We’ve updated this article from the original Feb. 2011 publication because of how challenged we are in this economy to afford our “luxuries” like fine teas. Maria Uspenski and Dan Bolton make points that continue to be relevant to these times. Tea is a value for many reasons. 

In fact, loose-leaf tea is a screaming deal.

Even though most loose-leaf teas are of much higher quality than bagged teas, they are often more economical ounce for ounce. Even the most expensive teas rarely cost more than 15 cents a cup to steep, which seems to be a well-protected secret, as people are always surprised when they see the numbers. However, the secret’s coming out, as loose-leaf tea has shown itself to be largely recession proof during the past 30 months. From an August 2010 interview with Dan Bolton, then Editor at Specialty Coffee Retailer:

 “Tea sales topped $8.5 billion in 2009 and continue to grow, albeit at a pace slowed by the recession. Sales climbed by 32 percent from 2005-09, according to Tea in the U.S., a report by Packaged Facts in Rockville, Maryland. Retail share came to $5.7 billion of the total.”

Tea bags account for over 90% of all the packaged tea sold in the U.S. today. It’s important though to make the distinction within tea bags between the flat and sachet types of bags. In the flat bags, you’re not able to deliver a full leaf tea, even if it theoretically started out that way. The leaf just can’t stay intact during the tea bag manufacturing process. Most of the tea bags available contain tea leaves and dust of very low quality.

Consider what you pay per serving, buying at retail. Flat tea bags average 2 to 12 cents for an eight-ounce serving. Nylon Pyramid tea bags make it possible to steep larger-leaf teas in a bag. Premium pyramid tea bags cost 30 cents to $2 each. Lipton’s “starter” Pyramid teas, at $3.49 for 20 tea bags, cost about 20 cents a per eight-ounce serving.

Steeping loose-leaf tea from fine handpicked leaves takes more effort than dunking a tea bag, as well as a few minutes more time. Whole tea leaves need time to unfurl and infuse. And the leaves themselves need room, and an infuser.  But with a bit more effort, you can both save money and make yourself a freshly steeped cup of premium tea – with no bags, no nylon, no strings, or no staples. And the cost?  Most premium loose-leaf teas range from 8 to 15 cents a serving.

Premium loose-leaf tea even looks like a deal when compared to premium coffee.  Premium coffee beans sell for about $12 – $17 per pound. A pound of coffee beans yields about 32 servings, if you use 1 tablespoon per cup. A tablespoon of coffee weighs approx 14 grams, making the per-serving cost for coffee anywhere from 37 to 53 cents.

So, as we like to say at The Tea Spot, you can drink up and feel good about it!