We went down to our Local Tea Shop (LTS), the other week. The gracious owner of the shop chatted with us while she portioned out 4 ounces of Lover’s Leap, imported (fairly directly) from Sri Lanka. We took our purchase and returned home, brewed up a pot and decided that it made for a good cup of tea. So, we brewed up another pot when the first one was finished. A few days later, Jackie looked into the the little paper sack from the LTS and found that it was down to dregs and crumbs. Little flecks of tea, shaking about at the bottom of the bag practically shouting out to us, “I’m sorry, but you’ll need to buy some more.”
Four ounces of loose tea. It has become the standard in America. It is the most advertised quantity of tea found on the internet. The Europeans do it too, with their 100 grams. 100 grams actually works out to just over 3.5 ounces. Of course, it makes sense to even out that number, so the American tea industry rounded it up to four ounces. Four ounces is actually equal to 113.4 grams.
Is that four ounces of tea enough for you? Is the industry standard of four ounces of loose tea a fair and useful quantity?
In our household, we are two adults who drink mugs (not cups) of tea twice a day, in the morning and in the mid-afternoon. Some days, when we know that we aren’t interested in going to sleep early we may brew up a pot in the evening too. For a pot of black tea, we may use about 10g of tea, about .35 oz. For that Lover’s Leap, we were using easily that much or more. That meant we were using about at least .70 ounces of loose tea a day to make two pots of tea. If we wanted a third pot during the day, that would up it to around an ounce.
No wonder we were out of tea in around four days. We enjoyed it, drank more, and so it was gone. At that rate tea can get expensive, fast.
So, the question becomes, is there a better way? Does four ounces need to be the standard in America? Sure, it divides the pound easily in a seller’s inventory for easy accountability (4 units to a pound of tea); but, tea merchants are not buying tea by the pound. Virtually every tea wholesaler we’ve seen actually sells by the kilogram. Pound prices are published by them, but the prices are calculated and based on the kilogram. It’s the merchants that are converting the prices into ounces and pounds for the convenience of American consumers.
If American merchants sold 125 grams and didn’t bother converting to the standard system of measurement, that would give us another pot of tea. The impact on the merchant’s profit margins is negligible considering how much tea actually costs.) The packaging and labeling costs are the same, since virtually all loose tea packaging is designed around 125 gram weights anyhow.
But what if it went another direction? What if an enterprising tea merchant did something different and broke away from that 4 ounce standard all together? In the last 8-10 months a significant number of new tea merchants have opened up online. Some of them are experimenting with tea quantity. Unfortunately, their experiments tend to go in the direction of the merchant instead of the consumer. One site is charging $15-$20 for three ounces of tea. That’s a lot of money for something that is going to be gone in three days. It had better be some damned good tea.
Let’s say a tea company went higher instead of lower. Six ounces of tea, for example. Eight ounces is easy (about 250 grams – the next step up for the European model), many companies already do that but, it does mean more money out of your pocket at one time, especially if you still have to pay shipping for it. Given that tea itself can be very affordable, is six ounces a better base standard for selling loose tea? Will that extra two ounces mean that you can go another couple of days before running out?
We recently had a visitor from Germany, she brought with her 500g (a little under 18oz) of a good, vanilla, black tea from a shop in Munich. We drank the tea daily, in our normal pattern. It was gone in three weeks. Think about how much tea you drink – how fast do you drink it? Is four ounces enough, or would six ounces make a difference? Do you buy eight ounces or more? Tell us about your tea buying habits below.
Many tea stores now offer the ability to buy a lb of tea at a time, which is rather convenient. But is 4 oz too small? I can't say it is because I've recently begun to consider it actually too big. I'd like my tea to come in about a 2 oz package or even 1 oz. This is because I'd like to sample many different kinds of tea. I have no choice since tea is always changing anyway. I want to embrace it and not try to get the same thing every pot.
Hi Jason, nice to have you back on the Internet. I am with you to a degree. I like to make my tea one cup at a time and cherish it. I find that if I make it by the potful, I sometimes drink it without thinking about it because there is so much of it.
Many tea companies sell sample sizes. I like that.
I am actually more interested in the fact that you found Lovers Leap loose. I have had Dilmah's Lovers Leap and it is faulous, but it is large leaves in a pyramid teabag. I would love to find some loose.
I'll make a note of that – we've found that Lover's Leap in loose tea form is fairly accessible. It's something that we've looked into already as a possibility for the store!
I go through tea fairly quickly. At least two big pots a day and more when winter hits. And that doesn't take into account any tea sachets I may use or tea I buy 'to go'. Four ounces is generally not enough. But the next step up is a pound and right now, that's just too expensive for me. Six ounces might be the solution to that. I think there definitely needs to be some experimentation on the part of the tea vendors as to the quantities they sell and the price they sell them for.
