19 Feb 2016
Healthy, Organic and Clean Prove Buzzwords at Hong Kong Tea Show
Keen to emphasise the importance of traditional methods of cultivating and serving tea, exhibitors at the Hong Kong International Tea Fair also hoped to appeal to a younger market through bespoke packaging and convenient products.
Clean, organic and healthy were the overriding motifs at the most recent Hong Kong International Tea Fair, with many traders at the event majoring on the same product benefits. While tradition and hands-on craftsmanship were both clearly in evidence on many stands, both for tea makers and for those exhibitors offering aesthetically pleasing crockery, the importance of meeting the needs of busy young consumers through highly convenient products was also front of house.
Throughout the hustle of the show there was also a recurring emphasis on wellbeing. Among the vast array of teas from a variety of regions, there was a shared emphasis on the primacy of organic products and natural and clean living. Aesthetics, though, also played a significant part in the pitch of many exhibitors, whether in terms of taste and aroma for tea sellers or the elegance and refinement on offer from teapot and utensil manufacturers.
Overall, the event attracted exhibitors from across Asia and beyond, with the majority of traders attending the show from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. All, however, were only too keen to emphasise the uniqueness of their products.
One such company was Japan's Miyaza. Although it was only this year that company had started to attend trade shows outside its home country, its professional and elegant stand drew a large audience.
Miyaza was particularly keen to showcase its range beautiful handmade teapots, all fetchingly decorated with gold. It also had on offer an array of traditional Japanese iron kettles, serving as both kettle and teapot and typically used in tea ceremonies. Emphasising their appeal, Mikie Miyazu, a Director of the company, said: "We are very keen to sell these kettles as decorative art pieces into the mainland market, where they might be appreciated just for their aesthetic beauty. In Japan, we sell them to be used, as well as appreciated."
The company has been making kettles for 70 years, with all of them said to be produced by master craftsmen. Highlighting the skills involved, Miyazu said: "Our craftsmen have to study for 10 to 20 years before they are considered masters of their field. Our product is made to an extremely high standard and so only extremely experienced craftsmen can produce them."
Asked as to why the handle was removable, Miyazu explained it as a concession to novices in the Japanese style of making tea, enabling the product to appeal to a larger market. He said: "In Hong Kong the kettles are sold with a removable handle. The reason it is removable is because only a beginner would use a handle during a Japanese tea ceremony."
Miyaza was far from the only new attendee at the show. Taiwan's Fujian Pheromone Trading was also a debutant. Although established for more than 30 years, it has only recently entered the tea market. Explaining its presence in Hong Kong, Hsu Tsui Chin, the company's Manager, said: "We have attended the show simply to learn about our competition, their marketing and their products.
"We have only brought two teas to the show, both from Taiwan, but both are very special teas. Our tea is good for your health. My personal favourite is Aliga Wood, which is very relaxing."
Another trader in healthy teas was Fujian's Ningde Xushan Ecological, a specialist in organic mountain tea. Representing the company, a Mr Xu said: "Our company is well known in China and we are very famous for our red and green tea. We only sell in bulk to companies and our market is primarily on the mainland, but our Hong Kong market been growing steadily over recent years."
Many exhibitors were keen to emphasise that teas had been grown in healthy and natural environments. One such proponent was Dr H N Chiu, Manager of Hong Kong-based Summus. He said: "Although our company is based in Hong Kong, we own tea gardens in Taiwan, China and Indonesia. This is so we can produce products that people can trust in 100%.
"As a doctor myself, I want our tea to meet high medical standards. I need to be able to trust it, know exactly who picked it and even know who packaged it. As a result, we do everything in-house.
"Using traditional methods, we handpick the tea. We use no chemical sprays or pesticides and we only sell direct to the buyer. We do not sell on the internet as you cannot taste and smell through a keyboard."
Chiu said that, as the company does not use any chemicals on its tea, insects may damage the leaves, but he believes this only adds to the unique taste of their tea. The practice dates back to 1920 when Taiwan suffered from a serious infestation of a particular bug that ate one particular species of tea. All the other farmers decided to dig up the tea and replant with another variety, but Chiu's ancestors decided to simply ferment the tea longer.
While this hid the insect bites, it also resulted in a tea that was not visually attractive to Chinese consumers, so they decided to take it to England and try and sell it there This actually allowed them to increase the price, especially when the tea proved incredibly popular. Years later, when organic standards were first introduced by the UK Agricultural Council, only Summus' tea was deemed to be 100% organic.
Explaining the importance of controlling everything, including planting, growing, picking, drying, fermenting, distribution and sales, Chiu said: "Only then can high organic quality be assured. It is also better to handpick than to use mechanical harvesting. It is simple bio-chemistry. If you mechanically pick the leaves, the damaged leaves dry differently, resulting in a bitter taste."
Despite Summus' traditional approach to many aspects of tea production, Chiu accepted that the way people want tea might be changing. He believes the product now has to be easy to use, while also being able to be brewed more quickly. He said: "Young people are very busy and so the business has to change to cater to them. I have altered my packaging to be more appealing to such consumers. Packaging has become more and more important in recent years."
This was not only the only change that Summus is making to its marketing. It has also launched a glass tea container for chilled tea in order to attract the younger market. The decorative print on the bottle is heat-reactive, with the colour changing to show when the tea is too warm to drink.
The Hong Kong International Tea Fair 2015 was held at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) from 13-15 August. Around 250 exhibitors from 12 countries and regions, including many of the major tea production centres, notably India, Japan and Sri Lanka, presented their unique selections to more than 15,500 buyers.
Becky Gaunt, Special Correspondent, Hong Kong