Selling Even More Tea to China: Entrepreneurs Doing it Right

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the merits of doing the seemingly impossible: selling tea to China. After garnering quite a bit of interest, I’ve decided to extend that article (although, if you haven’t yet read the old one, you can take a look here). Today I’m going to link you to some news articles about entrepreneurs who are all selling their own tea to China.

1. “Who says you can’t sell ice to an Eskimo? Cornish tea plantation starts exporting tea to CHINA the birthplace of the beverage” – http://www.dailymail.co.uk | Sept. 30, 2013

2. “Export Champions: How I sell tea to China” – http://www.telegraph.co.uk | May 30, 2013

3. “Earl Grey descendants sell English tea to China” – uk.reuters.com | Feb. 1, 2013

4. “Selling (herbal) tea to China” – http://www.ruralweekly.com.au | Apr. 16, 2014

5. “Madura sells tea to China” – http://www.theland.com.au | Aug. 22, 2012

6. “The company helping the British sell tea to China” – http://www.bbc.com.au | June 20, 2013

As it turns out, it’s not as rare an occurrence as you might think, and savvy businesspeople are taking advantage of it.

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Tea Service Upgrades for Marriott Guests

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One of the largest hotel chains in America, Marriott, recently celebrated opening their 4,000 hotel with an acknowledgement to the quickly growing number of international guests from China.

In an effort to better accommodate the Chinese people, Marriott is now also employing Chinese-speaking staff and offering Chinese-style tea service, along with several other upgrades to make them feel right at home.

You can read more about this story at http://www.worldteanews.com/news/marriott-upgrades-tea-service-chinese#sthash.UW2OzV1y.

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Selling Tea to China – No, Really

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It is no secret that China has market dominance when it comes to tea, followed closely by India and Japan. China produces so much tea, and in so many different varieties, that it caters for palettes the world over. In addition to that, it has generations of tea farmers who have passed down ancient and heavily-refined tea processing techniques to their children, thus giving their tea an edge that very few other countries could ever hope to match. With access to the wondrous, mountainous areas of the Himalaya, to ideal soils and large amounts of land from which to harvest, China truly understands the importance of its thriving tea export market.

So, the question is begged: Is it actually possible – under any circumstances – to sell tea to China?

This phrase tends to be thrown around when someone is seen as an exceptionally good salesperson. Compare and contrast “Selling ice to the Eskimos”, which I can guarantee is going to be harder still than selling tea to China. And yet, the question still hangs in the air.

This may surprise you to know, but one clever British woman is doing exactly that. And she is doing it by selling Chinese tea connoisseurs experiences that may only be seen outside of the Chinese market. It seems a little silly, really, that with China’s love affair with tea that very few are exporting more exotic teas into the country. In fact, it seems, selling tea to China is shockingly easy, with China on average spending even more on tea than we Westerners manage to spend on alcohol.

Let that statistic sink in for a moment. Think about the sort of drinking cultures we have here, especially in the UK and Australia: Binge drinking is common among youth, and people who choose not to drink at all are apparently “strange”, for some reason. Alcohol has pervaded our society with unimaginable breadth – and it definitely isn’t cheap. Despite this, despite the fact that you could probably die from over-consumption of tea if you spent (and proceeded to consume) the same amount as you would for scotch, China still makes more money per capita on tea than we do on alcohol.
That’s staggering.
Now we’re starting to see the bigger picture, but this doesn’t include incredibly rare and special teas, which can become very expensive indeed. However, these aren’t for the average consumer – these teas are in limited supply and do not make up a large market share. Many average Chinese consumers still crave for a taste of the exotic – even if less expensive varieties of exotic would be favoured.
I will leave this analysis with one final question, one that you may be asking yourself right now:
Why aren’t more people selling tea to China?
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White on White

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During the Song Dynasty in China an Emperor named Hui Zhong said that white tea was the coming together of all that is elegant.

White teas are the first flush pick of the spring; their liquor is fresh, slightly sweet and very subtle.

Once reserved for the privileged elite, white teas are recognisable by their luminous, straw-coloured liquor.

Traditionally they come from China’s Fujian Province. It was here that the style of tea has developed into what it is today.

There is a growing movement of tea drinkers who favour delicate white tea and it is now produced in other areas of China as well as in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other nations.

You may wonder why white tea is considered so special. It is because its harvest season is so short – just a few days. The leaves are handpicked from and then closely processed with extra time and care. For this reason, there’s only a tiny amount of white tea produced in the world. Enjoy every sip!

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A Pot Full of Memories

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Made from a special clay found only in the city of Yixing, China, this extraordinary teapot possesses the ability to absorb the flavours of the teas inside it over a number of years.

Those who have the privilege of owning and using one over many years are said to be able to brew tea simply by adding plain, boiling water to the pot.

Before the teapot is made, the mined-out clay is left in the sun in the form of large rocks after extraction to weather. This process will take in excess of a year before the clay is ready to be pounded into a powder and sieved to remove impurities. The clay is then placed in a large fresh water tank for three days, and is then allowed to dry out under sunlight. Finally, before it is ready to be sold, excess moisture is drawn out of the product using a vacuum processor.

Such preparation seems excessive, but it doesn’t end there. The potter artisan must make time for a further two days of processing, which involves pounding the clay with a wooden mallet while every so often adding some water, until there are no air pockets to be seen.

With such a lengthy process and renowned tea-brewing capabilities, Yixing teapots are not nearly as expensive as they might sound at first glance. The unfortunate truth, however, is that while commonplace in China, much of the Western World is unfamiliar with them.

