Tea ranks among China’s most significant contributions to the West. Lapsang Souchong, a famous Chinese black tea, dates back to the days of the ancient Silk Road from Asia to Europe. Its unmistakably smoky once prevailed in Great Britain.
Today though, Zheng Shan Tang, one of China’s main producers of the tea, say they have been transforming from an exporter of raw material to an importer. Lin Yin, vice-general manager of the company explained that Sri Lanka and India now have lower labor costs than they do. With cheap imported raw materials and leading technologies for processing black tea, the company make fine products that meet consumer needs. “Many foreign countries nowadays also come for advanced techniques and cooperation rather than raw tea,” he added.
The company processes and exports about 230 tonnes of tea per year for foreign brands. That is only one fifth of its all-time highest export total. Zheng Shan Tang’s changing business pattern reflects a common situation for its counterparts in this tea-savvy province and across China.
Feng Tingquan, chairman of the Fujian Tea Science Society, told us that tea exports from China have remained stable at roughly 350,000 tonnes out of a total world tea consumption of 2.5 million, which is not a big percentage. Feng pointed out that although there has been no breakthrough in quantity, the price per kilo has risen to a certain degree.
Experts also say some Fujian tea makers are attempting to deal with more Belt and Road importers to bolster demand for this Chinese specialty. Some have found potential growth areas along the routes, despite the overall flat market share of Chinese tea globally.
Chunlun, a local Jasmine green tea maker, has seen this floral scented beverage become popular with tea-drinking customs in Russia and Belarus, where people boil tea leaves and tinge the air with fragrance. General Manager Fu Tianfu told us that their innovative products have targeted the niche. “When I was in Russia,” he said, “I saw purchasing power rise as more and more people there became fond of crafted tea, which costs over a hundred yuan per pot. I also noticed foreign customers’ habits of drinking cold water. Therefore, we have developed high-end tea brands and instant tea powder to cater to these needs.”
For Chinese tea companies, attempts to boost trade and increase overseas demand also include promoting tea culture under the belt and Road Initiative. Chunlun has offered tea ceremony and tasting experiences to many foreign delegations at its headquarters.
Foreign visitors can learn about agricultural modernization, the process of making jasmine green tea, and most importantly, Chinese tea culture. Jalini suriarachchi, a Sri Lankan official, enjoyed her experience at the tea factory. She was interested in the great production that mixed tea leaves with jasmine flowers. She said that she wanted to bring this technology back to her country, which is also a major tea producer.
As tea trade continues on the silk road, China has found a new position in the global supply chain. And its tea makers continue to seize new opportunities in increasing international contacts.