This summer, when I traveled back to China, I found white tea had become popular. When I visited friends, almost all offered me white tea. They also told me that white tea was good for health. The taste of the new/old white tea was charming but I actually am a longtime white tea lover. Every year I would buy some white tea – some for keeping and some for drinking this year. But I cannot say I am happy about the phenomenon of white tea popularity because the price of the tea I purchased last year has doubled and in some cases even tripled.
It is an interesting phenomenon in Chinese tea market: the cheaper the price, the fewer the buyers; the more expensive the price, the more numerous the buyers. This phenomenon has happened with Puer tea, black tea, and Wuyi Rock tea. I remember still the year of Jinjunmei (金俊梅)：a black tea made of the sprouts of Lapsang souchong. It’s price rose to more than 20,000 RMB for 500g. (3,076US$ for 500g). It was also interesting that most of my friends offered me Jinjunmei during this price bubble, claiming that this Jinjunmei was definitely the real Jinjunmei because the source of this tea definitely could be guaranteed. The most often heard reason was that it is a gift for XXX—a government officer. This year is the year of white tea. The proof is that once the price goes higher, there will follow more buyers; and then the price reaches even higher . . .
A Chinese proverb states that the first seven things a day are firewood, rice, oil, salt, catsup, vinegar and tea (开门七件事，柴米油盐酱醋茶). Tea is an indispensable part of Chinese life. However, all the tea is good, whether it is puer or it is Jinjunmei, or it is white tea, those good teas actually belong to luxury goods. People enjoy a cup of tea, but they are not only enjoying this cup of tea – they are enjoying even more the name of this tea. They even enjoy the power of having this tea. For such people, the higher the price, the more power it shows that they have. This might be one of the reasons why the higher the price, the more numerous the buyers.
The other reason, I think, is relevant to widespread corruption. There is a saying in China: the people who are drinking tea do not buy tea; the people who are buying tea do not drink tea. It means that usually the people who spent plenty of money to buy expensive tea are not buying for themselves; they buy as a gift. Thus the people who received the gift, and who are the people drinking tea, have no need to buy tea. In this sense, the corruption this year might have improved, because the price of white tea, although doubled and even tripled its previous price, it is far less than the sky-high prices commanded by Jinjunmei and old Puer teas, popular a few years ago.
In any case, the victims are the common tea-drinking people – we buy tea for ourselves. Tea is, for us, an indispensable item, but we have to pay the price for luxury goods.Unless you can quit tea, you have to pay the double, or even triple price for the same white tea.
I think this is a phenomenon of many “luxury” items. Why does a pair of blue jeans cost hundreds of dollars when another pair costs $29.00? The denim, cotton material is the same. Why do a pair of eye glass frames cost $40.00 and another cost $800 and both are made of plastic? For the rich and those wanting to be perceived as rich, it is the ability of being able to afford something expensive that the buyer is paying for. Because tea is so much a part of the culture in China, tea is just another symbol of wealth. Fortunately for us in America, that hasn’t happened yet with tea. It’s all about taste. Unless someone thinks I’m wrong of course.