- Language Tips
As the season for new teas approaches, famed Chinese brews are being sold at ever-rising prices and turning into a new "luxury" good.
Although the picking has not yet started, a pre-sale of the first batch of West Lake Longjing - a renowned roasted green tea - drew a bid of 180,000 yuan ($28,500) for 500 grams at an auction in Hangzhou, according to China National Radio.
Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang province and the origin of the tea, which is also known as "dragon well tea".
Picking of the first Longjing will start in a day or two, and media and tea experts estimate that top-quality Longjing will be sold at 40,000 yuan to 50,000 yuan per 500 grams this year, about 25 percent higher than last year.
Meanwhile, the price for other famous spring teas, like Spring Snail or Melon Seed, will be as high as 20,000 yuan per 500 grams.
Huang Xiaoping, vice-chairman of the tea association in Chun'an County, Hangzhou city, said it is not a surprise that West Lake Longjing went for such a high price - higher even than gold.
"It enjoys the highest status among China's famous teas, mainly due to its long history and literary connections. Furthermore, it is now grown in a designated area around the West Lake, so the output is limited," he said.
He forecast the price for common Longjing will be 4,000 yuan per 500 gram this year.
The picking time for spring teas in China is usually from March to early May. Huang and others in Chun'an managed to advance the picking time by one month this year and sold their early Qiandao jade leaves, a roasted green tea similar to Longjing, in February at prices of 5,000 yuan to more than 10,000 yuan per 500 grams.
"I bet this tea tastes as good as Longjing, but I just cannot sell it at such a high price, as people are obsessed with Longjing. It has the best reputation and brand," said Shao Zongqing, manager of a tea company in Chun'an county.
Rare and exotic teas are fast developing into investment opportunities with the marketing potential that French vintage wines have possessed for decades, Shao said. However, that mainly depends on the domestic market.
"Foreigners are less likely to spend big money on green teas. Moreover, some places, like the European Union, have very strict demand for pesticide residue checks, which is a chokepoint for green tea exports," he said.
Spring is the crucial season for tea business. Research by the China Tea Marketing Association shows the trade in spring tea accounts for 75 percent of the year's annual business in China, although it makes up only 39 percent of the year's production by volume.