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People's Daily Online>>China Society

High tea prices causing a stir

(Xinhua)

14:15, April 23, 2012

FOR centuries, tea has been considered one of the seven daily necessities of Chinese life, alongside rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar and firewood.

Nowadays, however, some tea is no longer a humble necessity, but a luxury item few can afford.

During the promotion of this year's first batch of green tea, which usually hits the market this month, a Chinese company rolled out a tea priced at 26,800 yuan (US$4,253) per 100 grams.

The tea, named daqi, meaning treasure, is a type of Xinyang Maojian, a renowned type of green tea produced in Henan Province. The tea comes in a cloisonne container with a jade lid and a sandalwood base.

While ordinary Xinyang Maojian sells at several hundred yuan per kilo, a single cup of daqi can cost 804 yuan, which, according to its producer, reflects the value of its rarity and "cultural flavor."

"Only a few kilos of daqi tea are produced every year - the tea only grows on a tiny patch of land, and our master-level selection and processing techniques have added to its value," said Huang Yixing, vice general manager of producer Henan Auspicious Cloud Tea Co Ltd.

Huang said that its high-profile promotion was aimed at increasing the fame of Xinyang Maojian, which is not as well-known as China's other famous teas.

"Compared with Anji white tea, Pu'er and Longjing, which have all fetched high prices, Xinyang Maojian has lagged behind. We hope our efforts can help consumers realize the tea's true value," Huang said.

China's tea market, now the largest in the world, has churned out a large number of luxury teas in recent months.

In March, a high-end Longjing tea outvalued gold with an auction price of 180,000 yuan per 500 grams in Zhejiang Province.

In another eye-popping story, a Sichuan Province businessman introduced a type of tea fertilized with panda dung. He is charging 20,000 yuan for 50 grams, provoking public debate about his bid to produce the world's highest priced tea.

Some entrepreneurs say they want to push the ancient brew into China's luxury market to compete with watches and red wine in appealing to the rising numbers of wealthy Chinese.

"A watch can easily fetch a million yuan with its fine craftsmanship, and we want to show that tea also has this, as well as a profound cultural background," Huang said.

Wang Yong, head of the Henan Tea Association, said the profit margin for luxury tea is unduly high, as its production cost is, at most, 3,000 yuan per 500 grams.

To make tea appear luxurious, companies tend to overpackage and overprice, contributing to a 10 percent rise in this spring's tea price in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan Province, over the last year, Wang said.

The retail price surge, however, does not please tea farmers. Many have complained about a drop in purchase price due to a surplus after this year's bumper harvest as well as the exploitation of tea traders.

The bubble in the market has left a bad taste among experts and the public, many of whom identify the luxury tea trend with money worship, and corruption.

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