Diamonds, gold or tea! How expensive can this beloved drink be!
The exquisite taste of this seemingly innocuous drink has its roots in centuries of tradition and can boggle the mind with its aroma. Black and oolong teas are beloved for the Chinese. Premium green teas such as matcha and gyokuro is the Japanese preference. The quintessential British love their black teas, chief among them is Earl Grey and the Indians swear by their Chai. More recently, Yerba mate, a preferred South American strong brew has become a favorite beyond that continent. With so many premium choices, you would think that tea lovers, spoilt for choice would have a limit to what they would spend to enjoy the aromatic, flavorful taste of this versatile beverage – let’s just say that is not the case.
$600,000 per pound, anyone? That’s Da Hong Pao.
Acknowledged the most expensive tea in the world, this one kind of blows the mind. Reserved for honored guests in China, and also known as the Red Robe, this exquisite tea has its roots in the Ming dynasty. It has been designated as ‘Chinese Famous Tea’ and ‘The Four Great Bushes’ tea. Grown in the Wuyi mountains, it is a long leaf oolong tea with a sweet aroma, with notes of earthy and mineral flavors, and has a deep red hue.
So why is this tea called Big Red Robe?
According to legend, the mother of the emperor from the Ming Dynasty fell really quite sick. After trying almost everything to no avail, a humble farmer who was quite fond of the empress decided to climb the steep cliffs of the Wuyi mountains and acquire a few leaves of this revered tea. Sent to the emperor he ordered the herbs given to the empress steeped in hot water.
Miraculously, it was the leaves from these four bushes growing on Wuyi rock that cured her. To show his gratitude, the emperor sent red robes to Wuyi to cover those four bushes and the rest as they say is history.
This gorgeous tea actually came from the wild tea plants that were naturally growing on the cliffs of Wuyi Mountain in Fujian Province, China, almost 300 years ago. Six of the original trees are still alive today and are growing on Tianxin Rock. These are closely guarded, almost like the crown jewels (probably more so). They are however not harvested anymore. According to some sources, most of these old-growth plants last produced true DA Hong Pao in 2005.
There are three types of Da Hong Pao but the famous one is called Mother Tree Da Hong Pao. There are only six of the original bushes today, two of which date back to the Song Dynasty. The tea from these bushes is incredibly rare and the most expensive tea on earth – 20 gms of tea was said to have been sold for $30,000 USD. Since the Chinese government ordered no more leaves be harvested from these highly prized, ensuring they are preserved, another Da Hong Pao was created using cuttings from the original tree.
Purebred Da Hong Pao, this tea was reproduced using cuttings from the original mother tree and is cultivated commercially today. Luckily the taste appears to be the same – kudos, except it only took decades to perfect. That still hasn’t made it affordable.
According to the statistics, at present the tea garden area used to plant purebred Da Hong Pao in Wuyi Mountain is more than 40,000 acres and it remains a very expensive commodity to purchase. Cheaper versions are available but are a poor imitation to the true taste of pure bred Da Hong Pao.
As much as we love our tea, I doubt we will ever get a chance to taste the Mother Tree Da Hong Pao tea, luckily for us, if you’re not averse to denting your pocket in a big way, for a few extra $$$$$$$ we can likely indulge in the more commercially prepared purebred ones.