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Growing problem of top green tea
By Shao Xiaoyi (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-05-11 06:15

HANGZHOU: "Have you had your tea today?" has become a popular greeting among citizens in this city.

"It is the best time in the year to enjoy fresh green tea," said Hu Rongan, 70, a retired doctor in Hangzhou, capital of East China's Zhejiang Province.

Now, offering a cup of fresh green tea to guests is considered a warm welcome by every family, Hu said.

But all is not well in the world of tea. There is a growing lack of professional tea farmers, with more and more young people unwilling to get involved in the industry.

Tea lovers like Doctor Hu need their support. "The fresh, fragrant and light rejuvenating green tea makes me feel energized at the start of the day," he said. Drinking tea is part of his life.

Every afternoon, he meets and chats over a steaming cup of tea with his friends in tea houses.

"I cannot imagine a single day without tea," said Hu.

"Tea is the pride of Hangzhou citizens as most local people are tea drinkers," said Hu.

Hu is not alone in the city famous for Longjing green tea (Dragon Well green tea), China's top green tea.

About 48.15 per cent of Hangzhou citizens are tea addicts while only 9 per cent do not drink tea daily, according to a survey conducted in 2002.

Recently, Hangzhou was honoured as the country's tea metropolis by 10 authoritative tea organizations including the China Tea Academy, the China International Tea Culture Research Association, and the National Tea Quality Supervision and Inspection Centre.

Chen Zongmao, honorary president of the China Tea Academy, said Hangzhou boasts not only Longjing tea but also has a long history of tea growing, and a deep-rooted tea culture.

Hangzhou-based companies including the Wahaha Group and Dingjin Group already have half of the market share of bottled tea in China.

The total output value of tea in Hangzhou reached 1 billion yuan (US$120 million) in 2004, accounting for 8 per cent of the country's total output value, according to official statistics.

Longjing tea

Last month top-quality Longjing tea was sold for a startling price in an auction in Hangzhou. About 100 grams went for 145,600 yuan (US$17,470).

The tea was evaluated by experts as the best Longjing tea because it was picked from 12 trees designated for Emperor Qianlong during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and processed by champion tea farmers.

However, Longjing tea is facing a challenge because of the lack of professional tea farmers, said Wu Guowei, deputy head of Longwu Town in Xihu District in Hangzhou.

The young generation of tea farmers refuse to learn traditional tea processing skills because the processing is considered drudgery, Wu said.

To train a professional needs at least five years but most tea farmers have to employ odd-time workers to process tea when the busy season comes, Wu explained.

For example, Manjuelong Village, home to 1,000 tea farmers, employed 2,000 workers to pick and process tea in March.

Longjing tea is produced in the mountain areas on the shores of West Lake in Hangzhou.

Tea-picking starts at the end of March and lasts throughout October.

The best Longjing tea is gathered several days before the Pure Brightness Day, which falls in early April when tea trees bear leaf buds.

Longjing tea of this grade used to be offered solely to the imperial family. For this reason, it was also known as "tribute tea."

To ensure the quality of top-grade Longjing tea, leaves of the tea tree have to be cured by hand, so only 250 grams can be done in half an hour by one person.

Another problem is the emergence of fake Longjing tea.

Experts said the local government, tea manufactures and retailers should all help protect the famous brand.

"We should ensure that people have the chance to appreciate the best Chinese tea," said Wang Guoping, Party secretary of Hangzhou.

Protection rules on West Lake Longjing tea production were established in 2001.

Plus, Longjing tea is only sold at franchised stores authorized by the government, according to Wang.

(China Daily 05/11/2005 page3)

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