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Pu'er tea prices rise as Chinese interest grows


10-30-2014 13:17 BJT

A growing number of Chinese are buying it as an investment, like wine. In one of China's biggest recorded sales, two kilos of Pu'er tea sold for five million yuan, or around 800,000 US dollars. But the market isn’t always stable, as Grace Brown reports from Beijing.

This is Maliandao, Beijing's biggest tea market. Here you can find thousands of different teas from across the country, drawing many tea enthusiasts and investors alike.

Demand for high-quality tea is on the rise in China and it's mostly home-grown.

The China Tea Marketing Association says exports only account for 1.3 percent of China's tea industry revenues, while imports make up less than one percent of consumption.

"I like tea from the Wu Yi mountain, like Oolong tea," a resident said. "Older teas are of course more expensive than new ones. If it's an aged tea, I'm willing to spend 3,000 to 5,000 yuan on it. Because it tastes nicer. I also collect tea, I have one fermented tea from 1982."

"I collect tea," another said. "Usually it's a gift from a friend. I mostly collect Pu’er tea. I spend 400 to 500 yuan when I buy tea."

China's tea-drinking culture dates back thousands of years, and with rising Chinese incomes, retailers say that the tea drinking tradition is brewing some serious collectors.

"We have many customers who spend 200,000 to 300,000 yuan a year collecting aged white tea," Pingdi Zhang, Supervisor of Fujian Pinpinxiang Tea Industry Co., Ltd., said. "The longer the tea is preserved, the better it becomes. We had one old customer who bought a cake of our white tea for 86 yuan. Now its 2,280 yuan."

Along with white tea, one of the most expensive brews are now the dark, fermented variety known as 'Pu'er'. According to Zheng Chengjiang, who runs this tea shop, it has a wide range of flavours, changing taste as it ages.

While tea connoisseurs are willing to splurge, tea has also become much of an item of luxury consumption. Not a good label to have amidst China’s anti-corruption campaign, which makes it harder to gift and exchange in the slowing economy.

"This year, the market is not so good," Zheng Chengjiang, Manager of Mingrunge Tea Industry (Beijing) Co., Ltd., said. "You can’t see any shoppers on this street now."

Like art and wine, there is always the element of authenticity in question.

"There is fake tea in China," Zheng said. "You can't tell by looking at it. But if you have been drinking tea for more than ten years, you can tell after drinking it."

But with China's lacklustre stock market and real estate curbs, alternative investments, like tea, are likely to keep on bubbling.

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