With a new focus on the production of higher-end teas, and developing tea infused products and tea tourism, Taiwan’s tea industry is on the upsurge again.
Tea is a century-old business in Taiwan. However, Taiwan’s tea industry has suffered under the pressure of cheaper imports flooding its markets over the last decade. As a consequence, many of Taiwan’s tea fields have been plowed under in favor of planting betel nut trees, a higher cash yielding crop.
The cultivation of tea in Taiwan began in the 1700s, when it was first introduced from China’s Fujian Province. Under Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945), the tea growing business continued upward, producing 20,000 metric tons per year. In 1997, Taiwan produced 23.505 metric tons of tea from 21.199 hectares. It imported 7.692 metric tons and exported 2.918 metric tons. By the end of 2007, the amount of land used to cultivate teas fell to 16.256 hectares, with production dipping to 17.502 metric tons.
Although Taiwan’s tea consumption continues upward, with the invention of bubble tea - a frothy cold tea with tapioca pearls - so have cheaper tea imports from other parts of Asia. In 2007, Taiwan imported 25,000 metric tons, while exports fell to 2,004 metric tons. According to the Taiwan Tea Manufacturers’ Association, annual per capita tea consumption in Taiwan surged from 0.344 kilograms in 1980 to 1.3 kilograms in 1998 to1.54 in 2007.
Around 16,000 households in Taiwan are engaged in tea growing, averaging one hectare (2.5 acres), according to Taiwan Review. Since tea farming is both labor-intensive and is carried out locally on a small scale, it makes sense to cultivate high-end teas and to spend time in branding each region’s tea. More attention is paid to packaging, with refined designs to further its appeal.
Tea growers are banding together to popularize regional teas and to attract tourists. Farmers are beginning to educate visitors about their teas so they can better appreciate the labor and effort that goes into tea cultivation.
Besides, each region popularizing its tea and location, tea cultivators are also seeking to highlight the health benefits of drinking tea and tea-related products. Along with tea sales, tea houses are also serving tea-flavored products to broaden tea growers’ sales opportunities. Not only is the appeal of high end-teas growing, but also sales of lower-end teas.
According Chen Chung-i, the chairman of the Taiwan Beverage Industries Association, annual revenue from Taiwan’s beverage sector averaged about US$1.5 billion for the last ten years. Around 40 percent of the amount is from tea drinkers alone. Last year, Taiwan saw 285 new packaged drinks released onto the market, with 107 falling in the tea category.
Cultivating a following for fine tea is not just happening in Taiwan but also in the United States. When Roy Fong, founder of the Imperial Tea Court, first started selling high-end teas in San Francisco, it was a struggle to persuade people to pay for high-quality tea. He started with five pounds of Dragon Well tea costing US$160 a pound and it took him a year to sell it. Today, the same tea costs US$480 a pound and sells out in a week.
In the United States, where the wine growing business is a multi-billion business, touring vineyards for wine tasting is very popular with locals and tourists alike. Taiwan’s tea growing regions can very easily cultivate the same winning strategies to popularize their teas and tea tasting.
- The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.
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