How is COVID-19 affecting the tea industry in Taiwan?

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As an island Taiwan has natural borders, which makes it easier to protect from viruses like COVID-19. Our guest writer Cortilia Lin from TeaTalk Academy Taiwan has written a new blog about the impact of COVID-19 on the tea industry in Taiwan. “During the first half of the year, the tea farmers felt the reduction in exports. According to the statistics released by the government, the reduction was around 20%-30% as compared to the prior year.

Luckily, Taiwan has experienced little impact from COVID-19. The government has maintained border control very well since the beginning of the China outbreak. With the 14 day quarantine method, Taiwan managed to continue to grow its economy without the need for lockdown in any format. Since June, domestic travel has resumed and many places have experienced very little difference except for international tourism and still some level of impact on the mega hotel chains which target premium travelers from overseas. Hence, with little impact on the manpower, tea production this year in Taiwan maintained a stable level. When we went up into the mountains, the tea picking songs were still sung as usual. The only difference is the export market.

The Export Market was Impacted
During the first half of the year, the tea farmers felt the reduction in exports. According to the statistics released by the government, the reduction was around 20%-30% as compared to the prior year. The major tea brands which are targeting the tourism markets or oversea sales have felt the pinch by the travel restrictions as well as the fight in the sea freight. Lots of challenges to get commercial products shipped out due to long lead time and uncertain demand. With increasing cost of shipping and potential loss of business due to long lead times, the industry turned its focus on the domestic market. The domestic market has been trained to be selective of the tea tastes. Very different trends have been spotted on the island of Taiwan.

Domestic Market Trending
Taiwanese generally are very well articulated in the tea taste they prefer, though not very sophisticated about the science behind tea cupping and tasting. At every single bubble tea shop, you could hear the conversation on the taste of the base tea. Even though milk, sugar and tapiocas may have been added drinks, Taiwanese still manage to get themselves opinionated about the base tea. And every single bubble tea shop, in order to become popular, has to list the origin of milk (e.g. which milk farm from southern or central Taiwan) for people to choose from. This means that consumers would even be critical of the balance of milk taste from each milk farm and base tea. Yes, this is very ‘Taiwan’!

Hence, to service such a selective population, Taiwanese tea farms, sellers and marketers have worked extra hard to provide the variety to please Taiwanese consumers, which generally makes it harder for the mainstream brands to build a narrative acceptable to the locals. Government led campaigns also emphasize the unique flavors of new tea varieties bred in Taiwan and work with tea farms of smaller scale to enrich the breadth of flavors for the domestic market. The focus of 2020 in Taiwanese tea industry has been ‘Consumer friendliness’ and ‘Rich in variety’ for making great tea experiences at home.

What Tea to Recommend?
During such an unusual time, any tea that would make your mind peaceful is great tea. We would recommend searching for the flavor and taste that relaxes you the best. Many tea mixologists have come to the agreement that no matter what tea you are getting at home, build a tea tasting experience for yourself. Get a nice pot, a great cup and brew the tea with water of various temperatures to experience the different levels of fragrance, which would be released as the temperature changes. Bring your tea to a space where you find most relaxing. It is no longer about the tea, it is about the experience you are getting around the tea.

Of course, Taiwanese medium roasted Oolong tea would produce varying degrees of fragrance and taste as the temperature progresses. If you don’t have a tea variety in mind, then try searching for Taiwanese medium roasted Oolong tea. It would surprise you how great of a match it is with the changing color leaves outside your window in the Netherlands.


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