Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tea Companies: Diversify Your Offerings of Similar Teas

I recently read a post on Nicole's blog Tea For Me Please that provoked some thought; it was a single review of TeaGshwendner's Darjeeling Steinthal First Flush. At the end of the review, Nicole remarked:

This is the third Darjeeling that I have tried from TeaGshwendner and they have all been very different from each other.

I think that this comment highlights one key piece of advice for tea companies: diversify your offerings of similar teas (i.e. teas of the same style or from the same region). Diversification grabs the attention of variety-seekers. If someone samples three similar-looking teas from your company and they're radically different, they will be more motivated to try each one of your offerings. If, on the other hand, all three teas are similar, the person may assume that the rest are more similar, and may seek another company if they're truly looking to diversify.

Diversifying your offerings also increases the likelihood that you'll help a customer locate a tea that is an all-time favorite. Most of us have one or two teas that, even when we are itching to sample more new teas, we keep coming back to, the teas that we like to drink for comfort when we're having a bad day, the ones we buy in quantity, over and over again. This phenomenon provides yet another advantage to intelligent diversification.

What happens when your teas are too similar?

I'm going to pick on Upton Tea Imports because it's my favorite tea company. While I love Upton's huge catalog, its large size (over 420 different offerings) is definitely intimidating to newcomers. When your catalog is this big, you want to think carefully before adding a new tea: each tea should offer something genuinely different: either a unique flavor or aroma, a different price point, or something else compellingly different (like organic, fair trade, or biodynamic certification).

Upton usually is pretty good on the diversification, but, at least as far as I am concerned, they did fail to sufficiently diversify on one count: their offerings of the standard, dark-oxidized Formosa oolong. Upton's offerings in this realm range from the bargain-priced TT10, fannings, which is currently unavailable, through four progressively higher grades of tea of basically the same style, TT17 (80g for $7.80), before making a dramatic price jump to the next grade. The price differences of these teas are negligible from one grade to the next, and, having sampled all of them, although there are definitely subtle differences from one tea to the next, they're basically similar teas.

Upton's catalog, on the other hand, has holes as far as other teas are concerned; they still do not carry any medium-priced or inexpensive pouchong / bao zhong. As much as I love Upton, I've tended away from them for my oolongs. Life in Teacup is one company that I have been more impressed with in the realm of oolongs, both Chinese and Taiwanese. You can read my recent reviews of Life in Teacup Teas; I was particularly impressed by the diversify of their Se Chung oolongs, and I have some more oolong samples that I have yet to try.

Now that I've given Upton a hard time, I want to give them credit where credit is due. Upton does their diversification astonishingly well in the area of Darjeelings. This is pretty amazing given the sheer number of different teas they sell. But there are other companies that have also impressed me in this realm: Fresh Darjeeling Tea is one worth mentioning, even though their catalog is relatively small: I've only sampled a few teas from them but they've been radically different both from each other and from any other Darjeelings I've tried.

Do you have any favorite examples of companies doing a good job (or poor job) of diversifying their offerings of similar teas?


  1. I like Upton primarily for their selection of upper end Assam teas. A great Assam is a thing to behold but they're not always that easy to come by.

  2. I would like to start sampling more of Upton's Assams; this is one aspect of their catalog that I haven't explored much yet. I have heard good things about them!

  3. Both of these companies are on my favorite list. I've not done much with Assams, either and I probably should. Upton's has good diversity in their Lapsang Souchongs. I really am sold on LIT for greens and Oolongs and I love her little Puerh tuochas. I especially like that with both companies you can buy small amounts and LIT is always generous with including samples in an order.