A British naval blockade brought tea trade to a standstill and prompted the formation of the German Tea Association on April 21, 1917 amid World War I. “Yet tea merchants were forward-looking. They wanted to be prepared for the post-war era and to restore access to the market as quickly as possible,” said Maximilian Wittig, Managing Director of the German Tea Association. Their business acumen has paid off and the tea trade is now an important sector with 200,000 tons of tea handled in the Port of Hamburg last year. The city has always been and remains a hub of Europe’s tea trade.
Tea growing spreading to other countries
Originally founded in Kassel “assumedly because of the central location in Germany and which was easily reached,” according to Wittig, the association soon relocated Hamburg as most tea companies were based in north Germany. According to legend, tea was first discovered in China 5,000 years ago and arrived in Europe only 400 years ago. Tea production has increased more than tenfold over the last 100 years. And the trend is likely to continue although “not on this scale,” according to Wittig. The growth is due mainly to improved production conditions “although we are currently experiencing climate-related changes. Yet traditional tea growing countries have to battle diverse effects.” Tea cultivation is enjoying growing popularity in other regions “beginning with African countries, Latin American nations and all the way to New Zealand as well.” Thus tea growing is no longer limited to five leading countries namely India, China, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Indonesia who account for over 80 per cent of global tea production.
Germany – leading tea processor
In Germany, the focus lies on tea processing. “Many tea traders and leading tea processing companies in Hamburg buy bulk goods,” said Wittig. Their expertise in blending, tea flavouring and tea packaging is esteemed worldwide. “Tea is a natural product and thus every delivery from the same producer differs slightly. Yet many clients request consistent quality products,” he noted. The challenge lies in selecting teas such as a consistent, high-quality English Breakfast Tea or a real East Friesian mix that become synonymous with a particular tea company, from the many varieties. “A tea taster samples 400 types of tea every day and has mere seconds to decide whether to purchase.”
Enjoying tea in East Friesia
Some 19,220 tons of black and green tea or an annual 28 litres per person were consumed in Germany last year. Fruit and herbal tea brought consumption to 70 litres. “Tea is enjoyed very differently from region to region. Every East Friesian drinks 300 litres per year making them world champions ahead of England with only 200 litres per year and which is considered a traditional tea-drinking nation.“ In May 2017, UNESCO distinguished 300-year-old East Friesian tea culture as an intangible cultural heritage. Worldwide, tea is consumed second only to water. And although coffee is popular in Europe, tea is dominant in Asia where consumption goes hand in hand with tea ceremonies and other rituals.
Tea conquering high-end catering
“Tea is becoming increasingly trendy. Customers are more inquisitive and like experimenting,” Wittig confirmed. Tea goes hand in hand with wellness trends “and is thus linked to slowing down and conscious enjoyment.” Fans of both tasty teas and their benefits are growing and Wittig has noted rising interest in single-origin teas in general. But top-quality catering is also presenting tea as an “Assam shot” after dinner or as an accompaniment instead of wine. “More and more well-trained staff in the catering sector are recommending teas to go with a dish. I recommend a strong Ceylon tea for our special summers in Hamburg.” Delicious on a rainy day, it’s also an ideal iced tea and can be brewed with only half the amount of water and mixed with ice cubes. The tea can be drank immediately and does not have to be brewed the previous evening. “Add lemon to taste. And it’s ready.”
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