Tea, a warm, refreshing, and flavorsome beverage, is savored by millions thanks to its rejuvenating properties and delicious taste. An estimated three billion cups of tea are drank each day, making it the second most popular beverage on the planet after water. The amazing value of tea is indisputable, more so as it is made from the same plant, scientifically called Camellia Sinensis, harvested in China, India, and Sri Lanka. It is the cultivating and processing methods that differ and that give birth to the world’s most luscious tea varieties. However, how much would you pay for a cup of tea?
With a long history spreading over thousands of years, tea has traveled from China to all the distant corners of the world, quenching thirst and energizing all those who know how to enjoy it. There’s something lofty and regal about sipping that steaming cup of tea in the afternoon, and the British aristocracy definitely had something in mind when they invented the famous five o’clock tea tradition, enjoyed in their flamboyant tea rooms.
Nowadays, we’ve become so accustomed to drinking tea, that we barely stop to think about how those leaves ended up in our cup. In some cases, tea leaves are pampered better than royalty in order to make the kind of teas the great Emperors of China were being treated to. Often mixed with herbs for a more intense flavor, processing and preparing the following teas is much more difficult than you would expect.
10. Tienchi Flower Tea: $170 per 1,000 grams
Scientifically called Panax notoginseng, Tinechi Flower Tea is one of the healthiest teas in the world. In fact, the Latin Panax stands for “cure-all.” Used for centuries to cure insomnia, dizziness, and skin rashes, with powerful detox properties, Tienchi is a type of ginseng that grows in southwest China. Both the root and the flowers have medicinal use. Tienchi flowers resemble a tiny broccoli inflorescence, and are highly prized throughout Asia. Harvested only in the Yunnan Province, Tienchi Flower Tea has a coveted cool minty ginseng flavor.
9. Silver Tips Imperial Tea from Makaibari Tea Estate: $400 per 1,000 grams
Renowned for its distinctive flavor and color, Darjeeling tea grows in the homonym region at the foothills of the Himalayas, at an altitude of 5,000 to 8,000 feet. Makaibari is the oldest estate in Darjeeeling, India, and the world’s first tea factory. The estate produces a number of organic teas, but their most prized product is their Silver Tips Imperial Tea, the most expensive Darjeeling tea in the world. Harvested under full moon and interwoven with silver streaks, Silver Tips Tea is a patented product of the Makaibari Tea Estate, sold at the price of $400 per 1,000 grams.
8. Gyokuro Tea: $650 for 1,000 grams
Although it is classified as Sencha due to processing methods, Gyokuro tea is in fact a type of shaded green tea, quite different from Sencha tea, which is a type of unshaded Chinese tea. Gyokuro tea is shaded from the sun for two weeks before being plucked, which elevates amino-acid levels in the leaves. Plus, the leaves are not grounded. With a distinctive rich flavor and aroma, Gyokuro literally means “jewel dew,” which refers to the pale green color of the infusion. Cultivated only in the Japanese Uji District, it is sold for $650 per 1,000 grams.
7. Poo Poo Pu-Erh Tea: $1,000 per 1,000 grams
Pu-Erh is a type of fermented tea with a rich flavor, which grows only more valuable with time. However, Poo Poo Pu-Erh tea is very little different from you’d expect to drink. Originating from the Yunnan region in China, Poo Poo Pu-Erh Tea is perhaps the weirdest cup of tea you’ll ever drink. It may look like a bunch of dried leaves, but those are actually the droppings of several types of insects. But you should know that these insects feed on nothing else but tea leaves all their lives. Their feces are hand picked by Taiwan farmers using tweezers and magnifying glasses because they are so tiny, and are infused to make an energizing tea with medicinal properties. Considered quite a delicacy, the tea was invented in the 18th century by Chinese doctors to be offered as a gift to Emperor Qianlong.
