The climate and terrain of Taiwan are perfect for growing a wide range of tea plants, from green tea, oolong tea, black tea to lowland and high mountain tea. Of all the teas mentioned, oolong and black tea reflect the features of the origins and have been recognized internationally. However, to tea lovers from all over the world, the biggest challenge lies in the disparity of the prices and quality of Taiwan tea, which leaves them unsure about where to even begin.
To fully understand the price disparity of Taiwan tea, there are a few aspects deserving more attention. First and foremost, the industry chain. We can categorize the people involved in the industry chain as three main roles: tea farmers, wholesalers (mainly B2B), and retailers (mainly B2C).
Every role in the industry chain of Taiwan Tea
Tea farmers: They sometimes sell their products on their own, but most of the time, they sell the majority of their products to the wholesalers and retailers. After all, growing tea and selling tea belong to two separate areas of expertise.
Wholesalers (similar to distributors) and retailers: Wholesalers buy tea leaves in bulk and then sell to retailers or other wholesalers in different countries. They sometimes sell tea to individual customers, while retailers are the most common sources for consumers to buy tea leaves from, such as tea leaf shops or online shops.
Of course, there are still some very powerful companies that implement vertical integration, handling every stage of the products from growing to selling. Taiwan Tea Corporation boasts the highest productivity and the biggest export volume of tea here in Taiwan.
So far, everything seems to make sense. In fact, it is the same concept of wine industry in Burgundy: grape farmers, vintners, wineries, agencies, wholesalers, and retailers.
Now, here’s the problem:
in Taiwan, there are not yet any specific regulations set up to govern the process and roles described above.
Still a small proportion of tea farmers or tea leaf shops do something that compromises the quality
The majority of the tea farmers are all nice, but still unscrupulous ones do exist. They may mix the tea leaves from elsewhere into their products, or they may take the tea leaves from origin A and sell them as the high-priced tea leaves from origin B.
Normally in order to maintain their quality and reputation, wholesalers and retailers need to have the ability to distinguish the quality of each tea batch from the farmers, which requires extensive knowledge and experience in this field and cost as well.
Similarly, retailers put in as much effort to evaluate the quality and maintain cost efficiency when buying from the wholesalers.
Every one of them has different needs based on the amount and quality of the raw materials they require, so they put in different levels of investments. As a result, a huge price disparity between each shop can be found.
Tea leaves are a kind of crops which can be affected by weather
The second problem is the disparity of the quality consistency of tea every season in the same farm.
When the wholesalers and retailers have the same item of products, Alishan (Ali Mountain) Tea, for instance, they don’t necessarily source their products from the same farm every time. However, having the famous tea house’s name listed out tells the consumers that they have a great taste in tea. Therefore, going to a trustworthy tea leaf shop is recommended to individual customers. Going to tea farms isn’t necessarily the best choice, and it is also quite impossible to visit all the farms to choose the tea leaves on your own.
Furthermore, every season has different weather conditions that can affect the amount of production, which ultimately impacts the cost. However, the retail prices don’t fluctuate substantially. Normally, it is the wholesalers and retailers that bear the cost.
Competitions play a significant role in the price
Every year, there are various tea competitions such as high mountain tea, Oriental Beauty tea, Wen-Shan Pou-Chong tea, Tieh-Guan-Yin tea, and Tonding oolong tea. The prices of award-winning tea leaves will soar, which contributes to the turmoil of the prices of Taiwan tea. How big of a price difference can be? Take Oriental Beauty tea as an example. 600g of good quality Oriental Beauty may cost NT$10,000 – NT$ 20,000 (about US$330 -700), but for award-winner ones, they may cost NT$ 500,000 – NT$ 600,000 (about US$ 18,000 – 21,000).
So, do award-winning tea leaves guarantee the taste?
In general, yes. Award-winning teas taste sophisticated, aromatic, and have a sweet aftertaste, but they are not necessarily your favorite. If you enjoy rich and powerful style high mountain tea, you might be a little disappointed when you try Jhinhsuan Oolong Tea that won an award.
Last but not least, when the retailers receive the tea leaves or tea cyanine, whether or not they put in effort to dry, roast, aromatize the tea themselves or commission a professional to do so will affect the price as well.
To sum up, there are many factors that contribute to the retail prices of the tea leaves: the quality and amount of production every season, whether the wholesalers and retailers are honest, how much effort they put in to aroma control, whether they won an award, and whether they decide to roast or further aromatize the tea in the end.
Our advice about how to select tea
Leave this challenge to tea leaf shops! Their job is to select the best tea leaves from the farms and the wholesalers. Therefore, when you come across the tea you really enjoy and you can trust the shop, you can have conversations with them, asking them to help you pick the tea that best matches your taste.