Although tea is an extremely popular beverage in Bangladesh, very few people in the country know about its various flavours. For example, white tea is hardly heard of as most locals are accustomed to consuming the more common varieties.
White tea can only be harvested by hand for a short period each year, making it one of the most expensive sorts of tea in the market.
The unique blend is produced in Bangladesh on a very limited scale and is mostly exported to various destinations but for the first time in the country's history, Silver Needle grade white tea was auctioned off in Chittagong earlier this month.
Purba Bangla Brokers had previously catalogued 10 kilogrammes of white tea produced by the National Tea Company (NTC) at Champarai Tea Garden in Kamalganj upazila of Moulvibazar.
The tea was later purchased for Tk 2,500 per kilogramme by Padma Tea Supply, according to Arifur Rahman Shahin, director of Purba Bangla Brokers.
The auction was held at Progressive Tower in Agrabad, Chattogram.
"This is the first time that white tea has been sold by auction at the Chattogram Tea Auction Centre," Shahin said.
Noor Hossain, a tea taster and blender of the National Tea Company, told The Daily Star that when the tea is prepared, it bears a slightly pale yellow colour.
The tea leaves are collected at dawn. If the plant is harvested after this period, then the quality of the tea becomes compromised.
Besides, the buds are separated from the leaves with special care, which is a time-consuming process.
"So, white tea is not produced very much," Hossain said, adding that production is limited even at the Champarai Tea Garden.
The only people who consume white tea in Bangladesh are the foreign tourists and tea connoisseurs.
Meghnad Hajra, proprietor of Padma Tea Supply, said they have high hopes for their purchase.
"Foreign buyers ask us for the best quality of tea available and now, with this white tea, we will try to quench their thirst," Hajra said.
Padma Tea Supply also aims to bring the variety within the reach of middle-class consumers.
After paying VAT and other expenses, the tea is worth about Tk 3,500 per kilogramme.
"We are selling it for Tk 4,000 per kilogramme," he added.
Johar Tarafdar, member secretary of the Tea Traders and Planters Association of Bangladesh, said the integration of white tea at the retail level was a major step for the local tea industry.
The industry will further develop if the production and marketing of high quality blends are increased, Tarafdar added.
Mohammad Ali, director of the Bangladesh Tea Research Institute, said white tea was initially cultivated in China, mainly in Fujian province.
It is now produced on a very limited scale in eastern Nepal, Taiwan, northern Thailand, southern Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh.