Monday November 19, 2018
Home World Tea from Brit...

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

0
//
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
Republish
Reprint

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.

Follow NewsGram on Twitter

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.

https://twitter.com/NewsGram1/status/745852409843490816

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.

Follow NewsGram on Facebook

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.

https://twitter.com/NewsGram1/status/750882643303161856

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)

 

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 NewsGram

Next Story

World’s First AI News Anchor Debuts From China

The analyst urges China to open up and include multinational software and services to contribute to its digital economic transformation.

0
AI News ANchor
Xinhua news anchor Qiu Hao stands next to an AI virtual news anchor based on him, at a Sogou booth during an expo at the fifth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen town of Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, China. VOA

China’s state-run Xinhua News has debuted what it called the world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) anchor. But the novelty has generated more dislikes than likes online among Chinese netizens, with many calling the new virtual host “a news-reading device without a soul.”

Analysts say the latest creation has showcased China’s short-term progress in voice recognition, text mining and semantic analysis, but challenges remain ahead for its long-term ambition of becoming an AI superpower by 2030.

Nonhuman anchors

Collaborating with Chinese search engine Sogou, Xinhua introduced two AI anchors, one for English broadcasts and the other for Chinese, both of which are based on images of the agency’s real newscasters, Zhang Zhao and Qiu Hao respectively.

In its inaugural broadcast last week, the English-speaking anchor was more tech cheerleader than newshound, rattling off lines few anchors would be caught dead reading, such as: “the development of the media industry calls for continuous innovation and deep integration with the international advanced technologies.”

AI News Anchor
This photo illustration shows a man watching an artificial intelligence (AI) news anchor from a state-controlled news broadcaster, on his computer in Beijing, VOA

It also promised “to work tirelessly to keep you [audience] informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted” 24/7 across multiple platforms simultaneously if necessary, according to the news agency.

No soul

Local audiences appear to be unimpressed, critiquing the news bots’ not so human touch and synthesized voices.

On Weibo, China’s Twitterlike microblogging platform, more than one user wrote that such anchors have “no soul,” in response to Xinhua’s announcement. And one user joked: “what if we have an AI [country] leader?” while another questioned what it stands for in terms of journalistic values by saying “What a nutcase. Fake news is on every day.”

Others pondered the implication AI news bots might have on employment and workers.

“It all comes down to production costs, which will determine if [we] lose jobs,” one Weibo user wrote. Some argued that only low-end labor-intensive jobs will be easily replaced by intelligent robots while others gloated about the possibility of employers utilizing an army of low-cost robots to make a fortune.

AI News ANchor
The creation showcases China’s progress in voice recognition. Flickr

A simple use case

Industry experts said the digital anchor system is based on images of real people and possibly animated parts of their mouths and faces, with machine-learning technology recreating humanlike speech patterns and facial movements. It then uses a synthesized voice for the delivery of the news broadcast.

The creation showcases China’s progress in voice recognition, text mining and semantic analysis, all of which is covered by natural language processing, according to Liu Chien-chih, secretary-general of Asia IoT Alliance (AIOTA).

But that’s just one of many aspects of AI technologies, he wrote in an email to VOA.

Given the pace of experimental AI adoption by Chinese businesses, more user scenarios or designs of user interface can be anticipated in China, Liu added.

Chris Dong, director of China research at the market intelligence firm IDC, agreed the digital anchor is as simple as what he calls a “use case” for AI-powered services to attract commercials and audiences.

AI News Anchor
Others pondered the implication AI news bots might have on employment and workers.

He said, in an email to VOA, that China has fast-tracked its big data advantage around consumers or internet of things (IoT) infrastructure to add commercial value.

Artificial Intelligence has also allowed China to accelerate its digital transformation across various industries or value chains, which are made smarter and more efficient, Dong added.

Far from a threat to the US

But both said China is far from a threat to challenge U.S. leadership on AI given its lack of an open market and respect for intellectual property rights (IPRs) as well as its lagging innovative competency on core AI technologies.

Earlier, Lee Kai-fu, a well-known venture capitalist who led Google before it pulled out of China, was quoted by news website Tech Crunch as saying that the United States may have created Artificial Intelligence, but China is taking the ball and running with it when it comes to one of the world’s most pivotal technology innovations.

Lee summed up four major drivers behind his observation that China is beating the United States in AI: abundant data, hungry entrepreneurs, growing AI expertise and massive government support and funding.

AI News Anchor
People watching the AI News Anchor

Beijing has set a goal to become an AI superpower by 2030, and to turn the sector into a $150 billion industry.

Yet, IDC’s Dong cast doubts on AI’s adoption rate and effectiveness in China’s traditional sectors. Some, such as the manufacturing sector, is worsening, he said.

He said China’s “state capitalism may have its short-term efficiency and gain, but over the longer-term, it is the open market that is fundamental to building an effective innovation ecosystem.”

The analyst urges China to open up and include multinational software and services to contribute to its digital economic transformation.

Also Read: Heavy Cyber Attacks From Russia, US, China in India

“China’s ‘Made-in-China 2025’ should go back to the original flavor … no longer Made and Controlled by Chinese, but more [of] an Open Platform of Made-in-China that both local and foreign players have a level-playing field,” he said.

In addition to a significant gap in core technologies, China’s failure to uphold IPRs will go against its future development of AI software, “which is often sold many-fold in the U.S. than in China as the Chinese tend to think intangible assets are free,” AIOTA’s Liu said. (VOA)