company - education - coffee

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Tea and coffee: Can I afford the great ones?

high grade oolong tea
Photo of very expensive tea by Ben Kaminsky

We typically don't drink good tea in North America. I know Americans don't drink very much good coffee either. The real question is do we have access to good examples of both?

If you want good coffee there are literally a handful of roasters in the US and then it becomes a roast preference to get those coffees roasted the way you like them. You will probably have to pay more for a freshly roasted coffee, spend more on the equipment to brew it, and put some energy into brewing it correctly, but you could find it and it would be affordable to most consumers. The most expensive coffees coming out of the Cup Of Excellence still break down to affordable per cup prices if you brew them at home. A pound of coffee produces a lot of cups making even a $20/lb bag steep but still affordable as a once in a while treat. Even as these microlots creep higher in price, we are still able to access them if we want to pay the price.

pulling an espresso
Pulling a double espresso for a milk drink(don't tell)

The problem with tea is it's a largely inaccessible market. Sure, we can all buy commodity grade tea bags or even pay a lot for a famous named tea, but those aren't the truly great ones. The great teas of Taiwan and mainland China don't make it to the American market. The price paid for them there is so high due to demand, we have little ability to buy them. What we do get is often stale or poorly processed remainders. Even if we had access, the top teas sell for such exorbitant prices, we would never even get a sniff! A competition grade tea in Taiwan of 300g recently sold for $15000. (yes, that's 15k) And to think we still complain about a $12/lb bag of decent coffee.

high grade oolong tea
Photo of Oolong Tea by Ben Kaminsky

Right now, we can afford the great coffees coming out. Of course, all of this has little to do with your free refill diner coffee or that phony Starbucks black apron offering, but that Brazil for $50 a pound doesn't sound as unreasonable now. The truth though, is that good teas are much rarer than we like to admit. You can get great herbal teas but you get largely poor grade broken leaf teas for everything else.

Unless you've got a connection in Taiwan or China, it's going to be hard to get that mind blowing Oolong or high grade tea. Want a good coffee, browse the CoE buyers. Until someone truly taps the foreign markets for fresh picked high grade whole leaf teas, a lot for us will have to be content with cupping these CoE coffees. It's rough being a mouthwatering cupper.