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In Search of the World’s Oldest Tea Tree

Where does your tea come from? Well, to start with it comes from a plant called Camellia sinensis. Statistically speaking, based on production figures, that plant is most likely to reside somewhere in China, India, or Africa. The actual plant the tea was harvested from probably took the form of a small, rather neatly manicured bush. But tea, like so many plants, can grow in the wild as well as in a tea garden or estate, and some of the older tea trees and bushes worldwide tend to have taken on something of a mystique over the years.

300-year-old Tea Tree (Photo source: screen capture from site)
300-year-old Tea Tree (Photo source: screen capture from site)

Trying to track down the world’s oldest tea tree is doomed to be an exercise in failure, since there may be some incredibly ancient specimen tucked away in a corner of a remote jungle where no one will ever see it. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few claimants to the title of The World’s Oldest Tea Tree. If you doubt this, then start your quest for said tree in your favorite search engine of choice.

I’m going to go out on a limb now. I haven’t done the research, because I’m quite certain that there’s no organization that exists to certify the age of tea trees and determine which is the oldest. Taking the scientifically and statistically accurate method of choosing the tree that appears to generate the most search engine results (hmmm), I’d say one must go with a tea tree located in Yunnan province, one of China’s most notable tea growing regions.

According to one article in the Chinese press a few years back, a half-kilogram block of puerh tea from this 3,200-year-old tree was just about to be auctioned. The reserve price for this relatively modest chunk of tea, said to be one of only six cakes made that year, was set at the equivalent of 38,961 US dollars. For those who might have been skeptical of the whole affair, the production process was said to have been certified by a notary. The tree, which grows at an altitude of more than 10,000 feet, also holds the distinction of being the largest in diameter, at more than six feet.

If these claims are to be believed then some of the other claims for the oldest tea tree seem rather paltry. Take, for instance, this report from the Vietnamese press, on the so-called oldest tea tree in the world, one that’s a mere 300 years old. Oh, please.

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