English high teas pop­u­lar among mid­dle-class women

China Daily (Canada) - - DEPTH - By EMMAGONZALEZ

The 24-year-old tea lover Lian Xiaoying con­vinced her hus­band to treat her and a group of friends to a Bri­tish style af­ter­noon tea ex­pe­ri­ence at the An­nvita English Tea Com­pany salon in Bei­jing’s cen­tral district of San­l­i­tun.

The group of friends was catch­ing up with each other while sip­ping a fruity tea and nib­bling on cu­cum­ber sand­wiches and English scones be­fore din­ner time.

“I re­ally en­joy drinking tea, that’s why my hus­band de­cided to bring us here. It is peace­ful and classy,” said Lian while hold­ing a del­i­cate porce­lain cup. “We don’t nor­mally do af­ter­noon tea be­cause it is ex­pen­sive. How­ever, it is a nice treat once in a while.”

The tea salon cap­tures the real essence of a Vic­to­rian liv­ing room, with its el­e­gant dark wood fur­ni­ture, blue vel­vet cur­tains and the sound of clas­si­cal mu­sic play­ing in the back­ground.

The im­ported teas are served in porce­lain teapots while snacks ar­rive in cake stands.

In re­cent years, the Bri­tish tra­di­tion of af­ter­noon tea has be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in China, with more lo­cal con­sumers in­dulging in the lux­ury ex­pe­ri­ence.

In the mid-’90s, Tai­wane­se­born Ann Chi­ang, owner of the An­nvita English Tea Com­pany, trav­elled to Eng­land where she fell deeply in love with the tra­di­tional way Bri­tish peo­ple en­joy tea.

She then dreamt of one day start­ing herow­nafter­noon tea brand in China.

Af­ter car­ry­ing out some mar­ket re­search, she came to the con­clu­sion that the tea­house mar­ket in China was mainly di­rected at male con­sumers and that there was room for new tea-drinking op­tions.

“I then felt very re­lieved to not see in China any of the Bri­tish af­ter­noon tea­houses with the el­e­gant con­cept that deeply touched me years ago in Eng­land,” said Chi­ang. “That’s when I de­cided to en­ter the mar­ket with this three­tiered unique Bri­tish af­ter­noon tea­house con­cept.”

In 2011, Chi­ang gave di­men­sions of re­al­ity to her dream, opening her first Vic­to­rian style tea salon in Shanghai to pro­mote the con­cept of a true Bri­tish af­ter­noon tea in the coun­try.

Now, An­nvita has 45 out­lets, of which eight are fully owned by the com­pany and 35 are au­tho­rized stores. The tea chain is present in 30 cities across China, in­clud­ing Bei­jing, Shanghai and Wuhan, Hubei province.

This year, the com­pany plans to open three fully owned stores and five au­tho­rized stores, in line with its tar­get to open up to three owned re­tail stores and up to 10 au­tho­rized stores every year.

Although the com­pany prefers not to dis­close its an­nual fig­ures, it fore­casts a steady an­nual growth of 10-15 per­cent in com­ing years, thanks to the in­creas­ing de­mand from younger Chi­nese.

“Chi­nese con­sumers are get­ting used to the pat­tern of af­ter­noon tea with cake and desserts,” said Chi­ang. “And cus­tomers who fa­vor for­eign tea are in­creas­ingly younger and bet­ter ed­u­cated.”

Most of An­nvita’s cus­tomers are of­fice work­ers in the 25-45 age-group, par­tic­u­larly women.

The com­pany’s best­sellers in­clude the tra­di­tional Bri­tish tea va­ri­eties of Earl Grey, Bri­tish Rose and Dar­jeel­ing tea in the price range of 200 ($29.9) to 568 yuan for a pot.

The chain sources its tea leaves from Bri­tain, Ger­many and Tai­wan.

The sud­den pop­u­lar­ity of Bri­tish af­ter­noon tea has been marked by its ex­clu­sive char­ac­ter since small quan­ti­ties of for­eign tea are cur­rently be­ing im­ported into China.

China im­ported 22,900 tons of tea in 2015, which was only 7 per­cent of its ex­port vol­ume, ac­cord­ing to Frost and Sul­li­van.

Last year, tea im­ports into China in­creased to $258 mil­lion, up 15 per­cent from 2014, due to grow­ing con­sumer de­mand for im­ported tea bev­er­ages, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by IBISWorld.

The pop­u­lar­ity of af­ter­noon tea in China has be­come an im­por­tant source of rev­enue for high-end ho­tels.

Since its in­au­gu­ra­tion in 2007, the Ritz-Carl­ton in Bei­jing has been serv­ing a se­lec­tion of teas and snacks such as sand­wiches and English scones with jam and clot­ted cream for the af­ter­noon tea afi­ciona­dos.

“Th­ese guest ex­pe­ri­ences help se­cure mar­ket share and may boost sales at the ho­tels,” ex­plained Lisa Wang, a pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager at the RitzCarl­ton Bei­jing. “We gen­er­ate sub­stan­tial rev­enue from af­ter­noon­teaan­dour rev­enues con­tinue to in­crease year over year.”

And there is still grow­ing po­ten­tial for the im­ported tea tra­di­tion as a larger num­ber of Chi­nese con­sumers are will­ing to try it.

For Wang, an in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese peo­ple re­gard af­ter­noon tea as a so­cial state­ment, or as a treat beyond the rou­tine of lunch or din­ner.

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