Tea is as diverse a drink as you’ll find.
There is no beverage like it when it comes to sheer history and scope of consumption. Tea is enjoyed in every social circle imaginable, from fancy houses, to greasy spoon cafes.
The prices of tea varies wildly depending on how rare it is. While some teas are grown year-round, others are grown on specific days, if not just one day of the year. Some teas are made from plants that are in such scarce supply, only six original plants still exist.
Below is a list of the world’s rarest teas, where they come from and whether or not they are out of your price range. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Tieguanyin is a rare oolong tea that was first harvested in Anxi, Fujian in the 19th century, though today it’s also produced in Taiwan. Tieguanyin, or Tie Guan Yin to make it easier, means the Iron Goddess of Mercy. As a result, some people call this brew the Iron Goddess Tea, not least because of its bold characteristics. You can purchase some for around £8.00.
Originally, Tieguanyin was given a good bake during the process, giving it a diverse and warm aroma, but the tradition didn’t travel well over the years and now it’s more or less impossible to find a good quality, baked Tieguanyin. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t try to find one! If you happen upon any, though, it’ll probably be a bit more expensive than £8.00.
Poo Poo Pu-Erh
When it comes to a tea with the word ‘poo’ in it three times, your expectations aren’t going to be amazing. Unfortunately, this isn’t a bluff where the name doesn’t match the contents or base material of the tea. Poo Poo Pu-Erh is made from the excrement of larvae of grain moths. The larvae are fed tea leaves beforehand. When they do their business, a farmer collects it, gives it a quick clean, before leaving it to dry out in the sun.
Poo Poo Pu-Erh was first produced in Yunnan, China (it was once given as a gift to Emperor Kialong) but you can also find it cultivated in Taiwan today. The leaves of this tea are minuscule compared to others and give off a coffee color and strong flavor to boot. You can find small amounts of this tea on the market for around £9.00
Grown in the highest and darkest altitudes of the Wuyi mountain, Fujian, Narcissus Wuyi is a rare variety of oolong tea. The leaves are baked with charcoal resulting in a dark tea with a woody, chocolate flavor. Wuyi can be incredibly pricey, especially if buying a kilogram’s worth. But smaller amounts can be purchased for the likes of £14.00
It may be worth investing in some this stuff for the smell alone. Wuyi is famous for its orchid-like aroma that only gets stronger the longer the tree grows. A 50-year-old narcissus oolong for example, can be smelled from a distance of 40 meters. Any tree older than 30 years is considered extremely rare.
Silver Tips Imperial
Silver Tips Imperial is produced in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal in India. The cultivation of this rare tea isn’t left in the hands of any schmuck. You have to be a trained professional of Makaibari Tea Estate to be able to pluck the two leaves and bud of this light oolong tea. Most rare teas are picked on one day of the year but Silver Tips Imperial can be produced on any full moon night from March through to October.
The chairman of the Makaibari Tea Estate says they pluck tea laves for Silver Tips Imperial on full moon nights thanks to the water content in all life forms decreasing, allowing the “distilled essence of the plant with all its subtle flavors and characters.” You can buy yourself some for around £15.00.
White Hair Silver Needle
White Hair Silver Needle is the most famous Chinese white tea. Also known as Baihao Yinzhen, it’s the priciest variety given that it’s harvested just once a year in the springtime. It has a light profile with grassy, herbal and fruity tones.
Silver Needle is made from the cultivars of the Da Bai tea tree family. Its rarity comes from the fact only the top bud of the plant is used for producing the tea. The finest kind of Silver Needle is made from carefully chosen buds plucked by hand. No machines or tools here.
Panda Dung Tea
Bad news for tea lovers who hate poo: Poo Poo Pu-Erh isn’t the only excrement-based tea. The aptly named Panda Dung Tea is a green tea so rare it is only produced in one location in the Ya’an mountain region of Sichuan. Unlike every other tea in the world, Panda Dung was only introduced in 2012 by an entrepreneur called An Yanshi. “Pandas have a very poor digestive system and only absorb about 30 percent of everything they eat,” Yanshi said at the time. Pandas do only eat bamboo, so their dung is far from unhealthy, even boasting rich nutrients.
When Panda Dung Tea was first launched it was the most expensive variety of tea in the world. The first batch sold for an astonishing $3,500 per 50g. Ten years later, you can find 200g of Panda Dung for around £25.00.
Tienchi Flower Tea
Tienchi Flower Tea is a rare herbal tea produced from something close to a ginseng flower, having similar benefits, the aroma and vegetal flavour of a pure ginseng flower. A summer drink, old timers will have you believe cures the likes of dizziness and insomnia.
What makes the Tienchi so rare is that these flowers grow only once every three years. As a result their price tag is often much higher than other rare teas like Silver Needle. Ten bags of Tienchi Flower Tea sell for around £42.00.
Da Hong Pao
Da Hong Pao, the original stuff anyhow, is one of the rarest and priciest tea in the world. Produced from Da Hong Pao tea trees on the rocky ledges of the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian Province, sadly only six of them remain today, known as the Mother Tree Dai Hong Pao.
Back in 2007, the Wuyi government placed a ban on anyone privately collecting teas from the rare mother teas. A cheaper alternative to the brew came about in the late 20th century after scientists in a Fujian University cultivated new Da Hong Pao plants from fragments of original tea bushes. This is known as ‘purebred Da Hong Pao’. Though, still rare it’s not as luxurious as the original stuff and be be bought between 5 and £10.00 in little amounts.
Yellow Gold Tea Buds
Exclusively produced and sold by TWG Tea, a tea company based in Singapore, the Yellow Gold Teas Buds are some of the rarest teas on the planet. Why? Because the leaves are hand-painted with 24K edible gold flakes. Just small amounts of this tea can go for as much as £325.00.
The tea is only grown on one mountain in the Sichuan Province in China and harvested one day a year — with golden scissors no less. The taste has an unsurprising metallic note to it with some nicer floral flavors. Though it may sound like an invention of a bored capitalist, this method goes back to 16th-century China, where it was the go-to tea of the emperors.