Dear Spouse / Self / Significant Other that pays the bills,

I know that the rent check is due, that the utilities have to be taken care of.  I know we are saving up to replace the junker car and take a vacation.  When you look at the credit card statements, you might notice a few scattered tea purchases in the mix.  I know what you are going to say, “you need to be saving that money.”  Just let me explain. Let me make my case.

You see, I am actually buying fine looseleaf tea to save us money.  I am budget-minded, and looking to pay the bills and set some aside for the future just like you.  Tea is actually a tool to help save even more money.  Yes, it was $85 spent on new spring green tea, some fresh Tieguanyin and a bit of sheng pu’er for later.  Yes, I know that grocery store tea bags can be had at $5 for 75 bags, but those are frivolous and excessive, a cost to trim out.  The looseleaf tea is not.  Why, you ask?  Well, in the absence of an awesome powerpoint presentation with sparkling fade-ins and music, let me break it down for you:

Cost Per Serving

First, let’s take a look at cost-per-serving on fine looseleaf tea.  The Hand Picked Spring Tieguanyin I picked up is a classic example.  I got four ounces for $33, and free shipping.  That comes to $8.25 an ounce.  Each ounce of tea has enough leaf for 7-10 brewing sessions.  Using a brew basket and a ten ounce mug with 3-4 grams of leaf, I can resteep the leaves comfortably 4-5 times.  Tieguanyin expands a lot as it brews so the flavors get even richer with later steepings.  Total mug-sized servings in an ounce of looseleaf tea: 45. That comes to 18 cents a mug.  Fine looseleaf tea can often be resteeped further, giving you an even better cost per serving.  Pu’er stands up to 6-8 steepings of this style (more gongfu style).  Even with only a few resteepings, this puts some of the finest looseleaf tea in the world at a cost per serving lower than a can of off-brand soda.

Opportunity Cost

I know, that is still more than a giant box of “fannings” pre-packed in tea bags.  Not much more, but a little more.  Why not use the fannings for everyday drinking and pull out tea like the Tieguanyin for special occasions only?  From a pure mathematical perspective, that seems to be the logical choice.  Yet, my friend who controls the credit card, you are forgetting about the other cost-saving features of tea.  When I am drinking that 15-18 cent mug of pure beauty, I feel like I am getting a special treat.  It is what I wake up for, what sustains me through the afternoon and what calms me at night.  Some people need lattes, some need chocolate, special bath products, scented candles, fine linens, the latest clothing designs, etc to help them feel like they are getting an elevated and special experience.  I just need my tea.  You can’t argue with that- I saw those lattes on the credit card statement.  What about the gas to drive to the coffee shop?  What about the time waiting in line and the daily tips you have to leave?  I am not saying that you don’t deserve to have something special.  We all do.  It is part of what makes us human.  We examine our condition and yearn for something greater.  I am only saying that my tea purchases are penny-pinching compared to any other special daily treats imaginable.

What about our social obligations?

But wait- there’s more!  Remember going out for drinks last weekend?  Watching that summer flick at the theatre on Friday?  Doing lunch with friends yesterday?  It adds up.  We have at least two weekly social obligations.  Figure that one is drinks for two $20 (we’ll split the tab with our friends) and the other is a cheap dinner for two at $45.  Realistically, and with tips, gas, etc, you could even double that number, but let’s stick with it.  We are looking at a minimum of $260 a month in the cost of meeting friends.  And let’s face it, the restaurant was too loud, the bar was too quiet, and the service was lacking.  We waited for 40 minutes just to get a table.  What if we took half of those gatherings and invited our friends over to drink tea instead?  No, I don’t mean break out the cozies and lace.  Let’s make it cool- we will get out shot glasses and do tasting flights of five different teas with great music playing and a few snacks.  We can talk about what we are tasting and have a great time for about $2 in cost of tea used.  Plus, we will be the coolest kids on the block.

Tea as entertainment, not beverage

So hopefully by now I have convinced you that fine teas belong in the budget.  They will help us spend less money on food and drink and other treats like lattes.  But tea is more than a beverage.  It is an evening’s entertainment.  We are willing to spend 10.50 a ticket for two hours of entertainment at a movie.  That is 5.25 per hour per person.  Now, let’s say that instead we get a really fine pu’er.  Maybe we spring for a whole cake of something totally out of this world like the Yiwu Stone Pressed ’04 Sheng.  That is $118 total.  I know, it makes your head spin, but you know it is good.  Break that down to the 12.6 ounces in the cake and we are paying out $9.36 an ounce, or $1.25 or so for a generous amount of leaf for a session in a small pot.  The two of us (or even more people) can get together and steep those leaves for at least an hour, going along for a thrilling ride of changing flavors and textures.  Each steeping evokes a memory, which prompts some great storytelling from everyone involved (this reminds me of the time when I…).  That entertainment, which is more sophisticated, interactive and social than going to the movie theater is going to set us back about 60 cents an hour per person.  Not bad huh?  That’s why I like to have a few crazy teas on hand to devote an afternoon or evening to.

