Magical leaves brew up health benefits

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 August, 2010, 12:00am

Tea is becoming more popular globally, as more people realise the health benefits of drinking the beverage. It can improve digestion and skin tone, and even help fight cancer, according to experts.

These advantages will be featured at the Hong Kong International Tea Fair, which runs from today until Saturday at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) in Wan Chai.

Co-organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) and the Chinese Tea Culture International Exchange Association, the fair made a successful debut last year.

Similar to last year's timetable, the first two days of the fair are open only to traders, with the public able to attend on the last day.

The HKCEC is concurrently hosting the 21st edition of the HKTDC Food Expo, and the ninth edition of the International Conference and Exhibition of the Modernization of Chinese Medicine and Health Products.

More than 310 exhibitors from 15 countries and regions are exhibiting at the tea fair, with seven group pavilions from the mainland, Hong Kong, India, Japan, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Taiwan.

The largest exhibitor is Hong Kong's Kampery Development, which has a display area of 54 square metres.

The fair will showcase processed tea and tea products, packaging and processing equipment, testing services, tea ware, tea technology, tea organisation, tea services and publications.

It will also feature teas from major tea-producing areas on the mainland, including dark tea from Hunan, Keemun black tea from Anhui, Tie Guan Yin from Anxi, and Pu'er from Yunnan.

This year's new highlight is a Friends of Tea section, featuring a variety of confectionery and bakery products that can be paired with tea.

In addition, the Tea Industry Conference on market trends will be held for the second time, while activities for the public on the last day include four tea forums, and the final round of the International KamCha (Hong Kong-style milk tea) Competition 2010.

The tea-drinking trend is increasing in Asia because of its health benefits.

Yvonne Kao, chairman of the Taiwan Tea Exporters' Association, believes that people desire a healthier lifestyle, so they drink tea as it helps to digest oily food.

Jacqueline Cheung, director of Frontage Trading, a distributor of Japanese tea brand Tsujiri, says that 'locals are starting to drink more tea as it smoothens their skin, and helps fight cancer'.

However, the local tea market has not matured yet, she adds. 'Drinking green tea is increasingly popular in Hong Kong.

'People are still accepting this new trend, but they go to supermarkets to buy instant [green tea] packs, instead of sourcing the more high-quality tea available in the market.'

Aside from green tea, Celia Wong, manager of local firm Wing Yuen Tea Company, says the most popular teas among locals aged over 30 are stronger teas, such as Pu'er, whereas younger people favour oolong teas.

Tea drinking has expanded in other countries over the past few years. According to the South Korean-based Jurko Tea Company, tea products have become increasingly popular in the country's food culture, and people are willing to spend money on buying high-quality products.

Many buyers are more concerned with quality than price, so they are also willing to spend money if the products are unique and environmentally friendly.

Hasitha de Alwis, from the Sri Lanka Tea Board, also cites 'a consumer shift from drinking other expensive beverages to tea during difficult economic times'.

Wong says the popularity of Chinese tea in Europe and America has risen recently.

'Over the last two to three years, we have noticed a sharp rise of interest in traditional Chinese tea among Europeans and Americans. They have a rich knowledge of the topic, and Pu'er and Tie Guan Yin are the most common Chinese teas,' she says.

Increasing worldwide interest has resulted in continuing growth of the global tea market despite the economic downturn two years ago.

'In respect to Sri Lanka's tea industry, the economic downturn was felt only during the second half of 2008.

'By the beginning of last year, and thereafter, tea prices kept on rising and are still very buoyant.

'It has been proved, by some analysts, that tea is a beverage that thrives during global recessions, not only as a cheap drink, but also as a popular beverage after water,' de Alwis says.

In Taiwan, Kao suggests the market is 'gradually getting better after the economic downturn as tea is a type of daily beverage for most people'.

New products on offer by exhibitors this year include a variety of healthy and unique tea products. Jurko Tea is promoting new types of flowers, organic herbal and green teas, and says its green tea and fermented tea have a rich scent.

The Taiwan Tea Exporters' Association is promoting its most famed teas, including the high-mountain oolong tea, which has a sweet taste and aroma; a honey-flavoured tea; flowery Paochung tea; and the rich Dong Ding oolong tea.

Wing Yuen Tea is showcasing its Pu'er tea.

'Consumer confidence in tea was harmed with rumours spreading around saying that farm pesticides and moulds were found in teas such as Pu'er.

'Therefore, we are promoting a series of United Nations-recognised Pu'er tea, so as to regain consumers' confidence in tea products,' Wong says.

To tempt the younger generation into drinking tea, Kampery Development is also creating new packaging for its teas to suit their tastes.

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