As with most products, tea comes at various price ranges, with the expensive ones costing several times more than their everyday counterparts. As a consumer, you might wonder what makes some varieties expensive. The difference in cost can be attributed to the variations in taste, demand, branding, aging, and other factors.
Expensive vs cheap tea
One of the biggest reasons for a brand of tea to be priced differently is, of course, its taste. Cheap tea is mass-produced and processed quickly, as producers are focused on quantity. As such, cheap tea tends to have a flat taste and the flavor is soon forgotten. Expensive tea, on the other hand, is processed under the care of an expert tea master who takes great care in sourcing the highest quality tea leaves. As a consequence, the taste is richer, more complex and lingers on. Due to high-quality ingredients, such tea products will inevitably cost more than mass-produced ones you generally find on the supermarket shelves.
Tea prices are dictated by the demand-supply dynamics. Seasonal weather conditions play a critical role in this regard. Bad weather can ruin tea production, pushing down supplies and raising prices. If weather change results from a climatic shift, then production will remain low over an extended period of time, pushing the tea from low-priced to a high-priced category, provided demand remains steady. Sometimes, certain tea types can see spikes in demand that can push up prices. In 2015, a research report suggested that Honeysuckle tea had immense health benefits. A new customer base was generated, which led to shortages in stock and eventually a bump in the price.
Old aged tea
Aging is another key factor. However, you should be aware of the difference between “old tea” and “aged tea.” An old tea refers to tea that has been in storage for quite a while and is well past its prime, losing flavor. In contrast, aged tea is stored in proper climatic conditions for a long period of time with the intention of developing and increasing flavor. In Asia, tea is considered “aged” if it has been in storage for 6 to 10 years. Some varieties might be stored for 20 to 40 years or even longer.
“Not every tea can age well: Oolongs, Pu-erh, and black teas, assuming that they are good quality teas to begin with, will age successfully… Yin Zhen, the all-bud white tea ages extremely well… However, most loose-leaf, bulky white tea should be drunk within the year of harvest,” according to Tea Trekker. The time and cost spent in storage make “aged tea” an expensive delight.
Popular types of tea
White tea carries a subtle flavor. The best white tea variety is sourced from Fujian Province in China. They are subject to the least amount of processing. Bai Mudan and Silver Needle are two varieties of white tea that are in high demand.
Oolong is one of the most complicated types to produce. This is a semi-oxidized variety where higher oxidation indicates that more steps were involved in its creation. Flavors differ widely, with some producing a creamy, roasted taste while others having a misty, honey flavor. The best oolong tea varieties come from Taiwan and China.
Pu-erh is fermented tea produced in China’s Yunnan Province. The tea is classified into two groups — raw and cooked. These teas are aged for several months or years before they are sold in the markets and usually fetch a premium at auctions.