Chinese media reports that sales of Longjing tea, once more expensive than gold, have been badly hit by the anti-corruption campaign. (Flickr/Matt @ PEK)
The 10-day period before China’s upcoming Qingming festival is a prime time for Longjing tea farmers, marking the point when their tea plants start to sprout their prized spring shoots. However, this brief period also means something else for the farmers—scores of wealthy customers lining up to get their hands on premium “pre-Qingming” Longjing tea leaves that are only available this time of the year. However, amid the ongoing anti-corruption campaign in China, tea farmers and vendors now find themselves with massive amounts of premium tea they are unable to sell.
At the height of the country’s Longjing craze, according to Xinhua, the highest price fetched for the prized green tea was at $58 per gram in 2012, which was higher than the $54 per gram price of gold at the time. These days, Xinhua reports, the prices have fallen to a third of what they used to be, and generations of Longjing tea farmers who rely heavily on the windfall of the pre-Qingming tea leaves demand are left wringing their wrists in despair.
“In the past, as long as one had top-grade tea, there was no worry about selling it,” a resident in Meijiawu village, one of Longjing’s most important tea production centers, told Xinhua. “Even if a family had only 300 grams of tea, they would also be snapped up.” He also said that that customers previously lined up to buy up all their tea, but these days farmers have to “fight” for customers.
Prior to the anti-corruption campaign, the prized Longjing tea was a luxurious gift often popular with government officials. “Public funds were definitely the main driving factor behind the sales of top-grade Longjing tea,” said Jiangmei Lu, chairperson of Hangzhou Zhenghao Tea Company Limited (正浩茶叶有限公司), to Xinhua. A Longjing resident who goes by the surname Qian said that a certain bureau official from Zhejiang usually orders about 100 kilograms of high-grade tea from his family every year. “Shockingly this year,” Qian says, “he canceled his orders.”
Lu believes that given the quantity of tea purchased by buyers is huge, they must have been bought for gifting purposes. “They are long-time customers, where each order amounts to anywhere from five to 50 kilograms,” says Lu, adding that many are government officials. “500 grams of Longjing tea can brew about 150 cups of tea; with them buying so much tea, do you think they’re really brewing it for themselves to drink?” Lu believes that the crackdown on corruption is largely responsible for the sudden decline in Longjing tea sales.
As the crackdown on corruption continues, Xinhua says it is unlikely that Longjing tea producers and sellers will regain their former glory of storehouses empty from overwhelming demand and sky-high prices. Without public funds driving up demand, the outlet reports that some believe that this might actually be a blessing in disguise.
“There are 370 million tea drinkers in China, each consuming 860 grams of leaves each year,” Zhejiang Worker’s Daily (浙江工人日报) deputy editor Baihong Yu told Xinhua. “With this ban on using public funds to buy tea as gifts, this might actually allow this popular ‘luxury’ to become affordable to regular people again.”