The dietetic culture of Taiwan tea2005-07-21/ By: Wu Qiuqiong
The 'champion tea', an entry of light fragrant type of oolong, of the second National Quality Tea Sales Competition, a significant annual event in the eyes of tea businesses in Taiwan, was sold to the highest bidder - the Vitalon Group at NT880,000 per jin, or six hundred grams, and once again set another astounding record. The sponsoring Council of Agriculture (COA) indicated that the purpose of the event is to encourage tea farmers to improve their tea-processing techniques and bring Taiwan tea into the global market. Naturally, it is also a goal to increase Taiwan people's consumption of tea, hoping that tea drinks would gradually replace coffee on the market and eventually people in Taiwan could regard tea-drinking as a fashionable habit.
The quality of Taiwan tea is high and prices are therefore relatively steep. As a result it does not have a big share of the market and the tea industry faces tough competition from imported tea. Fortunately, cheap imported tea has served as an expediter and the domestic market has expanded. In comparison, local quality tea enjoys a steady clientele and has its share of the gift market. As consumers' health awareness grows, the tea-drinking population in Taiwan also increases and tea-related food-processing industries are boosted. As a consequence, Taiwan tea also spans from drinks to food ingredients and opens up very promising markets for the tea industry. Not long ago, the Agriculture and Food Administration of COA took the opportunity of celebrating the International Health Day on April 7 and pronounced it the "Tea Drinking Day", stressing the beneficial aspects of tea-drinking such as anti-aging, rejuvenating, antilipemic and weight-controlling, etc. and inviting the whole nation to support Taiwan tea industry as well as to care for their own health.
Demonstration of Plantation Features
To protect the interests of consumers, Taiwan Provincial Government's Agriculture and Forestry Department and Tea Research and Extension Station are actively working on bringing out consistent tea quality and making tea prices reasonable. By using township as the basic unit and applying strict classification packaging, various grades of tea are readily identifiable to consumers. For instance, the Wen-shan bao-zhong tea, mainly produced in Taipei County, is divided into the four price levels of plum blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum. In Nan-tou County, the Lu-gu Township, the farmers' association and the Tea Production Cooperative apply numbers of plum blossoms on tea packages to distinguish the different grades, with five plum blossoms representing the highest quality. The Evergreen Tea of Ming-jian is sorted into pine and cypress levels. In Zhu-shan, numbers of tea blossoms are used to signify the various notches. In Taoyuan County, the Long-quan Tea of Long-tan Township is classified by one to three dragons on the boxes. The Shou-shan Tea of Gui-shan has the grading, from class 1 to 3, directly written on the packages. These interesting designs not only reveal the grades but also add certain characters to teas from different parts of Taiwan.
The director of the Tea Research and Extension Station indicated: "There are many names on the tea market, normally differentiated by the type of tea and making process, including green tea, Wen-shan bao-zhong tea, semi-sphere bao-zhong tea, high mountain tea, tie-guan-yin tea, white-haired oolong tea and black tea, etc. Other than making tea, tea leaf can also be used in food processing. Many researches have proven that foodstuff with added tea essence, catechins or tea polyphenols is better in quality and better for health. In the future, extraction of tea essence and its further processing may help boost the development of the tea industry. Certainly, organic cultivation is another direction the Tea Research and Extension Station is working on, hoping to upgrade the quality of tea leaves by producing without using chemicals and improving the taste by modifying the processing techniques. The results of these studies will be put in practical use through cooperation between the researchers and the tea industry."
The New Look of a Traditional Business
The tea business has always been regarded as a traditional profession. Many old shops have been passed down within the family from generation to generation for a century and business is carried on with established reputations and tacit understandings. To compete with these old shops, new companies need not only "freshness", they also have to be "different". The "freshness" of course refers to the tea leaves; "different" then means changing the marketing techniques. The original "Natural Flavor Tea" is one successful example. It was the first high mountain tea maker to pass the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) certification in Taiwan. Last year it was voted the "Taiwan Packaging Star 2004" and "World Packaging Star 2004". Its products are being sold to Japan, Korea, Russia and Singapore. The accomplishment of "Natural Flavor Tea" has to be attributed to the reverse thinking of Mr. Lu Zhi-qiang, its general manager. He was convinced that tea consumers would eventually place more importance on health than prices. Consequently, he set up strict administrative rules when the business was first started and laid a solid foundation for passing the certification later on.
Compared to the new rising star, the TenRen Group, which has been established for over half century, adheres to the "old business, new management" spirit, devotes itself to the development of new products, opening new markets and revamping its organization. Aside from spreading out to various food products using tea as the core, it has also started the Cha For Tea combination diner chain, aiming at the international market and making tea-drinking a part of life and accepted by younger generations. In 2003 TenRen authorized Coca Cola to produce oolong tea and green tea drinks. This set an example of multinational strategic alliance for traditional industries in Taiwan
As the chairman of TenRen Group and the chairman of board of directors of Taiwan Tea Merchants' Association, Li sheng-zhi has never held back on promoting Taiwan tea. Since Chinese markets represent the major outlet for Taiwan tea, China is naturally not to be neglected. Director-general of Taiwan Tea Merchants' Association Fan De-guang pointed out: "The association holds promotion fairs at fixed spots in China every year to upgrade publicity and sales of Taiwan tea and allow competition entry teas from various plantations to be on display and for tasting at TenFu's Tea outlets, so that people in China have the opportunity to realize the characteristics and advantages of Taiwan tea. Presently each person in China consumes about 300g of tea leaves per year and this means a market of 120 billion NT dollars. It is estimated in ten years, the figure will double up to 240 billion. As people in China have no trouble accepting Taiwan tea, China will definitely be one important export market for Taiwan tea in the future." In contrast with the promotion approach in China, the association sets up shops in Japan and trains marketing personnel to continue the promotion for mainly dong-ding oolong, Wen-shan bao-zhong and Oriental Beauty - three feature teas that are consistent in quality. Director Fan expressed: "In the future, the association plans to invite tea business groups from China, Japan and Korea to attend the annual "Tea and Living Fair" to exchange ideas about tea and let Taiwanese people have access to more varieties of tea-drinking fun." In addition, tea plantation leisure tourism will also play a role in the tea industry. Consumers will be able to really perceive the unique charm of Taiwan tea through observing and participating in tea processing and give modern tea art a new life.