle will significantly enhance your ride. There’s nothing stripped down anymore about an $80K vehicle.
In the agricultural sector, a potato is not a veggie people eat like an apple or cut into fresh dipping sticks with creamy ranch dressing (yeck). In its most basic form, the raw potato doesn’t rank high on my scale of scrumptious veggies to be nibbling on. But with a blast of heat and some red sauce, you have one of the world’s favorite snacks.
Now enter the tea leaf in all its incarnations. We only need mention two of these manifestations to support the title of this post – supermarket tea and boutique shop tea. Before I lay out my case for you (because I am ultimately attempting to change your buying habits – especially if you are new to tea), I must acknowledge what the whiz marketers tell us, namely that packaging sells products. Some of the most elaborate schemes devised to present tea leaves to the public fool you into thinking the external effort should somehow equate with the leaves inside. How many times have you been duped so far? You’ll know the tea was crap when you see it appear on the discount shelves of Winners the following year.
So here are the key differences between the teas you will find stacked up in supermarket isles and those in sealed jars and tins lining the back wall of the neighborhood tea shop:
- The serving cost of each cup of tea is pretty much the same – 30 cents per serving. This is based on a two-gram portion of tea, which is about what’s inside the average tea bag. Sometimes bagged tea can even be more expensive than its loose-leaf counterpart.
- If you purchased the same kind of tea – let’s say an English Breakfast – from both the supermarket and the tea shop, they would taste nothing alike, nor would the Earl Grey, and especially not the sencha green tea. You would be either appalled at what was in the tea bag, or super impressed with what came from the tea shop.
- Any reasoning individual would quickly realize that with all the layers of packaging from the supermarket, the tea inside would have to be of low value. This is a fitting assumption, as the average price per gram of tea going into tea bags is 2-3 cents per gram.
- The tea on supermarket shelves can be up to two years old. The age of the tea in successful, busy tea boutiques is a few short months. In some cases and depending on your choice, it can be acquired within weeks after it was blended or harvested. This is why you will undoubtedly find the boutique tea to be so much tastier than the gourmet box you shucked out $6.99 for.
- If you’re a life-long tea drinker and have no plans of quitting anytime soon, how much of the packaging entering landfills do you want to take responsibility for? It’s not a simple calculation, but to put it in a visual context, the average person leaves behind two large suburban-sized houses of garbage in their lifetime. If you buy a tin from the local tea shop and bring it back for refills, there is no throwaway packaging, just fresh tea leaves and a whole lot of enjoyment. Every little bit you do is part of the solution.
Now I must postulate, after the evidence presented, that contrary to what the marketers want, the less you focus on packaging and the more you focus on the leaves, the better your tea-drinking experience will be. It’s simple really – if you love tea and you love what’s left of our natural environment, then you will stop buying supermarket tea. One more tree, one better cup of tea.
Well said Brendan although I don’t have a clue what Winners is – I suspect a discount or big box store:) Another aspect that you didn’t mention is supporting our local businesses – be it tea or otherwise. I always go to my small retail shops in Hood River (population 6,000) such as the stationary store or the hardware store, or book store before going to Walmart if I don’t find it earlier. I always feel guilty walking into that place, wishing I could put a sign on my chest staying “I tried my local retailers first”. Another point to make is that terrific whole leaf green, white and oolong teas can be resteep many times throughout the day. I’ve never been able to do that with a tea bag. So even if the price is higher intially, it ends up costing much less for tea that is so much tastier to begin with. Personally I put more than 2 grams of tea into my little tea pot. That insures a richer cup, which I tend to steep for shorter initial periods, and holds up well to my multiple steepings.