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CGTN: Diffusion of tea and its culture along the Silk Road

BEIJING, Oct. 16, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Birol, a local Chinese-language tour guide in Istanbul, Türkiye, considers black tea an indispensable part of his daily routine. Actually, it’s not just Birol. […]

BEIJING, Oct. 16, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Birol, a local Chinese-language tour guide in Istanbul, Türkiye, considers black tea an indispensable part of his daily routine. Actually, it’s not just Birol. In a typical Turkish household, preparing a cup of black tea using a special tea kettle known as “çaydanlık” is a treasured aspect of everyday life.

CGTN: Diffusion of tea and its culture along the Silk Road

Black tea is a constant presence from breakfast to dinner and a customary beverage for welcoming guests and hosting parties, said Briol.

In Türkiye, tea has a rich history spanning over two centuries and has become a vital element of the local culture, deeply ingrained in the daily lives of its people. Today, the country is one of the world’s leading consumers of tea.

This significance has been further highlighted through Türkiye’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Historically renowned for its strong tea-drinking traditions, it has witnessed the BRI opening doors to increased trade and cultural exchanges.

Besides Türkiye, since China proposed the BRI in 2013, this initiative has played a vital role in mobilizing resources, enhancing connectivity among countries and unlocking potential growth prospects.

Over the past decade, trade and investment have seen consistent growth. From 2013 to 2022, the total value of imports and exports between China and other BRI countries reached $19.1 trillion, maintaining an average annual growth rate of 6.4 percent, according to a white paper released by China’s State Council Information Office on October 10.

By the end of August 2023, more than 80 countries and international organizations had endorsed China’s Initiative on Promoting Unimpeded Trade Cooperation Along the Belt and Road. The country had also signed 21 free trade agreements with 28 countries and regions, further promoting economic cooperation and trade connectivity within the BRI framework.

Thriving global tea market

China’s tea exports witnessed stable growth in 2022. The country exported a total of 375,300 tonnes of tea, marking a 1.59 percent increase compared with that of the previous year, data from the General Administration of Customs shows.

In breakdown, green tea exports amounted to 313,900 tonnes, taking up 83.6 percent of China’s total tea exports. Meanwhile, the exports of black tea and oolong tea constituted 8.9 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively.

BRI-participating countries have also been seeing a surge in their tea exports. Kenya, for instance, exported 1.4 million kilograms of tea to China in 2022, data from the Tea Industry Committee of the China Association for the Promotion of International Agricultural Cooperation shows.

As a prolific tea producer, Kenya yields over 450 million kilograms of tea annually. The tea industry accounts for approximately 23 percent of Kenya’s total foreign exchange earnings, according to the Tea Directorate. The sector also supports the livelihoods of roughly 5 million individuals in Kenya, both directly and indirectly, in a country with a population of 53 million.

This year, Kenya foresees a further boost in its tea export volume due to a growing shipment of Kenyan orthodox and black teas to China, according to the Agriculture and Food Authority of Kenya.

Apart from tea, other trades are also flourishing between the two countries, thanks to the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) that launched in 2017, an early fruit of the BRI. The railway has facilitated the seamless movement of imported bulk cargo to the hinterland, improved logistics and supply chains, and provided a fast, efficient and cost-effective means of transporting bulk cargo.

In the first eight months of 2023, China’s trade in food products, including tea, with BRI countries reached 553.82 billion yuan ($76.10 billion), a 10.4 percent increase compared to the same period last year and a 162 percent increase compared to 2013, official data shows.

In 2022, China’s trade in food products with BRI countries reached 786.31 billion yuan, up 135.3 percent compared to 2013, according to the General Administration of Customs.

As of June this year, China has signed over 200 BRI cooperation agreements with 152 countries and 32 international organizations, expanding the diversity and scale of food trade.

Historical tea roads promote the spread of tea culture

Throughout history, Chinese tea culture has been closely connected to trade expeditions along historic routes like the Tea Horse Road. The route commences in China’s southwestern provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan, meandering along the eastern foothills of the Hengduan Mountains, a center of tea production in China, before extending to India, which is situated to the south of the Himalayas.

Another historical route, the ancient tea road, originated in the Wuyi Mountains in southeast China’s Fujian and spanned approximately 13,000 kilometers. It comprised a web of trading and caravan routes that crisscrossed China to reach Europe, playing a crucial role in spreading Chinese tea to foreign lands.

The ancient tea road was a vital trade route that combined water and land transport to facilitate tea trade, meeting the demands of diverse ethnic communities residing in northwest China, Russia and Europe, according to Huang Baiquan, professor at the School of History and Culture, Hubei University.

This commercial route spans various climates and landscapes, serving as a platform for the harmonious coexistence of diverse economic activities and addressing the livelihood needs of people residing along the route, Huang noted.

The historical trade route aligns closely with the northern route of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt and is an important part of the BRI. It has fostered economic diversity and encouraged multidimensional exchanges of ideas and knowledge between southern and northern China, Russia and Europe.

During the process of tea cultivation and processing, transportation, trade, and consumption, people from diverse nationalities and countries along the ancient tea road have crafted and carried forward a vibrant and diverse tea culture, Huang added.

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