Cost effectiveness

I thought it might be interesting to list what I think are the best ways to improve the cup you drink, day in, day out, arranged in order of cost effectiveness

1) Skills — skills are free, unless you’re paying for lessons (which you shouldn’t). The thing that can most improve your tea in your cup everyday is how you make them, and that, unfortunately, only comes with lots of practice. Taking golf lessons with Tiger Woods won’t make you a better golfer, so similarly, taking tea lessons with some “tea master” won’t necessarily make your tea any better either. It’s all about practice, learning, investigation, understanding, and thinking. With enough time and effort, you can be your own tea master.

2) Water — how exactly you can improve your water depends on your circumstances and what teas you make, but in general, improvements to water is much cheaper than trying to improve the other things. As the only other ingredient in tea (aside from the leaves of course), it makes a huge difference in what comes out from the other end of your pot

3) Tea — yes, the leaves. I think this part is pretty obvious. Remember — good tea is rarely cheap, but cheap tea can be good, and most importantly, expensive teas are not guaranteed to be good at all.

4) Wares — kettles, pots, pans, dishes, cups, whatever. This is by far the least cost effective way to improve your cup. The benefits (if any) they offer are usually marginal, and not that obvious if you’re newer to tea. It also clouds other things and can mask problems in your brewing technique, etc, and so it’s better to get the basics down before trying to upgrade the wares. They are also expensive and unpredictable. To continue the golf analogy – using the best clubs won’t make you a good player. It can help a good player, but if you’re not good enough to use that help, it’s just wasted money


Cost effectiveness — 9 Comments

  1. Nice post on an important, neglected topic!

    You’re certainly right that skills don’t improve without lots of practice. But I think sitting with someone else who’s brewing tea is one of the best ways to get ideas that develop into skills. This is of course true whether or not that other person is billed as a tea master…

  2. Hey Lew!

    Yes, I think you’re right — exchange is important, but that’s just part of observing/studying/learning. You don’t need somebody who’s billed as a master, and certainly not if watching comes with a bill.

  3. This is a great and important post. Just what I’m always telling my young writers — practice, practice, practice. Eventually it all pays off. The old saying is oh-so-true, practice makes perfect. Thanks for all your great recent posts Marshaln. I’ve been reading them all but have been mostly too busy to comment. Eileen

  4. I think that the hardest part is how relative it all is.

    1 – I agree (don’t pay a “tea master”), but with big caveats. I think that it’s *best* to drink tea with many different people that all know what they’re doing, because everyone has their own style and there are usually tips and tricks you can pick up that you wouldn’t encounter otherwise (not to mention the social aspects). If you have the luxury of having lots of tea people around you then this is easy. If you don’t then hopefully you’ll at least have a local shop that will sit you down for tasting and show you a thing or two. If you don’t have any of those then getting lessons may not be a bad thing; it can be cheaper than stumbling your way through thousands of dollars worth of tea and teaware on your own before getting a truly decent cup.

    2 – Easy if you’ve got pretty good water, but if your water is atrocious then you can spend all sorts of money trying out different bottled waters, filters, and things to change the water. I’ve probably wasted $50-$100 on different bottled waters and filters over the years, and all I really learned is that my tap water run through any filter pitcher is best. This is another that might not be noticeable to beginners, though. I’ve even heard some with years of experience that can’t tell the difference between chlorinated tap water and any others.

    3 – Obviously I agree, though some people have access to cheaper stuff than others.

    4 – Teaware shouldn’t be expensive, but it too often is. I’m lucky to have access to all the basics for super cheap. So in the amount of money it takes some to figure out their water, I’ve made much bigger differences with teaware. I’ve actually been able to demonstrate bigger differences with teaware than water to beginners. Granted, though, most of the best results were from teaware that I bought purely for aesthetic reasons. Of course there are a few online vendors like DTH that sell stuff for cheap, though the shipping can be a killer.

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