Saturday, November 5, 2011

Drink Cheap Wine . . . and Tea?

Pablo Picasso, "The Bottle of Wine," c1925  

Gentle readers, I would ask you to read the following article from Slate online magazine: "Drink Cheap Wine: I Mean, Really Cheap." Here's a sample:

Ernest Gallo, who, along with his brother Julio, popularized wine among the American masses, understood the psychology of wine better than anyone. He used to pour two glasses of wine for potential buyers, telling them that one sold for 5 cents, and the other for 10. According to Gallo, his guinea pigs invariably chose the more expensive option. What they didn’t know was that the two wines were exactly the same. Researchers have recently reproduced Gallo’s results, proving that our appreciation of a wine depends on how much we think it costs. If you can break yourself of this psychological quirk—or have your spouse lie to you about the cost of your wine—you’ll save a small fortune.

Interesting, no? Basically, they're saying that "everyday wine" is usually pretty consistent within a brand, and that it's typically serviceable, unless you happen to be a dedicated oenophile. And maybe even then.

So what about tea, O Wise? Would you drink what we often term, "bog-quality swill," without being embarrassed by it? Or do you need the "high-quality" imprimatur from such geniuses as the writers at The 39 Steeps?

Personally, I've found that I can drink even Lipton's and make a fair-to-middlin' cup. If I get to open the plastic wrapper, and if the tea is newly purchased, and if I am extremely careful about steeping time. With Tazo at Starbucks, I've had no such luck, because the temperature at which the tea is steeped at is too low, in my opinion, to make anything but a rather flat, insipid cup of tea. (The paper cups may have something to do with that effect, also, at least psychologically. A nice, solid ceramic teacup makes me think what's inside it is better than what's inside a paper cup with a plastic lid.)

I don't think the tea market and the coffee or wine markets are equivalent, however. Americans are accustomed to a higher-quality product with their coffee and wine, and they associate tea with what you drink when you're sick, or something that tastes execrable.

Please respond in the comments. What "bog-quality" teas will you drink, and why? Or do you stick to only the highest and bestest stuff?


Veri-Tea said...

I've heard this before, about how price influences the way we think about two otherwise identical items; I think it applies in lots of areas, not just wine and tea.

There are a couple of 'bog-standard' teas that I drink regularly and enjoy tremendously - one is a New Guinea Highlands CTC that is almost unbelievably cheap (A$4.50 for 100g) and the other is a Ceylon OP (organic) that I bought a bulk quantity of sometime ago and am still getting through. They are both excellent, flavoursome everyday teas, good with milk (doesn't get much more bog standard than that, does it?!) and I don't feel bad about drinking them by the bucketload because a.) CHEAP and b.) I don't feel like I should be apologising for not concentrating on every nuance of every sip... If that makes sense. I just don't have a lot of time to do a lot of repeat infusions of more delicate teas.

That said I am just right now brewing up a Singbulli Clonal Autumn Flush!

Kate said...

Well, just Saturday I had a very large (probably 12 oz) PLASTIC cup of Chuck E. Cheeze 'merlot' for maybe $2.99 plus tax, and it certainly exceeded expectations. Of course, I WAS at C.E.C. and the bar was kind of low.

Alex Zorach said...

I don't know much about wine but my parents seem to have located some pretty good cheap wines. And sometimes, a cheap red wine, aged well, is a lot better than something pricey that you just pick up at the store.

I also find that research that Gallo conducted (and I've seen the newer ones too cited in some books I read recently) very compelling.

I also found your comment about Lipton interesting. I once told one of my friends, who was bashing Lipton, that before she gave up on Lipton, I recommended her to get a bag that was fresh, had been stored properly, to warm up the cup to boiling, then steep it with boiling water for exactly 1 minute. She loved it!

I have noticed that Lipton tea really isn't all that bad...there are a lot worse products out there. the end...back to the cheapness issue...yes, I think people are terribly terribly fooled into thinking price equals quality. My reaction is to embrace bargain hunting. I always want to find a deal. And I find them often. And I save a lot of money and drink great tea and it's quite wonderful!

Unknown said...

Alex: One interesting post-- I can't remember who wrote it-- showed how the expensively packaged grocery store or slightly upscale tea was, in fact, much more expensive than what tea connoisseurs would consider top-drawer stuff that is packaged more simply. In other words, some indifferent Celestial Seasonings tea might cost MORE than a first-rate Phoenix Mountain Dan Cong, cup-to-cup. In many ways, packaging can distract from the quality of the product being consumed.

Unknown said...


Singbulli! I'm more interested in second-flush Darjeelings, usually, than I am in the Autumn flush. And I've come to enjoy those first-flushes a lot more as time goes on. (And sorry it took me so long to come back to this conversation!)

Also, I agree that it's nice to get a good, middle-quality tea that has been carefully stored, because then you don't have to feel like you must apologize to the tea elves for throwing away a half-drunk cup if you need to. With expensive stuff-- with high-quality stuff, more to the point-- it feels as though one must approach with somewhat tiring reverence.