Chinese tea-based beauty brand Cha Ling looks to revitalise human skin and Yunnan forests

New company sells skincare products that claim to harness the antioxidant powers of pu’er tea, all developed in environmentally friendly ways with reforestation plans in mind

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 February, 2016, 6:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 February, 2016, 6:00am

International luxury brands made in and inspired by China have been around for many years, from Shang Xia and Shanghai Tang to jewellers Qeelin. The latest addition is Cha Ling, a beauty line that launched in Harbour City last month.

Cha Ling, which already has a stand alone boutique in Harbour City, is not your conventional cosmetics line. It harnesses the power of one core ingredient, Chinese pu’er tea.

“We know that even the way you pick and cultivate the tea is important,” explains founder Laurent Boillot. “While the ingredient is special, Cha Ling also has a human narrative behind it that we don’t want to hide.”

It all began for Cha Ling with German environmental activist and biologist Josef Margraf, whose passion for nature and biodiversity led him to the Xishuangbanna region in Yunnan, home to pu’er tea. Together with his Chinese wife, journalist Li Minguo, he set out on a mission to revive and preserve the area’s forest tea production, ensuring a future for the local minority communities while safeguarding the cultural and spiritual heritage associated with pu’er tea.

After Margraf died in 2010, Li, determined to continue their work, approached Boillot, who was an old friend, for help. They conceived the idea of creating a sustainable beauty brand that harnessed the antioxidant properties of the tea.

Boillot says she didn’t approach Cha Ling as a business. “I discovered the tea through a series of intimate encounters with Josef and Minguo and I knew how important their work was and I wanted to protect that part of the world,” she says.

As the chief executive of French cosmetic brand Guerlain, Boillot figured pu’er’s antioxidant health benefits would be an ideal basis for a beauty brand. After years of development, Cha Ling now has 40 skincare products formulated using tea leaves cultivated from 500-year-old trees by the area’s indigenous Bulang farmers.

The products are split into three categories: purification, detoxification and nourishment. Highlights include a unique cleansing powder which doubles as a foam cleanser/scrub, a silk infusion serum and a “steam tablet” for purifying pores.

In keeping with the brand’s name (Cha Ling means “Spirit of Tea”) there is also a holistic side to the label. It provides customers with a meditation and massage programme inspired by traditional Chinese medicine. Also available are a range of products inspired by the Chinese culture including Chinese ceramics and candles.

“Since this is about a lifestyle, we cannot ignore the spiritual aspect. It was important that the line also bring about mindfulness,” says Boillot who has plans to open Cha Ling boutiques in Paris and China by 2017.

Cha Ling’s ultimate goal, Boillot says, is far from commercial. The brand vows to continue Margraf’s reforestation plans, which includes replanting 20 hectares of tea trees in the Yunnan mountains through the Tea Garden project. Above all, Cha Ling has aspirations to be the first carbon positive cosmetics line. A reforestation programme is already under way, she adds, including the construction of an 11-hectare garden.

Boillot says the brand developes its products with sustainability in mind, from formula to packaging.

“It’s important that we play our part in saving the planet,” says Boillot. “There is a caring philosophy but also a performance product. We don’t promise to make you younger but if we can teach people to understand, learn and give back to the world, then we have done our work,”