Chinese jasmine tea hubs set to take center stage at home and abroad
Editor’s note: Implementation of the China-EU Geographical Indications Agreement is expected to expand the reach of quality products from both sides. This series looks at goods poised to tap into East-West markets.
Liang Jinying brushed her hands over the rows of waist-high shrubs, deftly plucking soft white buds from the top of plants under the blazing midday sun.
“They have to be growing at the exact size－not too small and hard, nor opened and in bloom. I can feel them, just nice, between my fingers. It’s about being at the right place and time,” said Liang, 60, a jasmine bud picker in Hengxian county of South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
The county, which boasts a warm climate and ideal business networks and investment support, produces more than half of the jasmine flowers consumed worldwide. The jasmine is mostly used to scent Chinese teas, which are processed near its planting sites because the flowers must be freshly pressed and infused into dried tea leaves, prompting many in the industry to laud Hengxian as the “jasmine tea capital of the world”.
Hengxian accounts for more than 80 percent of the country’s total jasmine production, according to industry figures. Jasmine cultivation covers about 8,000 hectares in Hengxian, with about 330,000 residents involved in flower planting and farming. The pillar industry helps the county reap about 12.5 billion yuan ($1.93 billion) in comprehensive annual output value.
Lu Hongjian, director of the agriculture bureau of Hengxian county of Nanning, Guangxi’s capital, said that at least 10 million yuan is directed toward development of the crucial sector every year, with more than 500 million yuan invested in recent years in a jasmine industry park, including a planting demonstration base with 333 hectares.
“Jasmine tea is the quintessential Chinese beverage,” Lu said. “It is not just drunk wherever there are Chinese people; its fragrance also marks the tables of Chinese cuisine enjoyed by those in the West and others abroad.”
Nearly 200 metric tons of tea were exported via Nanning in the first half of the year, including more than 23 tons of jasmine tea, mainly to markets such as Japan, the United States, Vietnam and France, with related exports recording a year-on-year rise of nearly 40 percent, according to data compiled by the regional capital’s Yongzhou customs branch.
Hengxian’s jasmine tea is poised to reach even more consumers worldwide, following the product’s inclusion on the list of China’s 100 geographical indications under protection in the European Union. The indication is a label for products that have a specific geographical origin with qualities or a reputation due to that origin, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Late last year, China and the EU rolled out measures to protect 100 of the EU’s geographical indications and 100 Chinese geographical indications against imitations.
Jasmine tea from Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province, has also been listed, adding to the growing global recognition of quality Chinese agricultural products.
The listing opens up unprecedented opportunities, including a “green channel” to the EU market, to “further enhance the overseas visibility of Guangxi’s high-quality agricultural products, expand international market competitiveness, increase farmers’ income and promote rural revitalization”, according to the trademark office of the region’s market supervision bureau.
Weng Rongbin, chairman of Guangxi Jinhua Tea-Industry Co Ltd, heads one of the major enterprises in Hengxian looking to tap the latest opportunities offered by pent-up, post-pandemic demand. Weng said that with significant investments in automation, his processing facility, which adds the scent of jasmine flowers to liubao black tea, is set for a fivefold rise in production capacity to 100 tons a day.
At the forefront
“The Chinese tea market continues to offer huge potential in markets like Southeast Asia and beyond,” said Weng, whose enterprise has more than 300 employees and brings in 100 million yuan in sales a year.
“With the latest geographical listing, we’ll focus on remaining at the forefront of the industry. We are investing in research and development, considering fast-growing, higher-yielding products like milk tea” that are popular among younger consumers.
Heng County Good Young is another major player set to leverage Hengxian’s pole position. The company has a production capacity of about 6,000 tons a year, ranging from traditional dried tea to modern premix products.
Company spokesman Huang Rongjin said that while the group’s focus is on the domestic market, Hengxian’s EU-protected jasmine tea indication is still an important nod to the local industry.
“Our group has attained many global certifications and standards,” Huang said. “The geographical indication will also be an advantage. We supply to international brands, and our clients will most certainly consider the latest listing as an affirmation of our product quality and practices.”
The industry growth and optimism in Hengxian are also felt on the ground.
Jasmine pickers like Liang Jinying carry their bags of flower buds on scooters to a new collection center. Just two years ago, they had to exchange their daily pickings for cash on the roadside.
Li Kejin, deputy secretary of the county’s Shijing village Party committee, said the collection center, which covers 2 hectares and can handle 150,000 kilograms of jasmine buds a day, is a collective effort that has brought significant improvements to the sector, including better distribution channels and traffic conditions.