Tea – The Affordable Indulgence

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Living the tea life can get a bit costly. (Have you shopped for fine teas lately?) On top of that, the economy is tough. Lots of people have either had their work hours (and pay) scaled back or were let go altogether. Time to economize and trim something from your budget. But what? If you’re thinking of saving money by cutting back on your purchase of fine teas, perhaps a bit or rethinking is due. Tea is truly the affordable indulgence.

Let’s do the math with this example:

  • A box of 80 quality tea bags averages $8.50 at various retailers.
  • Each tea bag costs about 11¢.
  • Each tea bag brews up one tasty eight-ounce cupful and a second so-so eight-ounce cupful (if you care to try a second infusion, which I usually do).
  • That adds up to 60 eight-ounce cupfuls per tin.
  • Each cupful costs 5.5¢ for the tea (not the water, energy to heat it, cream, sweetener, labor to wash the cup, etc.).
  • There are 16 eight-ounce cups in a gallon.
  • The cost for tea to brew a gallon is therefore a mere 85¢. (If only a gallon gas cost that little…or a gallon of milk.)

See what I mean? Loose teas are comparably priced, and often less, since there is no cost for bagging the tea in the price.

Tea_Blog_Red-Tray_002aA lot of effort goes into making it possible for all of us to live the tea life. Considering the scenario above though, the cost to us starts to sound more reasonable. Add in the demand for tea worldwide, the labor needed for harvesting and processing, and the costs to package and bring tea to market – all items that add to the price. Now, tea is starting to sound like a downright bargain.

Harvesting enough tea leaves to make even a potful takes a lot of effort. The tea bush (Camellia sinensis) grows large, but is usually kept pruned to about two to three feet across and several feet high, allowing for easier picking of the leaves. Only the tender young leaves at the branch tips are plucked. (As you look out across a tea field that rolls up and down across the hills of Assam, Darjeeling, Sri Lanka, or China, if you see a bright green, almost yellow, the tea hasn’t been harvested yet.) Workers move through the tea fields and pick only those leaves, a slow process.

Processing tea leaves can be even more laborious, often involving several stages, such as:

  • Drying, or withering, where freshly harvested tea leaves are spread out onto tables or trays and left to dry, removing moisture and softening the leaves for rolling.
  • Rolling, where machines break tea leaf cells, exposing juices and enzymes to the air and enhancing oxidation.
  • Oxidating, or fermenting, begins during rolling, where rolled leaves are spread out in a temperature and humidity controlled room and their color deepens from green to reddish-brown and then black.
  • Firing where tea leaves are fired (or dried) by slowly heating them in a drying chamber, thus stopping oxidation so that the leaves can be prepared for storage.
  • Flavoring and/or aromatizing, such as adding oil of bergamot (for Earl Grey tea).
  • Sorting into piece sizes (whole, broken, fannings, dust).

As I said earlier, tea is pretty labor-intensive. But that’s not all that goes into the cost. The tea has to get from these tea growers and processors to store shelves (or online vendors). That adds in the cost of packaging and transportation. Of course, things like sales tax and/or shipping costs are also a factor.

Don’t let all of this keep you from adding a bit of tea to your life, especially as a way of soothing your worry over these tough economic times. Compared to the cost of many things these days, tea is still an affordable indulgence.

How Tea Is Still the Affordable Indulgence

With prices going up every time you shop for groceries, fill up your car with gas, buy clothing, or shop for that upgrade to the latest household gadget that has gone kaput!, it’s nice to know that tea is still the affordable indulgence.

Here’s how:

  • More tea being grown – While tea has certain requirements for optimum growth, the amount of acreage world-wide being planted with tea plants has increased steadily over the past 14+ years, with China leading the pack and India second. There is also a tea plantation in the UK (Tregothnan mentioned in various articles on this blog) and in more and more places here in the U.S.
  • Efficiency improvements – The more efficient tea producers are, the better for us all. They have a better return on their investment and can produce even more. Improvements in how the tea is produced so that the harvest workers damage less and drop less, so that what makes it to the tea factory is in the best condition and usable, so that the machines run better and faster, and so on, are key.
  • Eliminating frills – While some tea companies spend tons of money on celebrity endorsements, fancy stores, and complicated packaging, others bring you great teas in simple pouches (both loose leaf and simple style teabags). When you pay for tea instead of frills, you get a better return on your investment!
  • Better steepers – Yes, there are devices out there that help you get more cuppas from the same amount of tea leaves. One is the IngenuiTea. You put loose tea leaves in it and steep them several times, giving you two or three times as much tea.
  • Using fine ground tea – Several tea experts are certain that you get more efficient steeping from fine ground tea. A teaspoonful can steep up not only faster but either stronger or (if you use more hot water) a larger amount.

Of course, the one thing that really makes tea affordable is for you to make it yourself at home instead of buying that expensive tea-like beverage at one of those chain tea or coffee joints. You can make for pennies what they charge you several dollars for, and you can be assured that the tea will taste the way you like it.

Cheers!

© 2009-2016 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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