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Tea from Britain Booming in China, the Drink’s Birthplace

For three centuries, countries in Asia and Africa have been quenching Britons' thirst for tea, supplying dried leaves worth millions of pounds every year

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An employee packs boxes of tea at the production line at Taylors of Harrogate's tea packaging facilities in Harrogate, England, Aug. 30, 2016. Image source: VOA

Ji Mengyu sinks into a soft chair with her cup of tea to the sound of tinkling teaspoons and light chatter. The opulently decorated Victorian tea salon is quintessentially British, something straight out of Downton Abbey. Except it’s in Beijing.

The 25-year-old HR professional is one of a growing number of Chinese who are looking past their country’s ancient tea traditions in favor of imported British blends. For Ji, the tea has an aura of luxury and quality, and gives her a sense of partaking in the posh British culture popularized globally by TV shows and fashion brands.

“I think British people’s traditional customs and culture have a kind of classical style,” says Ji, who says she’s inspired by TV shows like Downton Abbey, but also Sherlock Holmes and Game of Thrones.

For three centuries, countries in Asia and Africa have been quenching Britons’ thirst for tea, supplying dried leaves worth millions of pounds every year. Now, that trend is showing some signs of reversing. China and Hong Kong in particular, are seeing a surge in appetite for British tea blends – some of which are made with leaves from China itself, an example of the twists in trade that the globalization of tastes can create.

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Upscale tea blends from storied British companies like Twinings, Taylors of Harrogate and Hudson & Middleton occupy increasingly more space on shelves in Chinese supermarkets, restaurant menus and online shops.

Tea houses serving British afternoon tea have sprouted up in the bigger cities in China. Five years ago, Annvita English Tea Company managed ten tea houses around China, serving imported blends and pastries in British-style tea rooms. The number has since grown ten-fold, with more planned.

“It fits the taste of people who want to pursue a higher quality of life,” says Li Qunlou, general manager at AnnVita English Tea House in Sanlitun in Beijing.

As a result, British tea companies selling premium blends have seen their exports to China and Hong Kong skyrocket.

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In the first five months of 2016, British tea exports to Hong Kong nearly tripled in value compared with two years earlier. They doubled to the rest of mainland China, data from the U.K. HM Revenue & Customs show.

Shipments to China and Hong Kong only make up 7 percent of total British tea exports, but the share is growing quickly.

Some of these deliveries come from Harrogate, a small town in northern England that is the home to Taylors of Harrogate. The fourth generation family-owned company has been selling tea to China for more than 10 years. In the past three years, sales have more than doubled every year, albeit from a low starting point.

“China produces nearly one half of the world’s tea, so on the surface you would think that there is a limited opportunity for Taylors of Harrogate,” says Matthew Davies, Head of International Sales at Taylors of Harrogate.

Tea originates from China and has been a central part of the culture for thousands of years. In Britain, tea was not introduced until the 17th century, though it has since become a staple and adapted to local tastes.

Every day thousands of tea samples arrive in Harrogate for the tasters to evaluate. The business essentially relies on their taste buds to find the right mix of leaves to maintain the signature flavors that the company bases its reputation on. Chinese customers mainly buy Taylor of Harrogate’s Earl Grey and English Breakfast tea.

“Our approach was to invest time and resources to understand consumer behavior and we found that there are a number of Chinese consumers with a high level of discretionary income and demand for Taylors of Harrogate brands,” says Davies.

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The demand is growing mainly among China’s wealthy middle class and is fueled by portrayals of British high society featured in TV shows, news stories of the British royal family and classical novels like Jane Austen’s, analysts say.

“Previously, Chinese consumers were more exposed to American culture, McDonalds and Hollywood-style things. These few years, because of the popular British TV dramas, Chinese consumers are more exposed to British brands and the lifestyle,” says Hope Lee, senior drinks analyst at Euromonitor International.

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Another reason for the thriving popularity of British imported tea is the seemingly endless string of food scandals that plagues China and Hong Kong.

Greenpeace and government investigations found high levels of pesticides or poisonous earths in tea, also in some of the best-known brands. Imported premium British tea brands are perceived as being safer and of higher quality.

Paradoxically, some of the British tea sold in China and Hong Kong is originally grown in China. However, it represents only a small amount of British exports there – about 3 percent, according to Frost & Sullivan, a market research company.

British tea makers mainly import leaves from Africa and India, regions where the taste for British tea blends has not grown in the same way, for economic and cultural reasons.

Despite the recent slowdown in the Chinese economy, Taylors of Harrogate and many other companies and industry experts are optimistic about the country’s consumers.

“We are continuing to strengthen our lengths in China,” says Davies. (VOA)

 

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This AI System Can Evade Censorship In India, China and Kazakhstan

Researchers develop an AI tool that evades censorship in India, China and Kazakhstan

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(AI)-based system automatically learns to evade censorship in India, China and Kazakhstan. Pixabay

Researchers have developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based system that automatically learns to evade censorship in India, China and Kazakhstan.

The tool, called Geneva (short for Genetic Evasion), found dozens of ways to circumvent censorship by exploiting gaps in censors’ logic and finding bugs that the researchers said would have been virtually impossible for humans to find manually.

The researchers are scheduled to introduce Geneva during a peer-reviewed talk at the Association for Computing Machinery’s 26th Conference on Computer and Communications Security in London on Thursday.

“With Geneva, we are, for the first time, at a major advantage in the censorship arms race,” said Dave Levin, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Maryland in the US and senior author of the paper.

“Geneva represents the first step toward a whole new arms race in which artificial intelligence systems of censors and evaders compete with one another. Ultimately, winning this race means bringing free speech and open communication to millions of users around the world who currently don’t have them,” Levin said.\

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This AI system that evades censorship is called ‘Geneva’. Pixabay

To demonstrate that Geneva worked in the real world against undiscovered censorship strategies, the team ran Geneva on a computer in China with an unmodified Google Chrome browser installed.

By deploying strategies identified by Geneva, the user was able to browse free of keyword censorship.

The researchers also successfully evaded censorship in India, which blocks forbidden URLs, and Kazakhstan, which was eavesdropping on certain social media sites at the time, said a statement from the University of Maryland.

All information on the Internet is broken into data packets by the sender’s computer and reassembled by the receiving computer.

One prevalent form of Internet censorship works by monitoring the data packets sent during an Internet search.

The censor blocks requests that either contain flagged keywords (such as “Tiananmen Square” in China) or prohibited domain names (such as “Wikipedia” in many countries).

When Geneva is running on a computer that is sending out web requests through a censor, it modifies how data is broken up and sent, so that the censor does not recognise forbidden content or is unable to censor the connection.

Known as a genetic algorithm, Geneva is a biologically inspired type of AI that Levin and his team developed to work in the background as a user browses the web from a standard Internet browser.

Like biological systems, Geneva forms sets of instructions from genetic building blocks. But rather than using DNA as building blocks, Geneva uses small pieces of code.

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By deploying strategies identified by Geneva, the user is able to browse free of keyword censorship. Pixabay

Individually, the bits of code do very little, but when composed into instructions, they can perform sophisticated evasion strategies for breaking up, arranging or sending data packets.

The tool evolves its genetic code through successive attempts (or generations). With each generation, Geneva keeps the instructions that work best at evading censorship and kicks out the rest.

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Geneva mutates and cross breeds its strategies by randomly removing instructions, adding new instructions, or combining successful instructions and testing the strategy again.

Through this evolutionary process, Geneva is able to identify multiple evasion strategies very quickly, said the study. (IANS)