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Indian tea is a craze in China

This is an utterly unexpected twist in the story of tea as a major international commodity – some Chinese now prefer to drink 'black' Indian tea instead of their own home grown green variety!

Nor is this a passing phase. Whenever the Chinese show a group preference for any item, big numbers are bound to be involved. A Kolkata-based concern is poised to export 5,00,000 kilos of tea by the end of this year to China.

Experts monitoring customer preferences in China report that especially the younger Chinese these days prefer the 'black' variety of Indian tea – to which are added milk, sugar and lemon, according to taste – because it seems more modern and trendy. The fact that most Brits and others in the West drink such tea, with its automatic linkage with an advanced lifestyle, could also be a factor here. Among older, tradition-bound Chinese citizens though, the appeal of the green variety remains strong as ever. China-based analysts report that the more westernised younger people do not feel the same urge for drinking green tea, sometimes kept cold in glass jars throughout the day, a familiar scene in most households.

'Ever since the British first tried planting tea plants from China at Howrah’s Botanical Gardens in 1793, to see if it could be produced here, this must be the most thrilling moment in the history of tea experts from India,' says a city-based observer.

At present, the consumption in China of other varieties grown outside their country could be close to 10 million kilos, but this could go up to 100 million kilos by 2015, at the present rate of growth. China produces around 1500 million kilos annually, while India’s figure is around 985 million kilos. India exports nearly 200 million kilos a year.

Analysts of Dezan Shira and Associates, which has its organisational network in China, India and South Asia, report that the preference of Indian varieties of tea is evident among customers at most fast food joints in China. Interestingly, for its supposed medicinal qualities, green tea, specially with an apple flavour, happens to be a favourite drink among some people in Kolkata and India..

They also explain how the new exports to China could not have come at a better moment, for India. During recent years, the export of Indian tea to Europe, mainly the UK, have suffered stiff competition from Kenya. In five years, Indian exports have dropped from 22 million kgs to 16 million kgs only. On the other hand, Kenya now exports nearly 60 million kgs to Europe.

Kolkata-based researchers point out that tea was really introduced to India by the British who brought it from China, where the commodity was known in use from 618 AD on wards! In 1664, the British brought tea to Java, but already it had been taken to England, for some limited consumption among high mobility.

Later, the British were more interested in selling opium to China, raising enough money from Calcutta in 1828 for instance, to finance and supply the whole of China’s demand for opium, from Patna and other areas. In Assam, efforts to set up a plantation began in 1815, although the first gardens came up in Sylhet in 1839, through the efforts of Charles Alexander Bruce. Today Assam produces the largest volume of tea in India, followed by West Bengal.
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