6. Yellow Gold Tea Buds, $3,000 for 1,000 grams
Harvested in one single area in one mountain in the world, only one day per year, using golden scissors to cut the upper part of the tea tree, Yellow Gold Tea Buds is worth every penny. The buds are sun dried and then stored in closed containers where they release their contained polyphenols, turning yellow, and obtain a soft and flowery fragrance. Afterward, the tea leaves are painted in 24 carat gold, which makes the tea shimmer. In Asia, it is believed that gold is good for you. This is truly the tea of the Emperors of China, and is very difficult to find. Produced by TWG Tea Company, it is only sold in Singapore and cannot be purchased online.
5. Tieguanyin Tea: $3,000 per 1,000 grams
Named after the Iron Godess of Mercy, a Buddhist deity, Tieguanyin Tea is an Oolong tea, a blend of semi-fermented black and green tea. It is the king of all Oolong teas, with a distinctive chestnut flavor, and heavy, solid leaves that are crisp to the touch. Tienguanyin Tea originated in the 19th century in the Fujian Province, and the tea leaves go through a dozen steps until they are finally ready to be brewed. After they are plucked, the leaves are sun withered, are cooled, tossed, withered again with some oxidation, are fixated, rolled and dried, then roasted and scented. At $3,000 for 1,000 grams, what makes this special tea worth every buck? Its leaves can be infused for up to seven times without losing their flavor.
4. Vintage Narcissus Wuyi Oolong Tea: $6,500 per 1,000 grams
The centerpiece of the first rare tea auction in Hong Kong held in November 2013 was a 44lbs (20 kg) box of extremely rare Narcissus Wuyi Oolong Tea. More than half a century old, the box of tea has had its share of adventures. The vintage Narcissus Oolong Tea box was exported from Wuyi, China to Singapore in the 1960’s. After changing hands a few times, it returned to Hong Kong when it was purchased by a Malaysian-Chinese collector. Narcissus Oolong is one of the most exquisite Chinese teas. The leaves are harvested on Mount Wuyi in the Fujian Province, and are named after the Greek myth of Narcissus.
3. Panda Dung Tea: $70,000 per 1,000 grams
Panda Dung literally means panda droppings and that’s exactly the secret behind this ridiculously expensive tea. Pandas exclusively eat wild bamboo, but they only absorb around 30% of its nutrients, meaning that the rest of 70% is eliminated through their excrement. However, don’t imagine that you’ll be drinking panda droppings. The panda poo is instead used to fertilize the tea trees. It all started out when a Chinese entrepreneur decided to grow tea in the Ya’an Mountains in Sichuan, and used panda excrement to fertilize his crops. He soon discovered that people loved the flavor, and would pay big bucks for his tea. Pandas are a Chinese national treasure, but they are also the key ingredient in preparing a ridiculously expensive tea, selling for $35,000 per 500 grams. The price of drinking a cup of Panda Dung? Does $200 per cup sound too expensive for you?
2. PG Tips Diamond Tea Bag: $15,000 Per Tea Bag
In 2005, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of PG Tips, the famous British tea company launched a designer diamond studded tea bag with a price tag of $15,000. Each one of these incredibly expensive tea bags contains 280 excellent-quality diamonds, and are filled with Silver Tips Imperial Tea from Makibari Estate, the most expensive Darjeeling tea in the world. Handcrafted by Boodles jewelers, the tea bags were used to raise money for a charity in Manchester, England.
1. Da-Hong Pao Tea: $1.2 million per 1,000 grams
The overall king of Chinese teas, literally meaning Big Red Robe, Da-Hong Pao is a type of Chinese Wuyi Oolong tea. One of the Ming Dynasty’s best kept secrets, it is believed that the mother of a Ming Dynasty emperor was cured of an illness by a mysterious tea. The emperor sent his men to track down the origins of the tea, and found four bushes perched high on a rock on Mount Wuyi, out of which three survive to this day. A truly legendary tea, Da-Hong Pao has medicinal properties, and is a valued Chinese national treasure, offered as a gift to dignitaries and honorable visitors. Da-Hong Pao can hardly be found for sale, and remains a well-kept secret. The price tag for 1,000 grams of this rare tea? A jaw-dropping $1.2 million.
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