Liu Qinjin, 69, brews a cup of mild oolong tea on his desk, smelling its distinctive fragrance. He gets excited whenever he talks about tea.
"Different soil conditions and climates grow different tea trees. Fujian province has the best Tieguanyin, and Yunnan province makes the finest Pu'er tea," says Liu, who has published more than 60 articles and presides over the country's first tea college.
Last September, Tenfu Tea Group, a giant tea producer based in Fujian, which owns 776 chain stores all over China, invested 200 million yuan ($27.4 million) in Tenfu Tea College at Zhangzhou. The world's first tea vocational school aims to train specialists for the growing Chinese tea market.
"Tea was originally from China, Chinese people have a long history, and we have various teas. But the tea industry and cultural influence has lagged behind," Liu says.
Liu remembers that when his old friend, a professor from Russia, tasted Pu'er tea, he couldn't believe the large-leafed, earthy drink also had many medicinal functions.
"We have the responsibility to maintain and expand China's tea culture," Liu says. He believes in building China's well-known tea brands and introducing the benefits of the healthy drink and its culture to the public.
"The tea college can teach young people comprehensive knowledge and skills in the tea production chain, and arouse their passions about sophisticated Chinese tea culture," Liu says.
At the gate of Tenfu Tea College, a statue of Lu Yu, the Sage of Tea, who wrote Cha Jing (The Classic of Tea), stands in front of a brand new teaching building.
Lin Yishan, secretary of the president's office, says the college provides teachers and students with a good living and teaching environment. Around a lake, rows of three-story villas have been built, and a new library has opened to students.
In three years, the college plans to recruit 3,000 students for five subjects: tea production and processing techniques, marketing, food processing, tea culture and tourism management.
Zhang Yuejuan, 18, studies marketing at the school. As a daughter in a migrant family from the Three Gorges Dam area, she came to the college last September, supporting herself with a part-time job in the college library. "I am looking forward to promoting Chinese tea to the world," Zhang says, adding that the Tenfu Tea Group will provide internship opportunities in its overseas stores for excellent graduates.
According to Liu Qinjin, the growing Chinese tea industry will require 10,000 new professionals every year of the coming two decades. Graduates of Tenfu Tea College can either work for the Tenfu Tea Group or other tea-related business and research sectors.
On March 20, Tenfu Tea College gained approval to recruit foreign students. When the autumn semester open, students from abroad will share the charms of Chinese tea on the beautiful campus.