Sitting down for a cup of a very expensive Japanese green tea yesterday, a number of thoughts that have been going through my head recently finally became a more tangible idea. I had contemplated quality, cost (financial, social and environmental) and personal enjoyment in regards to tea. I have discussed it with a number of friends and customers. But it wasn’t until yesterday that it all came together and the concept of The Sweet Spot was born.
What is The Sweet Spot
We all know Sweet Spots. It’s that place in a yoga pose, where you neither overstretch, nor sell yourself short. It’s the spot behind my dog’s ear that loves to be scratched at. It’s the floor at the beach front hotel that’s just above the view-obstructing fence.
Sure, you can usually stretch further for more effect, scratch harder to maximize pleasure or rent a room at the top floor of the hotel, but the extra effort is often either not worth it (rooms on the top floor are often much more expensive than the ones just above that fence) or sometimes even counterproductive (i.e. you migh injure yourself through overstretching).
So, The Sweet Spot always represents some form of compromise – but it is the level where the compromise is minimized and the benefit is maximized. To put it bluntly, it is the place where you get the most bang for your buck.
The Sweet Spot of tea
The same principle can be applied to tea. Yesterday’s Sencha Fukamushi Super Premium made this point very clear to me. While there is no doubt that this is a VERY high quality tea and incredibly nice indeed, the question is: is it worth the premium? To put things into perspective, this tea sells for roughly 3 times the price of our Sencha Fukamushi Superior, which is a very nice tea as well. Sure, the Super Premium IS better than the Superior, but is it 3 times better? No, it isn’t. Not even twice as good.
The cost/benefit curve often follows the shape of a normal distribution. On the cheap end, you find teas of very low quality, while at the expensive end, you find teas of very high quality - both stretched over a broad range of prices without much change in quality. But there is a segment on that distribution where, with a moderate increase in price, you get a large increase in quality (the highlighted, steep part in the curve below). This is The Sweet Spot. This is where value for money is its maximum.
The Sweet Spot isn’t fixed
The problem with this idea of The Sweet Spot is that it is not in the same place for everyone. This has to do with multiple factors, but experience/expectation/expertise and financial fluidity are the two main contributors.
The second one – available amount of disposable income – is easy to understand. If you can only spend a certain amount of money and you want a certain amount of tea, The Sweet Spot lies necessarily below your maximum allowance. If money is of no concern to you, your personal Sweet Spot might be much higher.
The other factor - expectation or experience - is less tangible. Some people have an amazing sense of taste or smell and can detect (and derive pleasure from) subtle differences which most people can’t even notice. For them, there are rare cases where no real Sweet Spot exists - pleasure scales with price. But for most people, a situation like my Sencha Fukamushi experience yesterday will arise where we ask ourselves: is this worth the cost? Sometimes it is, often it isn’t.
Everyone has their own Sweet Spot. Unfortunately, it is not something you know intuitively. It takes experience to decide whether something is worth the extra cost. And experience comes from trying – trying in both directions, high and low quality. Buy a small quantity of something much more expensive than you’d normally ever contemplate buying. Buy something much cheaper than you normally would. Only that way can you start to find your personal Sweet Spots.
Does Ya-Ya have any Sweet Spots?
Even though I have just explained that The Sweet Spot is a deeply personal affair and depends on many factors, there are some teas that I cherish as Sweet Spots and I often recommend them to rich and poor, novice and expert alike. These are teas that are dear to my heart and I think they represent phenomenal value for money. The two most obvious ones are our Rizhao Xue Qing green tea and the beautiful Yunnan Black Needle black tea – but there are many more.
I did enjoy my pot of Sencha Fukamushi Super Premium yesterday. Actually, I enjoyed it a lot. But I do wonder how much of this enjoyment is actually vanity – me, drinking a very expensive tea, feeling good about it. I am certain I would have enjoyed my regular Sencha Fukamushi Superior just as much…
Feel free to share your thoughts on this in the comments below.2028