STiR Tea & Coffee Industry International

Volume 3, Number 3

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38 STiR tea & coffee industry international China's 50-year focus on exporting large quantities of tea at low prices is shifting. Quality over quantity is the new mandate. As China's domestic market for high- priced tea cools, new wholesale opportunities are emerging for Western buyers. ZHEJIANG, ChIna The translucent leaves of the Anji tea bush were celebrated in poetry, praised by Song Dynasty Emperor Huizong and the choice of connoisseurs hundreds of years before the fabled Anji Bai Cha disappeared into the mists of time. The legend lived on in The Treatise on Tea (1107 AD) which described "a rare and exceptional white leaf tea" with intricately winding branches and delicately translucent leaves. In 1980 an ancient bush was discovered by accident in the Tianhuangping Sce- nic Zone. The tree was growing at 2,650 ft. and appeared to be hundreds of years old. Tests showed it to be the long-lost White Tea of Anji. Two years later, 537 cuttings were taken to a special nursery where 288 took root. In time 82 plants were successfully bred into 75 clone bushes, as reported by Helen Xu Fei in a 2009 article in STiR Tea & Coffee International. In 1989 tea made from these plants earned First Class honors at the Zhejiang Gourmet Tea Contest. The tea was cited for its superbly refreshing taste and underly- ing sweetness. Many awards followed and by 1990 the Anji White-leaf Tea Develop- ment Field had expanded to a third of a hectare (three quarters of an acre). Eventually these teas would sell at record prices. At one point a Beijing buyer paid RMB 50,000 ($7,350) for 50 grams of Anji white tea, a record price for green tea. (All dollars cited in this article are $USD). The story of Anji Bai Chi offers an important lesson in the dynamics of sourcing Chinese tea. Annual production of Anji Bai Cha on 16,000 acres (6,500 ha) today generates more than $100 million in domestic sales. This year's harvest is expected to be 1,400 metric tons. In China Anji Bai Cha is marketed at specialty shops and online as a super grade green tea that sells for RMB400 ($64.25) for 30 grams or $2,141 per kilo. Domestic demand in producer countries is the biggest reason there is so little avail- able for export. Last year the Chinese consumed 1,532 million metric tons of the 1,850 大观茶论 In his Treatise on Tea (Dà Guān Chá Lùn) Emperor Huizong described his favorite as "a green tea which had the color of white jade." The text established seven criteria for tea competition. Dan Bolton The White Tea of Anji Sourcing quality loose leaf tea in China is so costly and complex that new trade models are evolving

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