Flush with excitement at having wandered the tea plantations in Darjeeling, in eastern India, which produces some of the world’s finest teas, I wonder what makes the most expensive teas in the world so. A BBC video feature says the Silver Tips Imperial tea of Kurseong, near Darjeeling, is the most expensive tea of India because of its rarity. The tea – two leaves and a bud – is picked on a full moon night on certain specific days when the stars must align perfectly.
Another story, in Business Today India, lists 10 teas as the most expensive in the world. How do you judge the value of tea? Going by the description of what constitutes the most salient value or characteristic of each of the most expensive teas, I find myself as mired in mystery as people are when judging wines. The mystery is ancient, almost divine.
Having originated in Asia, largely Buddhist, a couple of the most expensive teas are thought to be connected to Buddhist faith – these teas are divine. And most of the others on the Top 10 list have precious-metal connections as though one would drink diamond, gold, or silver in liquid form!
Categorizing the finest teas according to their inherent value doesn’t yield neat groups. But looking at the main types gives an idea of the secret behind their high valuations.
Here are kinds of teas that make the Top 10 list of the world’s most expensive, among them Darjeeling’s Silver Tip Imperial, which costs $1,850 a kilo, or 2.2 pounds.
- Health benefit or divine connection: Da Hong Pao, the most expensive tea on most Top 10 lists, is worth more than its weight in gold, according to another BBC story. Its price is almost $1,400 a gram. The gods are invoked to grow this tea. Another is Tieguanyin, after Guan Yin, a Buddhist deity. Tienchi Flower tea cures many diseases.
- Precious metal or rare: PG Tips Diamond Tea: Packets made of diamonds; Yellow Gold Buds, leaves painted with gold; Silver Tips Imperial: Rare, made in limited quantities, and having silver-colored leaves; Gyokuro means “dew of jewelry.”
- Use of animal matter: Panda Dung Tea, grown with panda dung as fertilizer; Poo Poo Pu-erh isn’t even tea – it’s insect excreta found on tea leaves.
- Vintage: Vintage Narcissus tea, comes in a 50-year-old box.
Here is the Top Ten list.
I love a good cuppa Darjeeling tea. I buy some premium tea to satisfy the gourmet in me, but $1,400 a tiny gram? No way. It can only be a dream as nebulous as the mists that shroud the tea bushes on hillsides.