Hidden Costs of High Valuations of Old Tea Trees

[2023.04.03] Posted By

Over the past decade, tea enthusiasts in China have been captivated by teas harvested from Ancient Tea trees, particularly those from Yunnan province, Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong Tea and Wuyi Rock Tea. However, as Ancient Tea trees are rare, the prices of teas harvested from them have skyrocketed. As a result, some farmers who possess Ancient Tea trees tend to overprotect them, which can lead to unintended negative consequences.

Amateur enthusiasts who admire Ancient Tea trees

Factors such as altitude, absence of fertilizers, age of tea trees, and clay soil are crucial in improving tea quality. However, the age of tea trees is often overemphasized. In reality, each factor plays a significant role in tea quality, and it is important not to solely focus on the Ancient Tea trees.

Tea gardens lined with huge tea trees

Nonetheless, Ancient Tea trees possess a visible and remarkable presence, making them alluring to amateur tea enthusiasts. Teas harvested from Ancient Tea trees have a rich aftertaste, strong aroma, depth, and a lingering sweetness known as “Hui Gan” in Chinese, making them highly valued for their quality.

Why Tea from Old Trees in Remote Areas is Becoming More Expensive

In the remote villages of Yunnan province, one can frequently encounter ancient tea trees. However, these prized trees are typically not traded at premium prices within these local communities. The dynamics change, however, when infrastructure projects such as highways and airports are constructed near these villages, attracting tea buyers and tea enthusiasts on the lookout for authentic tea experiences. In the absence of knowledge about the local market, these tourists often end up paying inflated prices for the tea they purchase. Furthermore, local wholesalers contribute to the speculation by artificially driving up the price of tea. Once news spreads that tea from a particular village commands a high price, the market value can experience a sudden and significant surge. As a consequence, prices skyrocket within just a few years. In recent times, it has become increasingly common for tea sourced from old trees to fetch prices several times higher than that of other teas in the market.

Since tea farmers only have a limited number of trees, increasing the yield from a single old tree can increase their income. Moreover, for highly-priced old trees, farmers may want to increase the yield even more. Therefore, in villages where prices are rising, there’s often an increase in the use of fertilizers. This can cause the trees to grow faster, resulting in a higher yield and more income for the farmers.

How Fertilizer Can Cause Sudden Death in Tea Trees

In remote mountainous areas of Yunnan province, tea trees are often left to grow naturally, with no artificial inputs like fertilizers. Some tea gardens that produce HOJO’s white tea, pu-erh tea, and Yunnan black tea are cultivated in this way, where the tea trees are descendants of those planted by ancestors and left to grow undisturbed. Many of these trees are over 100 years old and have thrived in their natural environment.

However, applying fertilizer can cause a sudden increase in nitrogen levels in the tea trees, which can in turn lead to an increase in harmful microorganisms, mites, and insects. Microbes and insects are attracted to nitrogen and thrive in environments rich in this nutrient, so applying fertilizer can sometimes cause the tea trees to die suddenly due to infestations.

Sudden death of old tea trees is not unique to Yunnan province and has also been observed in tea plantations in other regions, such as the Wudong Mountain in the Phoenix tea-growing region.

The essence of traditional farming in Yunnan province

The reason why tea farmers in Yunnan province adhered to traditional cultivation methods was actually to maintain the health of the tea. By growing tea in a natural state, tea trees naturally absorb the necessary nutrients and maintain a healthy state. In addition, the use of fertilizer-free farming methods reduces the nitrogen concentration in tea trees, which eliminates the risk of pathogenic infection and pest damage, while also affecting the taste of the tea. Since the components contained in the tea leaves change, naturally cultivated tea has a richer and deeper taste without any chemical taste or aroma.

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