Does that Munich shop have an online store? I'd love to find a good vanilla tea 😛
Us. I love vanilla tea. We are looking to source the same tea direct from Germany later on this year (the one we found is a particularly good one). We'll keep you posted.
Nice article. I see what you mean about 4oz being a little on the light side, especially when you consider 125g being the standard in other places, and we're "rounding down" here in the States. Being the only tea drinker in my family, I don't have the problem you seem to have however with running out quickly, especially since I tend to resteep the leaves as many times as I possibly can. Sometimes I'll even put my used leaves in the fridge and take them out later in the day if I'm not going to get the full use out of them at one sitting. I know, I'm stingey with my leaves. But it does allow me to make that 4oz last a lot longer.
I'm of two minds on this, but it's only because I use those little 125g bags as samplers. Once I know I like a tea, I'll always go for at least 250g. Until then, I like to go into a shop and get as much of a variety as possible. Rather than a kilo of tea, I'll get eight different teas in the little 125g bags.
But I do see the point that offering 6oz would be a nice change and would even set the seller apart. My suspicion is that they're assuming most customers accept whatever the customary size bag they're given.
For me, I am similar to LahikMajoe! I like to get as many samples of teas that any place offers( that interests me) first, and then from there, I will normally find a few favorites,that I buy in larger quantities. 4 oz. is NOT enough of a tea for me. I am in love with some teas that are only offered in 3 oz. packages, which kills me, because there isn't a discount for buying more tea, like at some online shops.
I think 6 oz. is a perfect size. Sometimes 8 oz. of tea can be too much for one person to drink and i usually wind up icing it when I find the tea starting to loose its pizazz.
Like some of the others – I have no problem with 4 oz being the standard size to "try" a tea – I don't just have one kind of tea, I have several, and 1 pound of all of them would be too much. for the few that I want to have in my cabinet permanently, then I get a pound.
I guess it's largely related to the price of the tea. Several years ago, in China, most people buy tea in 250 grams or 500 grams, and 50 grams is considered a "sample size". But with rapid raise of prices of higher end teas in recent years, now it's not uncommon for Chinese people to buy tea in 50 grams or 100 grams. An unfortunate fact nowadays, in both China and US, is that price for 250 grams of a tea can be too much to spend at one time for most people. In my personal tea stock, there are a few teas that are over half a pound each. Most of them are both what I like very much and teas that have a very long shelf life. Usually I drink different teas over days and there are teas I taste for my work, so I don't often finish 100g tea in few weeks (but it did happen sometimes when I got really crazy about a tea).
4 ounces isn't enough really depending on the tea, for me atleast. I have those teas that are my staple, Dragon Well being one of them.
I see where you are coming from Pete and agree with you, something does need to change.
**radio blaring** We're not gonna take it…. lol
Enjoyed the post.
I like this post too…you get at “both sides of the coin” so to speak. I also think you really nail it when you make the point that when companies start selling smaller quantities for higher prices, they really need to have the quality to back it up. Sometimes they do, but…only sometimes.
I also think that there’s a degree to which high-end tea companies are playing on psychology by labeling prices in small increments. For example, Teavana, both in its stores and on its websites, labels tea prices in per-2-oz increments. Given how people are used to seeing roughly 4 oz. as a standard amount, this pricing scheme strikes me as a carefully thought-out, deliberate attempt to exploit human psychology to make people think that the tea is less expensive than it is.
That said, I want to raise a concern coming from the opposite direction. From a sampling perspective, 2 ounces is a lot…it often can brew 20-25 cups of tea. When I sample teas, I like to buy enough for 10 or so cups, so that I can try the tea several times, perhaps share it with a few friends, and experiment more than once with Gongfu brewing. But when I’m sampling a lot of different teas, I don’t want to buy 2 ounces of 20 different teas, and I especially don’t want to buy them in 4 ounce increments…that’s going to take me forever to use up, especially if there are teas that I don’t like.
Personally, I think my ideal preference is what Upton and Rishi do — which is what I strongly prefer buying from these companies. Upton and Rishi have small sample sizes of all their teas, and then also sell varying different sizes, and their catalogs and websites clearly list the prices per various units (Upton in grams, Rishi in ounces) so as to give the customer as complete an accurate a picture as possible. It is no coincidence that, at least in my humble opinion, both Rishi and Upton offer honest, low prices. I think that the only possible justification for an unintuitive pricing scheme or a rigid policy of amounts of tea per sale is to hide the fact that you’re not offering the best prices. Thoughts?