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A History of Tea Drinking in Russia, Part 1

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With the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games under way, there is much to be said about Russia. Many don’t realise, however, that Russia has a long history of drinking tea – even longer than Britain, believe it or not – and the country itself still greatly appreciates a good cup of tea to this very day.

A good 100 years before Britain got its first taste of steeped heaven, Russia was importing tea from China. The rest of Europe would have to wait as Russia developed a bustling and thriving culture of serving tea.

During the 19th century, tea had become so strongly associated with the people of Russia that despite the fact tea was produced in China, certain types of black tea were known as “Russian” teas anyway. Russian Caravan is a traditional black tea and is known for its smoky character. It received its name due to its method of importation; generally via caravans led by camels. Black tea is still the most popular tea in Russia, however many residents are now drinking green tea as well.

Perhaps the biggest reason for Russia’s rich culture in tea is its climate; cold days high up in the Northern Hemisphere chill to the bone, but tea is one of the best and tastiest ways to warm up from the inside. Tea has had a profound affect on the Russian way of life since it was introduced in 1638; the Chinese Emperor from West Mongolia first presented the Russian Czar with tea as a gift, however it was refused. The Czar saw no apparent use for “a load of dead leaves”, however eventually accepted upon the Emperor’s insistence. And thus Russia’s tea culture began.

Getting to Russia from China, however, was no simple matter. It was a difficult slog from start to finish, and the harsh conditions importers faced meant that many turned down the offer despite demand. Russian aristocrats were therefore the first to serve the drink and make it acceptable within Russian culture, as its limited supply resulted in skyrocketing prices that few could afford.

When Russia marked sovereignty over Siberia in 1689, however, a tea trade route was created which made it easier for traders. Catherine the Great was the real pioneer in tea importation, however; by the time she had died in 1796, she had ordered the importation of so much tea that class and expense was no longer an issue. Even low-class workers could afford and enjoy the serenity that came with a good cup of loose-leaf tea.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this post on tea in Russia! Throughout the Olympic Games we will be creating a number of other Russia-themed posts, including more Russian tea history and all about the samovar.

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The Story of Jhentea and its Family History

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Jhentea is a teashop in Taiwan that has a fascinating history, with four generations of tea experts and production in Taiwan, after their ancestors, Hon Chen’s offspring, escaped from Communist China. It began as a small family business cultivating tea in the Fujian Province, with great-great-grandfather Hon Chen – a very well-known and respected tea master within the local community. Chen’s offspring had already expanded small parts of this business in Taiwan when communist rule overcame China, and were fortunate enough to be able to escape there. Their main trade was Wu-Yi tea plants that grew to create beautiful oolong teas. This business grew such that it was able to trade with global customers.

The first tea garden to be owned in Taiwan by the family was bought by Li Chen, Hon Chen’s son. It cost 2 Dragon Dollars (a currency used in China long ago) and was on Taipei’s mountainside. Taiwan’s beautiful climate had made it renowned as a land of new opportunity, and its weather complimented the art of growing tea beautifully. In this tea garden, Wu-Yi and Oolong was cultivated, despite not being native to the region – the climate was still ideal.

Japanese rule became a big problem for many residents in Taiwan, bringing with it waves of hardship and fear. As a result, the family, led by Li’s son, Jeder Chen, moved their production of tea to a different side of Taipei Mountain. They settled in a mountainous region of Yi Lan, and began to plant. A small community had formed in an effort to hide out here, and much effort and community spirit went into helping each other through the hardship.

Jeder had fled to the mountainous region of Yi Lan with Dong Lai Chen, his second wife. It was there they raised 7 children together, however after the true hardship of Japanese rule was over, Jeder Chen returned with his first wife. Dong Lai Chen was left on the plantation and raised her children alone, each learning and doing what they could manage on the plantation. Through her experience and knowledge, Dong Lai became the first female tea master in the region – however as a female, she was forced to work hard to gain a reputation among other tea masters.

Full-production of tea was reassumed after 1942, when the Japanese occupation was nearly over and Chiang Kai-Shek assumed power. Tea had become a valuable trade commodity, and Taiwan’s oolong teas became some of the most highly-regarded all over the world.

Fu Chen, Dong Lai’s eldest daughter, became the major cultivator in the Chen family tea garden, while 4 out of the other 6 siblings became involved in the family’s legacy as well. Fu Chen became the second female tea master in the family, and opened the Chen family’s first shop. She married SeHo Fang, who had a vision for a retail store, as well as the branding of their crop. It was named Long Yuan, similar to “dragon dollar” in Chinese.

Fu Chen’s beautiful teas won many competitions, and was a regular entrant. Her daughter, Ai Fang, was brought up in the way of tea and became the family’s third female tea master, continuing four generations of valuable tea knowledge and exceptional cultivation.

Ai Fang is particularly concerned with educating her customers about everything related to tea, and has a modern view of the world. Her daughter, Kuei Fang, became an artist and travelled to New York – however she discovered that what her family created was quite rare, and so much effort was rarely put into a good cup of tea as her family had done. In response to this, she and Ai entered a rebranding project of Long Yuan into Jhentea, to bring the shop into the modern age. It is their wish for this to help bring Ai Chen’s story and knowledge of tea onto a worldwide platform, so that even more people can appreciate tea.

You can find out more about Jhentea at http://www.jhentea.com/our-story/

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