Long term investment

I don’t mean investing in pu’er bricks to resell in ten years.  We could go that route, but how will we resist keeping them for ourselves.  No we can use the money we save on less luxury expenses to invest financially.  I mean an investment in our long term health and well-being.  I am not going to quote you all the studies on health benefits.  You know I really drink tea for the ritual and the pure joy.  I mean the long term benefits to the body in having daily time set aside for simple contemplative enjoyment.  Simply stopping in the morning, in the middle of the day and the evening to devote 20 minutes or so to a fine tea is enough to reduce long term stress and its negative effects on the body.  Stress can cause back pain, nausea, headaches, etc.  It could keep us from work, send us to the doctor with big bills, and makes us less happy.  The build up over decades can be major.  (Not to forget that drinking lots of tea ensures that you get enough water every day.) If we decide now to make tea a ritual of meditation for us, it will vastly improve our well being and save us money on health care and lost productivity.  I don’t mean chanting and dark rooms. I just mean sitting down and clearing the residue thoughts from our minds to appreciate fine tea.  Any other antioxidant, weight loss, longevity benefits that are proven in tea over time are just icing on the cake.

So what do you think?  Do we really need to be penny-pinching in the tea department?  It is just about the most affordable luxury in the world.  Let’s enjoy it for all it’s worth and put away all the thousands of dollars a year we will be saving by spending even 25% off our entertainment and luxury budget on looseleaf tea.  What could be more fun?  I hope you see it my way.

Thanks for considering my point of view here.

Sincerely yours,
Tea drinker

17 Responses to “An Open Letter in Defense of the Tea Budget”

  1. I wholly agree and plan to both use this article as an explanation of my ‘tea budget’ and a referral for your teas. Many thanks.

    p.s. that hypothetical order sounds familiar…

  2. Joely (Azzrian) Smith

    LOL love it! Except I am the one who earns the money and pays the bills. Haha still very justifiable info here! Note to self: Read this when guilt begins to creep in!

  3. Donna A

    Very well said. i was in this exact position of having to defend my tea purchases to my spouse a few months ago. He was going the teabag route. However, I have noticed he always seems to want a cup of what I’m having anytime he’s around.

    • Thanks! I know what you mean. I am still trying to get my family off teabags. They always see the light when I am brewing, but go back to the teabags when I leave town. Luckily, my spouse is very understanding about tea. (We even served tea from my travels in China at our wedding).

  4. I used to work at a winery in California, so when I think of how much a few glasses of wine cost…well…TEA is a BARGAN!
    There’s pleasure drinking many tea’s that can match (and sometimes surpass) wine…and the complexity and depth of flavor is something that has surprised me. Tea is worth the cost, which I think is reasonable.

  5. Courtney {The Purrfect Cup}

    I’m going to need to share this one with my husband who seems to cringe every time tea is delivered to our house. OR he happens to take a look in my tea cabinet! Thank you for sharing!

  6. Louis Miller

    This letter is not convincing but it is well written. I’m sure it took hours to come up with the ideas and to draft it. The author and his wife really have such snobby friends that obligate them to go out and spend $50 twice a week, yet his spouse complains and lays guilt trips on him for his tea purchases? What would really strengthen the letter is to mention how tea is an art form and Art is difficult to put a price on. Or that it helps the user to connect to Asian culture and increases significantly the value of visiting and helps the traveler to appreciate the country and civilization without gaining weight. Appreciation of another culture is hard to put a pricetag on. And I’ve been to four countries in Asia and spent months there and left feeling that I didn’t really connect to the culture. That was before I developed an interest in tea culture. And it would help strengthen the argument to point out that what people think of as tea is really tea blends, sweeteners, milk, herbs, nuts, flowers and other non-teas.

    If there is the possibility of so many steepings from leaves, then why don’t I see anything about it on websites or youtube videos? I get confused between multiple steepings and burning the leaves? What do you call it when you steep tea too long?

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