How much do different kinds of cups of tea cost?

(Grammar note: I think that “How much do different kinds of cup of tea cost?” would be more correct; but it feels wrong, and I am going with what feels right. See also: who vs. whom.)

Last time, I calculated that when I make a cup of tea, it costs 2.34 pence, made up of 0.8p for the teabag, 0.7p for the milk, 0.04p for the water and 0.8p to heat the water. That is using the cheapest regular tea available. But how much do other teas cost to make?

We’ve been drinking Earl Grey for many years, and more recently Lapsang Souchong. Since Christmas, we’ve added Lady Grey to our repertoire, too. We’re buying boxes of Twinings tea-bags for all of these, though no doubt there are more expensive and better options. Let’s look at the prices.

At Asda, we’re paying £3.50 for a box of 100 Earl Grey or Lady Grey tea-bags. (Asda do their own Early Grey at 89p per box of 50, but I’ve not yet found the courage to try it, having had bad experiences with Lidl own-brand Earl Grey.) They also sell boxes of 50 Lapsang Souchong tea-bags for £3.29, so what I’ve been doing instead is buying packs of four boxes (200 tea bags in total) for £12 a time.

Finally, there is Countess Grey, the absolutely delicious tea from Fortnum and Mason which I believe Lady Grey is based on. (Both of them taste rather like Earl Grey with the subtle addiiton of orange, but Countess Grey is much more integrated and organic tasting.) This is expensive. Fiona bought me two 25-bag boxes for my birthday at £5.25 per box. That’s £10.50 plus £5.95 shipping, a total of £16.45 for 50 tea bags.

So our prices come out as:

  • Regular tea: 0.8p per bag
  • Earl Grey: £3.50/100 = 3.5p
  • Lady Grey: £3.50/100 = 3.5p
  • Lapsang Souchong: £12/200 = 6p
  • Countess Grey: £16.45/50 = 32.9p

Which means, when we add in the constant 1.54p for the milk, water and heating, the prices per cup of tea are:

  • Regular tea: 2.34p
  • Earl Grey: 5.04p
  • Lady Grey: 5.04p
  • Lapsang Souchong: £12/200 = 7.54p
  • Countess Grey: £16.45/50 = 34.44p

That’s quite a difference. A cup of Countess Grey costs nearly seven times as much as Lady Grey. Is it seven times as good? Absolutely not. But is it worth an extra 29.4p? Maybe it is.

And most certainly Lapsang Souchong is worth an extra 5.2p per cup compared with regular tea. But does that mean it’s more than three time as good? Maybe not.

So the conclusion of all this is that it’s not clear to me what’s the right way to compare the prices of two different cups of tea. Of course, in practice, it’s not a matter of one of them being straight-up better than the others (except in the case of Countess Grey being a better version of Lady Grey). What we really like is the variety.

We will certainly keep regular tea, Earl Grey, Lady Grey and Lapsang Souchong all in regular rotation, and I think it’s probably a rare day when I don’t drink at least one cup of each of these. But Countess Grey feels like a luxury.

11 responses to “How much do different kinds of cups of tea cost?

  1. Is leaf tea commonly sold in the UK? Here in the US, it’s much less common than bagged tea, but also usually considered superior in quality. That may largely be part of the sales pitch; it is typically quite a bit more expensive. For example, store-brand black tea at my usual grocery store is $2.49 for a box of 100 bags. Flavored tea is sold for $2.29 per box of 20 bags, or, more comparable to your examples, Twinings Earl Grey at $9.19 for 100 bags. In contrast, loose leaf tea is typically $3 or more per ounce (about 10 cups worth). On the other hand, I see that they have an imported leaf tea brand at $7.99 for 8.8 ounces… hm.

    I never acquired the habit of drinking coffee, but I do enjoy tea, usually in loose leaf form. On the one hand, you can easily adjust for a stronger or weaker tea, but it is definitely more fussy in terms of equipment and residue.

