“Right now everyone is talking about the rise of China. In my opinion, Chinese tea should be the symbol of that rise, much as Louis Vuitton bags and Porsche or Ferrari sports cars are,” said Lin Rongxi, deputy general manager of Eight Horses Tea Co Ltd. The company, along with four other tea producers from Anxi county in Fujian province, will soon open its first marketing center for Oolong tea in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, an area in the 6th arrondissement in Paris.
The five companies will operate the center jointly with the brand name Anxi Tieguanyin, aiming to provide tea as a luxury product for the European premium market.
Tieguanyin, or Iron Goddess of Mercy, is a sought-after variety of Chinese Oolong. According to legend, an iron statue of Guanyin, or the Goddess of Mercy, gave a farmer the tea and helped the poor to prosper. The grateful farmer named the tea for her.
Every year, China exports about 20,000 tons of Oolong at a price of between $2 and $3 a kilogram. In Lin’s opinion, the current export price is not consistent with the value of the product. “Tea is a good and fine product, not just some raw material for industrial processing of bottled drinks.”
The company has more than 800 stores across China and sells 1,000 tons annually to its domestic market. It exported 2,000 tons of Oolong in 2010, accounting for 15 percent of China’s annual export of the tea. The first container of Tieguanyin has already been shipped to Paris, and is likely to be priced at a range between 50 euros ($64.60) and 500 euros per kilogram.
The tea center will be ready by Chinese Spring Festival in late January and the five companies will together invest about 30 million yuan ($4.76 million) for the initial construction, management and promotion. Lin, however, does not expect huge profits or record sales in the short term. “Chinese tea used to be a prized possession among the upper classes in Europe some 300 years ago for its health benefits,” he said. “What’s more important is that we are back in the high-end market, and promoting the Anxi Tieguanyin brand.”
The center will be spread over 100 square meters and divided into a sales zone and a tasting zone. It will also host various cultural activities to promote tea culture. Lin said that the main barrier to the promotion of Tieguanyin in Europe is the lack of Chinese tea culture. “Previously our products were mainly sold overseas in bulk. Now we want to sell packaged tea at a much higher price. Western consumers may need time to accept the fact that tea can be really expensive.”
“We want to raise another round of Chinese tea mania in Europe,” Lin said.