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Chinese tea at crossroads(2)

2017-07-07 14:43The World of Chinese Editor: Yao Lan ECNS App Download

Along with improvements in the quality and value of tea products, the branding and promotional strategies that are bringing them to market are also modernising. In April, a spokesperson for the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced the policy's vision for the future鈥攖he 'Internet Plus' model.

Song Cheongmin, a macroeconomic management official for the NDRC, told China Daily that China "has long passed the time where farmers only toiled on their land. In our era, 'Internet Plus' must be highlighted." The impenetrable 'buzzword' means that farmers and tea companies will get help from mainstream and online media to produce brand-building adverts.

Dang added that the top priority was "to find a carrier to hold the brand." One company vying to be this flag carrier is Xiao Guan Tea. Established only two years ago, the luxury brand has already launched a flagship store in Beijing and published several promotional videos, the most recent of which, "Xiao Guan Tea's Search for Tea,"almost resembles a piece of art more than an advert.

In May, more than 40 Chinese companies showcased their products at the "Premium Agricultural Brands of China" exhibition at the International Agriculture Fair in Serbia. As China's "One Belt One Road" initiative gathers momentum, the government hopes that agricultural brands will be just one of the many high quality, value-added Chinese cultural exports.

However, not all in the industry are as optimistic about the future.

"I'm scared of the development鈥攊t's too fast," a man surnamed Wang, owner of a small traditional tea house in Beijing, tells TWOC.

Wang's attitude towards the agricultural brands promotion policy is complicated. He welcomes the protections it brings to tea plantations and farmers, as well as the standardized food labeling and safety procedures brought in to make Chinese exports reach EU standards; but he also has misconceptions about how well tea can be exported to foreign markets.

"It can be done鈥攐f course it can be done鈥攂ut it's a difficult problem." Wang says, looking around his tea house.

"If you export tea鈥攑erhaps in a box, perhaps in a bag鈥攜ou sell the tea abroad; the consumer boils some water and brews a pot or a cup of tea. They drink it and then throw it away. That's not Chinese tea, it's a drink," he says.

"I worry that foreigners may misconstrue what Chinese tea is really about. They might think 'Oh, so this is what Chinese tea is really like!' [even] after drinking a high-quality, branded exported product, but that's not true."

Wang's earnestness to share tea culture with the world is palpable. "Tea is a cultural vehicle," he explains, "it's the table our cups our sitting on, the craftsmanship of the joinery that holds it together; it's the woven bamboo mat lying on the surface of the wood. It's the calligraphy hanging on the wall, the conversation we're having over this pot of pu'er."

"Tea culture is the friends I've met through tea (ch谩y菕u 鑼跺弸), the acquaintances who buy tea from me and then become friends with whom I do things that have no relationship with tea at all," he adds. "Tea is something that brings people together (ch谩yu谩n 鑼剁紭); this is true Chinese tea."

His forecast for the future of Chinese tea export is not all doom and gloom鈥攈e has his own solution to offer. "For Chinese tea to be exported properly鈥攆or Chinese tea culture to be exported properly鈥攜ou need communication. You need people who love drinking tea to meet, to talk to each other, to talk over pots of tea," he says.

"When governments and high-level officials manage exports and control how imports work, this is not what they talk about, because they're not 'tea people'鈥攖hey're politicians. I think it's possible, I think true Chinese tea will be exported in the future, but I don't know when."


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