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Yuefei Wang: Why has Chinese tea become a popular drink all over the world?
China Minutes
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Yuefei Wang: Why has Chinese tea become a popular drink all over the world?

China is the birthplace of tea. It is deeply integrated into Chinese people’s lives and has become an important carrier for the transmission of Chinese culture. Tea culture traverses history, transcends borders and is deeply loved by people all over the world.

As one of the three major beverages in the world, how is it that Chinese tea has become a popular drink all over the world? Why is it an important medium for trade and cultural exchanges between the East and the West? Yuefei Wang, vice president of the China International Tea Culture Research Association and director of the Tea Research Institute of Zhejiang University, recently accepted an exclusive interview with China News’s East Meets West to elaborate on the matter.

Yuefei Wang, Vice president of the China International Tea Culture Research Association and Director of Zhejiang University Tea Research Institute. Credit: the interviewee, issued by China News

Yuefei Wang is Doctor of Tea Studies, Professor, Doctoral Supervisor, National First-Class Tea Reviewer, Member of the Disciplinary Review Group of the State Council, Leader of Tea Studies at Zhejiang University, Director of Tea Research Institute of Zhejiang University.


China is the first country in the world to discover and cultivate tea trees and use tea leaves. From a historical perspective, why do Chinese people love tea so much?

Tea, coffee, and cocoa are collectively known as the three major beverages in the world. Among them, tea has a history of about 60-70 million years on earth. The discovery and utilization of tea began in primitive matriarchal clan societies, which have a history of 5,000- 6,000 years.

Chinese ancestors drank tea through four processes: raw medicinal, cooked as a vegetable, cooked, and brewed. Tea contains more than 700 kinds of ingredients, which are beneficial to human health, so it has become a necessity of life for many Chinese people. Especially in Qinghai, Inner Mongolia and other places, herdsmen living there lacked the nutrition of fresh fruits and vegetables, and drinking tea could supplement vitamins to a certain extent.

With the emergence of the commodity economy, people’s living conditions have improved, and the people’s cultural demands have increased. Chinese tea culture has gradually grown, and matching utensils and porcelain are also emphasised by the people. Today, tea culture is not only integrated into people’s daily lives, but also creates links of interpersonal communication, which contain the beauty of civilization in the East.

Citizens and tourists drink tea at the nearly 40-year-old “Traffic Teahouse” in Chongqing. Credit: China News, Yi Zhou


What role does Chinese tea play in the global tea industry? Why is it special?

China has confidence in tea culture, and Chinese tea is a unique resource of famous tea in the world. It has become an important economic crop in China. More than 30 million tea farmers in 1,085 counties rely on tea leaves to live a prosperous life, and the tea industry has become a major industry that drives people’s livelihoods.

Worldwide, tea is now all over the world’s five continents, 64 countries around the world grow tea, 30 countries or regions can export tea stably, more than 150 countries or regions import tea all year round, and more than 160 countries and regions have the habit of drinking tea.

As for the role Chinese tea plays in the global tea industry, it can be summed up in the phrase “Chinese tea, crowning the world” – “crown” is mainly reflected in tea production, tea the plantation area, total tea consumption, and total tea export value.

Judging from the existing data, in 2020, the world’s tea output will be 6.269 million tons, and China’s total tea output will be 2.986 million tons, ranking first in the world. The world’s total tea area is 12.59 million acres, and China’s total tea area is 7.82 million acres, also ranking first in the world. China’s tea has a huge impact on the world’s tea production and consumption, accounting for 47.63% of the world’s tea production, 41.68% of the world’s total tea consumption, and 19.14% of the world’s tea exports.

Now is the “golden age” of the development of China’s tea industry. Nearly half of the world’s population (more than 3 billion people) drink tea every day, and the world consumes more than 3 billion cups of tea a day.

Bai villagers in Sangzhi County, Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province pick white tea at the Sangzhi White Tea Ginkgo Pagoda Base in Yunshang Tea Garden. Credit: China News, Huafeng Yang


Why did Chinese tea successfully become popular around the world?

Chinese tea first entered the world in the 5th century AD, and it was introduced into East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, and West Asia mainly over the Silk Road.

From the 15th to the 17th century, the distance between countries in the world shortened as never before, and the magical medicinal properties of tea were further spread. The Dutch East India Company used its maritime advantage to ship green tea from Macau to Java, Indonesia, and then to Europe, starting the European style of tea drinking.

The United Kingdom is one of the most popular countries in Europe for drinking tea. Driven by the royal family, tea drinking has become a fashion pursued the nobility and has become popular among all classes of people in the U.K. They found that tea is very effective for refreshing oneself, relieving fatigue, and hangovers. What’s more, it helps with digestion, and there are no side effects when drinking it for a long time. The tea trade between China and Britain started from scratch and gradually developed in the 17th and early 18th centuries, and the considerable profits boosted the tea trade even more.

Visitors taste tea at the 2020 China (Guangzhou) International Tea Expo and the 21st Guangzhou International Tea Culture Festival. Credit: China News, Chuhong Chen

As the most developed country in the world at the time, Britain led the wave in Europe. Since the end of the 17th century, Chinese tea has gradually become popular all over the world. At that time, China’s tea exports had surpassed those of porcelain and silk, accounting for about 90 percent of the country’s exports. 


Behind the “tea leaf”, what are the similarities and differences between Eastern and Western tea drinking habits? What are the reflections of the integration and mutual learning between the East and West on this matter?

China is known as the motherland of tea and the birthplace of tea culture. The higher the degree of integration of Eastern and Western cultures, the more functions Chinese tea is endowed with. From becoming a luxury drink for the upper classes when it first went abroad, to becoming popular in Western society through afternoon tea culture, and now integrating with milk and alcohol, the collision of cultures has made Chinese tea famous globally.

There are many differences between the East and West when it comes to drinking tea. There are six major types of Chinese tea: green tea, yellow tea, dark tea, white tea, green tea, and black tea. Chinese people pay attention to the “process” of drinking tea, while the western way of drinking tea is relatively simple, focusing on efficiency and convenience.

The audience was attracted by the March Peach Blossom Cup, the Set of Twelve Porcelain Wine Cups made by Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty. Credit: China News, Wei Zhang

When tea is circulated as a commodity, it also promotes the integration of multiculturalism. Chinese tea culture has become the cradle of tea culture in various countries, promoting the formation of tea culture in Britain, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Morocco, and other countries.

Tea is tasted and shared around the world. The United Nations announcement that May 21 every year is the “International Tea Day” has set a good trend, which can promote the sustainable and healthy development of the global tea industry, deepen the integration and mutual learning of tea cultures giving more people the chance to learn about tea, love tea, and enjoy tea together.


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