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High-tech future seen in tea leaves

By Yang Wanli | China Daily | Updated: 2020-11-11


From left: Fang Zhou and his mother You Yuqiong check the growth of plants at their tea plantation in Wuyishan, Fujian province. Fang learns tea processing with You. PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Innovations in marketing and production are helping attract younger people to the brew

Thirty-year-old Fang Zhou is jokingly called the "golden farm bachelor" by his friends. With a round face that is usually fixed with a broad smile, he is the third generation of a tea-growing family that owns a plantation covering more than 300 hectares in Fujian province.

The family business was started by Fang's grandfather You Yongsheng, the former head of Xingcun village in Wuyishan. The city is named after the Wuyi Mountains where the region's famous dahongpao rock tea originated.

The tea, prized for its rich, long-lasting aroma, is made from leaves picked from trees that grow in rocky gullies.

In the 1970s, You encouraged villagers to form their family tea businesses into a cooperative. The move significantly boosted the villagers' incomes and helped lift Xingcun residents out of poverty.

In the 1980s, You's family bought out the individual stakeholders and he became manager of Xiqiu Tea.

He later transferred the management role to his daughter You Yuqiong-the only female inheritor of the traditional skills of making dahongpao tea, which was listed as an intangible cultural heritage in 2006.

In recent decades, You Yuqiong, Fang's mother, has been unwavering in her efforts to advance the family business. In 1995, she introduced computer-controlled machines to the tea-production process.

Three years later, she established a tea institute, cooperating with experts from local research centers and colleges to develop new products. Two years later, Xiqiu became one of the few companies in the city that had a purpose-built rock tea assembly line, which they hold intellectual property rights over.

In 2006, You Yuqiong sent then 13-year-old Fang to study in the United Kingdom. After finishing high school he completed a management degree at Warwick University's Business School in 2016 and returned to Wuyishan the same year.

"Sending me aboard was my mother's plan to better develop our family business," Fang said.

"She is a brave woman who never fears change, and I hope I can take inspiration from what I've learned overseas. She believes that the most famous tea brand in the world should be a Chinese one, as China is the birthplace of tea."

As the future head of Xiqiu, Fang plans to inject vitality into the family business through technical innovations and promotion of tea culture among the younger generations.

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