How much does a cup of tea cost?

However much I might lament the inexorable downward trend of everything that was once bright and good about my country, I was born an Englisshman and am still one today — which means I drink a lot of tea. (That me be the one aspect of Englishness that survives the current apocalypse.)

I am drinking even more tea than usual at the moment, because I am once more trying to lose weight — to get below that obese threshold, into the merely overweight. Tea fills my belly without loading up the calories.

And it occurred to me to wonder how much each cup costs.

Let’s start with the tea itself. Our general-use tea is whatever is cheap from whatever supermarket we’re ordering online groceries from. Currently we’re favouring Asda, and I see that presently they’re selling ASDA Everyday 240 Tea Bags for £1.87. We tend to order about £150 of groceries at a time and pay something around £4 for delivery, so that’s about a 2.5% delivery charge, bringing the tea up to £1.92. That comes out at 0.8p per tea bag.

I put a dash of milk into each cup, but it’s hard to know exactly how much that is. Let’s assume about 15 ml. We buy four-pint bottles of ASDA Semi Skimmed Milk for £1.09, or £1.12 including 2.5% for delivery. Four pints is 2273 ml, so 15 ml is 1/152 of a bottle, costing about 0.7p.

Our water is metered at £1.43 per cubic meter. To boil the kettle, you need half a litre of water even if you use less than that, so let’s say it’s 1/4000 of a cubic meter, costing 0.04p.

Finally, we come to the electricity used to heat the water. To raise 0.5 litres of water from ambient temperature of about 16° to boiling point is equivalent to raising 1 litre of water by 42°. The specific heat of water is 4.19 kJ/kg°C, so we’re using 176 kJ. That’s 0.05 kWh, and our electricicy supplier charges about 16p per kWh, so it’s costing us 0.8p to heat the water. (Sanity-check: it’s a 2 kW kettle and it takes about two minutes, or 1/30 hour, to boil, so that’s 1/15 kWh, which is 0.07. Close enough to the 0.05 I calculated to give me confidence I didn’t skip an order of magnitude or something.)

So the total cost of a cup of tea is 0.8 + 0.7 + 0.04 + 0.8 = 2.34 pence.

I call that good value.

(Obviously when you spend £1.80 on a cup of tea at Starbucks, what you’re paying for is not the tea. The value to you is being in the locations, possibly with friends, or possibly as a convenient place to work on your laptop. The cost to them is rent, heating, lighting and staff. The tea, at 1.3% of the price, hardly even factors into it.)

9 responses to “How much does a cup of tea cost?

  1. This post resonates .. I was _just now_ looking at the BMI table to see that I’m just barely into obese, and a couple pounds lost and I’ll be back to overweight (woohoo?) … too much being stationairy for covid, added a few pounds and pushed me over the threshold.

    We’ve got qualification for covid vaccination based on a number of paramaters; being morbidly obese in some areas will qualify you, so its sort of gaming the system to _eat up, get the bbq going_, which is strange. This has been a weird year.. “stay home, play games, save lives” and “yay, I’m overweight, I can get vaccinated!”

    Thankfully spring is back, and back to cycling season… amazingly, you can do 30 or 40 km in a cycling session and its not that bad. Takes a bit of building up to that levle, but its not really a hard level to achieve, either! Biking around with the kiddos is just a couple km, doesn’t do any appreciate fitnessing, but after 20 years of not really using my ancient old bike, I dug it out last summer and did a 20km ride (with stops) and blew my mind.. _thats doable!?_, so all last summer I worked up from there, doing 2-3x a week the 20km ride or more, and end of last summer I was about to do 35-40km (rough) in one shot .. did a 35km * both directions at the end of the summer with lunch betwene, so a 75km day or so .. amazing.
    This season just got warm enough (8C, brrr..) and I have been out a half dozen times, doing 20-35km each without even stopping.. it came back quick, amazingly. I’m a tubby guy, but I found this is both fun (can’t just do treadmill or elliptical, so utterly boring) and feels productive (can stop at a roadside fruit market and pick up a few things.. they’re out of the way (safer), and have good farmer produce. I’m asthmatic, but can in fact bike long distance _with a mask on_ (antimasklers can suck it), soif theres people nearby I pop that on and keep chugging.

    And now I need some tea.. got some nice loose leaf to get through the cool winter days :)

  2. That’s interesting, Jeff. I just bought a bike, as it happens, so we’ll see whether it’s less unbearably tedious than running.

  3. David Brain

    I think it was Dave Gorman who did a routine about the main reason for tea being so expensive in coffee shops is because good coffee machines cost a lot, whereas tea only requires a kettle. But it’s very hard to justify a cup of coffee costing £2 and a cup of tea costing £0.10 so the pricing has to shift somewhere. This may also be why there’s such an obsession with all those varieties of tea now – it helps to make it feel a tiny bit more like coffee.

  4. I’m sure you’re right that there’s an effort to gentrify tea. But honestly, I can’t believe a cup of coffee costs that much more than a cup of tea — maybe ten times as much, but that’s still only 23p. Whether tea or coffee, all the real costs are elsewhere.

  5. My British parents are horrified that their American children will routinely spend 5 pence for a teabag.

  6. Mike: well, it depends where you get the coffee, but even crappy supermarket bean coffee bags are going to be £1.50 or so, and there’s only about 20 cups in there. That’s a lot more expensive! (And if you buy £7/250g bags of the high-end stuff like I do, it’s a lot more expensive yet, though still only about 20p/cup. The people I buy that coffee from use the same stuff in £2/cup coffee on their market stall, so it probably *is* the case that even Starbucks’ awful coffee that tastes of wood shavings is made of better stuff than lowest-price supermarket-shelf coffee.)

  7. Starbucks Earl Grey is horrible. But in some airports it is all that is available.

    But one thing I have never been able to bring myself to do is buy a large tea in a swanky coffee shop. My brain just rebels at paying that much for the marginal cost — given I’ve already covered the overheads just by ordering — of a little more hot water.

  8. Pingback: How much do different kinds of cups of tea cost? | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  9. I did like one local tea shop (back before it went under due to the pandemic) but that was because they had lots of tea varieties I’d never heard of, and amazing homemade cakes (as in “the shop owner made them at home every day or two”, so literally homemade). I’d never have gone in there and bought breakfast tea or Earl Grey rather than some elaborate chai or spiced-up green tea or something. The unusual elaborateness is what I’m paying for!

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