From experience as well as from conversations with other sellers I have found that one of the biggest challenges that the western tea market faces is the buying patterns of customers and their hesitancy to buy expensive tea. While in recent year I feel the market has slowly started to accept and understand higher price tags I think choose to write this article to bring up a few point that I often think about. This is an opinion piece and many of my opinions are still being developed. I would love to hear your thoughts and even critiques in the comments.
Western customers are hesitant to buy high priced tea. An example of this is a reddit post from six months ago where a use asked if Mei Leaf’s “exspensive” teas were worth the price. Mei Leaf’s teas go for about $10 for 30grams. (Other users did point out that other companies were more exspensive in some areas.) I often ponder the reason for this hesitancy. In my opinion, it comes down to trust and knowledge. People don’t trust high price tags. This is partially I feel due to general feelings of dishonesty in the Chinese market, but also western tea buyers seem quicker to assume that a high-priced tea is crazily marked up rather than assuming something about this tea makes it worth the price. It is interesting that this same sort of assumption is not made for wine. Even someone who does not understand wine will be impressed with an expensive bottle and will rarely assume that it is overpriced, even if they don’t know wine. It seems the reason for this is that a person who sees an expensive bottle will assume there is something that went into the wine to make the wine that expensive. This thought process is more rarely found in the western tea market. Why is that? This may be because tea prices in the west are less spread out than wine.
Tea companies generally sell their tea for similar prices. You don’t see a large price range when it comes to tea. You also rarely see a tea company that focuses mostly on exspensive teas. (There are a few out there) Therefore tea that have expensive price tags stand out more and can cause a sticker shock due to their price difference. But what if the smaller range of price tags was due in fact to the hesitancy to buy expensive? This hesitancy in turn would causes sellers to be hesitant to sell more expensive teas. The result would be a circle. The hesitancy of one group causes the hesitancy of the other, feeding back into the initial hesitancy. How do we break this cycle? By taking the chance and paying for that pricier tea.
“My customers won’t pay that much for tea” I have heard this multiple times from companies who reached out to me for help sourcing mao feng. I often say: companies don’t sell the best teas they find, they sell the best teas they think they can sell. Even if a company finds an amazing tea, if the price is higher than they think their customers will pay, they won’t offer it. The result is the amount of unique highigh-quality is very limited on the market for fear that any price too atypical from the average won’t sell. This gives buyers in the western market an opportunity to influence the types of teas offered. If the western tea buyers would occasionally take the chance on a tea and pay the higher price this would open the market for sellers to sell the rarer and more expensive teas. Even if customers only occasionally bought, sellers would feel comfortable buying and then selling a little bit of the high-quality teas they are really interested in, giving the market a level of teas that is hard to find now. There is also a benefit to the drinkers.
Drinking expensive teas allows you to reach an understanding about that type of tea that can’t be reached by drinking average level teas. Average-level teas have a ceiling. There is only so many different flavors and level of qualities that can be produced. This is because the average teas get average making. For the unique teas the maker often has to put in that extra time, attention, and work into the tea. Sometimes they do get lucky and average making produces amazing tea, but even then they will often raise the price due to the higher level of quality. Drinking high-quality teas can give you a whole new outlook on that tea. Last week I finally found a Qimen that I want to sell. This Qimen, compared to the rest, gives you an aroma and liveliness that you don’t find in other Qimens. From asking around I have found that people are generally not excited about Qimens. This Qimen though can give people a whole new look at Qimens, showing them what Qimens can be; potentially stirring excitement for the Qimen category as a whole. (That is my goal) And while you can get lucky and find teas that change the way you understand tea at a lower price, they are most often be sold at a higher price. Occasionally buying a high-priced tea can educate you more on a category of tea more than any video or blog article. Anyone who tasted One River Teas yellow tea sampler understands this.
This opinion article though is not only intended to encourage people to buy more expensive teas, it’s also intended to encourage companies to take the chance and sell that more expensive tea. Many drinkers are ready to explore unique teas but lack the opportunities. Many companies fear their customers who pay a price for a tea but have never tried offering. From my experience, if you have a good relationship with your customers and they trust your pallet, they will take the chance on a more expensive tea and enjoy the experience. I encourage companies to take the chance and offer that tea that they enjoyed but is more expensive. It may take a little longer to sell it, but your customers will benefit from the new option and you may attract a new sort of customer that does regularly pay a higher price. I know times can be tough, and not every tea can be of high quality from a financial aspect. But I also know that many people don’t trust or understand when tea has a high price. This is the mindset that I hope people reconsider. I hope that when a company that you know and trust, offers a tea at a higher price than you do take that chance and buy a little bit, even if it’s only a sample. For companies, I hope that you take a chance and use your customer’s, trust in you to show them a new level of tea. When I am faced with the problem of a tea that may be out of the market’s comfort zone I always think of the (fake) quote:
“If I asked customers what they wanted, they would say more horses” - Henry Ford