This is an important point here. Tea can very easily be priced down the gram or ounce level. Quantity flexibility is somewhat limited by packaging and shipping costs – sometimes, its not cost effective for small companies or companies with limited resources to offer that kind of flexibility. Limitations of capital and resources are the largest obstacles. Quantity flexibility means having a significant number of packaging options, in house, in the event a customer requests an awkward amount. This can raise overall costs for the company and thus, prices for the customer. Larger companies will be able to offer this in a more cost efficient manner than can small ones.
For small companies, extremely tight price/cost control is important. It is important for large companies too, however, as a company grows and resources expand, allowing that quantity flexibility is something significant – especially when it comes to selling tea to experienced tea drinkers who may only want a small quantity of tea they occasionally like and a larger quantity of one they must always have on hand. I can see from Alex's post that that kind of flexibility can be crucial to customer retention.
About prices of teas, Mary Lou Heiss mentioned in her book, The Story of Tea, that they saw same products sold for dramatically different prices between 2 US based sellers. I think I saw the same phenomenon too, for more than a few times, unfortunately. On the other hand, some buyers, for some reasons, prefer an expensive product to a less expensive one, even if they are virtually the same. Maybe it's a human weakness?
Tony Gebely at the Chicago Tea Garden mentioned that very thing when he wrote his State of the Industry address back in January. He discussed how there are only a few suppliers in the States and everyone buys from the same places.
This brings up an important point, and something crucial to the way American consumers think and buy – added value. It's a business moniker used to describe everything a business adds to a product before selling it. It's all encompassing and points to everything a business does to differentiate their product from the competitor. All tea is ready to go once it leaves the farm or plantation.
That said, everything that companies do to add value to the tea becomes important as American consumers wade through the vendors. It is this concept of business that allows a consumer to choose between two or three companies that are selling the same, or very similar, product (which is commonplace in the retail tea industry).
Alex, the human psychology totally backfires in my case. When I see a low price, only to find that it is for only 2oz, I feel immediate disappointment, and a sense of deception. In other words, my first reaction to the company’s offerings is negative. Sometimes I won’t bother clicking through any more, and just browse a different vendor.
Even worse are companies that don’t even give you an indication of how much tea you’re getting for your hard earned buck. Quite a few times I’ve had to email sellers with that question. Of course, what really tops it off is if they don’t even “get around to” answering. Trump Tea is the latest site where I found no mention of quantity for their teas in those beautiful tins. For me, that’s just incomprehensible. I’m not just buying the fancy packaging, I want to know how long I can be drinking these expensive teas.
Pete; you link quantity flexibility to the size of the company. But while larger companies with bigger budgets could certainly accommodate different quantities, many of them are not interested at all. Trump Tea could be a pretty big company if they wanted to be, and certainly they have the funds. Nevertheless you will almost certainly find that their quantities are small. This adds to the sense that their products are deluxe items, which appear more deluxe if they are offered up in small amounts. Like I said on one of my forum posts on this topic, these companies aren’t CostCo and they’re never going to sell their delicate pearls of tea in 1lb bags. Trump Tea could be flexible, but they are selling a whole image more than they are selling the product tea.
Additionally, a company’s attitude towards profit margins is what drives the quantities. Large companies can be just as hungry for high margins as any little company. The question all companies have to ask themselves is how much money to they want to make off you the customer. In my opinion that’s what drives the measly quantities in many cases.
Pricing tea down to the gram/oz is easy as you said Pete, but I want to pay less per gram if I buy more tea. I’d like a clear indication of how much I’m paying per smallest unit, let’s say 1 gram or 1 ounce. I’d like all tea vendors to do that so comparison would be easy between comparable products. Of course that is not in the interest of many sellers.
One other point, I have seen sample size packages, but when I looked at those, they were frequently so overpriced considering the small amount I was getting, that I backed off. However, I do like Upton’s a lot too, and I’ve never ordered from Rishi.
Thank you everyone for your comments, this is a fascinating discussion and I really love hearing from everyone.
Interesting post and thread! I prefer to buy 1 to 2 oz of tea because, like many here, I like to sample different teas. With tea, I feel that variety is the spice of life. Also, I don't want the tea to become stale.
On the subject of pricing teas, as a consumer I can say that I pay a lot of attention to this when I shop for tea, and I buy all of my tea online. For example, I noticed that there's a very popular tea retailer that charges a lot more for their teas than other retailers selling the same product. I don't know why people continue to support this retailer and think that they're so great, aside from the fact that they've built a name for themselves and are quite trendy. They do have specials regularly, which is the only way I would consider buying from them, but even then they charge a lot for postage which I think is ridiculous given the fact that we all have access to flat-rate priority mail. I'd much rather support a business that is built on fairness and honesty with their customers, and that is partly demonstrated through fair pricing for both the teas and the postage.