Professor Ouyang Daokun, deputy executive director of the China Institute of Tea Business, addresses the World Tea Traders Convention.
Tea fairs in China differ little from the West—except in scale.
The 2016 edition of the in Fujian Province filled massive halls with 1,000 exhibitions covering 645,000 square feet. The late-October event has doubled in size in the past few years, attracting nearly 261,709 attendees, up from 253,358 visitors in 2015. The five-day show is co-located with the Tea Packaging & Design Fair and the nation’s largest business gathering of Buddhists. Together 3,000 exhibitors in several tea halls drew 58,630 trade professionals from 48 countries—quite a leap from the inaugural event in 2010 that attracted 221 exhibitors and covered 172,000 square feet.
Wing Chi Ip is director of the China Tea Association, the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware and the owner of Lock Cha Tea Shop founded in 1991 in Hong Kong. He is one of the founders of the Xiamen Tea Fair.
Wing Chi Ip, the visionary who organized the first tea fair in Xiamen, said the show remains his favorite on a circuit that has expanded to include events in all the major tea-producing regions. Chi began his career in tea ware and in 1991 opened the now-famous Lock Cha Tea Shop in Hong Kong. He is director of the China Tea Association. Annually, he brings together accomplished luminaries in tea including tea ware designers, trade executives, and kungfu masters. The show is managed by Guoxiang Lai, general manager of the Ip and Lai work together to preserve and promote China’s tea culture in its myriad forms.
Wang Guiqing, general manager of the Xiamen division of the China Tea Co. (COFCO) opened the 7th annual exposition with a detailed accounting of the surge in exports. Trade is a top priority with the government of China. Tea companies there are making a concerted effort to send millions of metric tons of tea to countries in Western Europe and North America. He recounted how the Xiamen division emerged from stagnation to robust growth as a result of significant investment in quality production that won over the Japanese.
Speakers who are well known to World Tea Expo attendees included Bill Waddington, founder of TeaSource, and Dan Robertson, representing the International Tea Cuppers Club (ITCC). Rajiv Lochan of Doke Tea Garden in Siliguri, West Bengal and Waddington addressed the theme of the “World Tea Trader’s Convention: Transformation of the Chinese Tea Industry in the Digital Information Age.” Lochan was the first Darjeeling producer to export the famous tea direct to China in 2006. Dan Bolton, managing editor of magazine presented a North American market overview describing new opportunities in the premium tea segment. Satrajit Banerjee, deputy director of tea promotion at the Tea Board of India, Dhanushka Karunarantne, secretary of tea promotion at the Sri Lanka Embassy in Beijing and Sushil Rijal, managing director of the Kuwapani Tea Plantation in Nepal, reinforced ties in tea trading. India exported 4.37 million kilos of tea to China last year.
Livio Zanini, president of the Italian Tea Culture Association prepares tea while Master Chen-Xiangbai explains the technique. Zanini has studied under Master Chen since 2002. Chen is the inheritor and foremost authority on Chaozhou Kungfu-Tea a style that Marco Polo would have encountered in his travels.
Ip moderated the International Tea Wares Forum that included a panel of regional experts in design, one of whom described an initiative that invites nonartists to use locally sourced clay to make and bake teaware in a single day. One of the most memorable gatherings was “When East and West Have a Tea Chat.” A kungfu master explained the time-honored chado with the help of Livio Zanini, president of the Italian Tea Culture Association. Zanini has studied under Master Chen-Xiangbai since 2002. Master Chen is the inheritor and foremost authority on Chaozhou Kungfu-Tea, a style that Marco Polo would have encountered in his travels.
Learning about tea culture enables the people of the world to understand each other better, said Katharine Burnett, associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of California, Davis. Burnett directs the Global Tea Culture and Science Initiative launched in May.
The co-located International Buddhist Items & Crafts Fair spanned 1.2 million square feet (115,000 square meters), making it the largest religious craft exposition in the world. Over time, several thousand monks made their way from the incensed halls with statues and prayer beads to the tea stalls. Traditional tea ware was displayed at about one third of the stands with about two-thirds of the floor devoted to tea. The largest tea companies erected big displays but most stands were small and packed with goods.
Xiamen is an island city of 1.8 million and the major port in Fujian province. The city was known as Amoy in the early history of China. It was one of five ports open to trade by the Treaty of Nanking, and is located directly across the strait from Taiwan. The Portuguese first traded tea there in 1541.
In 2016 the Tea Fair exhibits were evenly divided between tea (38%) and teaware (32%) with 23 percent of those exhibiting from tea packaging and design firms. An analysis of visitors found 38.2 percent were tea producers and processors and 32.2 percent were tea wholesalers and retailers. Packaging professionals made up 13 percent of attendees. The design and packaging exhibits drew designers and brand consultants (.4%) and raw material suppliers (5.5%) of attendees. Fifty-seven percent of attendees are from mainland China. Taiwan brought the largest trade delegation and attracted about 16 percent of visitors. Major tea producers including Sri Lanka and India were represented along with Germany, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Korea. One stand marketed its “western tea” with floral and fruit blends and herbals on display, but most of the enormous variety of wares and teas are crafted for the domestic market and offered by local and national suppliers. During the weekend, consumers covered the trade floor. Trade professionals generally attend during the first two days of the event.
Example of a tea bowl made by one of a group of 24 amateurs hosted by professional tea ware designers. Using local materials tea ware designers are encouraging amateurs to craft their own. Tea ware’s value lies in the interaction of tea and culture, according to Tea Ware Forum moderator Wing Chi Ip.