Modern Merchants on the Ancient Tea Road
   2011-10-19 10:57:10    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Zhangjin

Sha Rula (L) and Liu Shali display a banner which reads "Tea lovers under heaven are from one family" during an interview in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia on October 16, 2011. They hope Chinese tea products can regain the top place in the international market one day. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com]

Inner Mongolian native Sha Rula's wish, is to open Chinese-style tea houses in the cities along the ancient Tea Road that leads from Shanxi to Eastern Europe.

In this way, he wants to spread Chinese tea culture and more importantly, restore the former eminence of the country's tea industry overseas.

"China has been famous for tea culture since ancient times and has a long history of tea exports. But today, even the country's total tea sales are far less than that of Lipton, the world's largest tea maker."

Sha said there were up to 170,000 camels in Hohhot, a key traffic hub, for tea transport when China dominated the international tea market during the prime period of the Tea Road, even more than the city's population in the same period.

But today, China is only the third largest tea exporter worldwide after Sri Lanka and Kenya. It exports $600 million's worth of tea products per year on average, accounting for 18 percent of the global tea export volume.

Sha started his tea business by chance three years ago. At that time, he was to organize a Tea Road expo abroad sponsored by a leading domestic enterprise.

But later, he found a "tragic" phenomenon.

"China produces the best tea in the world, while the most expensive tea products around the globe are all made from Chinese tea leaves. But in the international tea market, Chinese tea brands are still uncompetitive and have little influence."

In his eyes, the lack of government support and preferential policies has hindered the development of tea manufacturing in the country and dampened tea makers' efforts for a larger share of the international market.

As a member of China Tea Friend Association (CTFA), Sha once visited Russian cities along the Tea Road with his close friend and business partner Liu Shali.

Liu was deeply impressed with the long-lasting influence of the tea road overseas and still remembers a commemorative festival they encountered during their tour in Irkutsk, one of the largest cities in Siberia that used to be a stop on the ancient route.

"The Tea Road Carnival lasted for a week. All the performers were dressed in ancient styles of clothing for a play which represented the international tea trade between China and Russia more than two centuries ago."

The two nations are looking forward to favorable policies for the tea industry - the kind of polices that foreign nations have attached great importance to since ancient times but have gained little favor in China.

Sha Rula suggests that the government hold Chinese tea expos abroad, take measures to boost the tea business overseas and pay more attention to publicity efforts for the country's tea products around the world.

"We can publicize Chinese tea culture and products worldwide in a similar way to how we are promoting Confucius Institutes internationally."

Liu Shali is excited to see the growing sales of tea drinks in China, while carbonated beverages have become less popular. He is also confident in their current attempts to open a tea house in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

"There is an annual expo in Ulan Bator held jointly by China, Russia and Mongolia. We won the golden prize there last year for the popularity of our tea products. We received about 1,000 visits per day and in the end we were able to sell all of our stock."

Both Liu and Sha are anticipating success abroad, though there is still a long way to go. They also hope that more people around the world will one day buy Chinese tea products instead of Lipton's tea.

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