  2. Unless you find preparing tea more enjoyable and/or profitable than whatever other things you might be doing at the same time, the main cost of having a cup of tea is surely the time it takes to prepare rather than the cost of the materials and electricity. Especially if it’s a fairly cheap cup of tea. E.g., if you value that much of your time at 20p, then the difference between “regular tea” and Countess Grey isn’t 2.34p versus 34.44p, it’s 22.34p versus 54.55p. Is Countess Grey 2.5x better than “regular tea”? I don’t know, but it seems much more likely than that it’s 15x better.

    (Other overheads that seem like they might be relevant: clearing things up afterwards, which might be less enjoyable than preparing the tea beforehand; the storage space needed for tea, teacups, etc., because you drink tea sometimes; any health effects, good or bad; whatever risk there is of burning yourself with the hot water used in preparation or with the tea itself. Of course all of these are small, but when you’re calculating costs to the nearest 0.01p you probably shouldn’t be neglecting them.)

  3. In CPH (and DK), tea bags are main stream, but we do have some good tea shops like A.C. Peach and Østerlands Thehus, which sells loose leafs. I don’t drink a lot of tea, but splash out on the first or second flush when I buy. Can’t remember prices, but can find out.

  4. Continuing with my theme above of overanalysing trivia, another possibly-relevant observation: if you are going to think about how much things cost, you should usually annualize them. If you decide to drink a different kind of tea, it will affect every tea purchase after that, and there may be thousands of those. If you decide to drive a different kind of car, there are a lot fewer future car purchases to be affected.

    I have no idea how much tea Mike drinks (other than “a lot”), but let’s suppose it’s 6 cups per day. Then at 2.34p/cup that’s about £50/year; at 34.55p/cup it’s about £750/year.

    By way of comparison, the second of those figures is the same as the cost of spending £7500 on a car every 10 years.

  5. Lots of good points being made here.

    Loose-leaf tea is out there, and I have made it fairly often. But, honestly, I don’t taste a big difference between that and tea-bags, so the convenience wins out — especially I typically make tea three times a day or so. I would be open to trying specific loose-leaf teas if they were recommended, though.

    g is right that time is the biggest cost in making tea — as it is in nearly everything. I paid £3.49 to watch Justice League yesterday afternoon, but the two hours it took to watch it is worth way more to me than the nominal cost.

  6. David Starner

    Grammatically speaking, since you opened the door, I’d prefer “How much do different kinds of tea cost per cup?”

  7. Scalzi, the best selling science fiction writer, wrote an essay “Being Poor” which started with “Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.” He more recently posted that he realized that he had finally made it out of poverty when he filled up his car and didn’t check the receipt to see the total for the first time ever in his life.

    I hope your desire to know the cost of the tea you drink is motivated by curiosity and not a financial reverse. I agree that it makes sense to annualize the cost. That lets you compare with the other expenses in your life. In truth, a mixed strategy is usually the best. Treat yourself to a cup of high end tea now and then, but you’ll appreciate it more if you stick with a more modest variety for every day.

    P.S. We drink coffee, and II made a mistake some years back buying a pound of fancy beans for my significant other. We tried, but we couldn’t go back. Now we spend a ridiculous amount on coffee. Granted, even the single origin coffees we now enjoy are cheap compared with getting our coffee at a place like Starbucks, so there’s that.

  8. @David, that is a perfectly good rewrite, but it goes beyond fixing an actual error.

    @kaleberg Don’t worry, we’re going fine financially. Having worked at home in the same job since 2002, the transition to working from home because of the pandemic was smooth. Our company, like every company, is having to be sensible about spending during the virus-induced downturn, but we’re doing fine.

    And yes, annualizing is fascinating. A g pointed out, the difference between £750 or £50 per year feels like much more than difference between 34.55p and 2.34p per cup. I could really do something with an annual £700 windfall.

    I like how your coffee story is in direct contradiction to the conclusion your drew regarding tea :-)

  9. Andrew Rilstone

    You put milk in Lapsang? Monster!

  10. I do; but only a dash. It humanises it.

  11. Pingback: My collection of sauropod-themed mugs, 2021 edition | Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week

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