Getting a cup of Whittards English tea in Suzhou, China, seems like an surprising experience. China veteran Bill Dodson explains on his weblog why foreign products like tea might have a chance in this tea drinking nation.
With the popular concern domestic consumers have about the integrity of foodstuffs grown and sold in China – including tea – international sellers have a window of opportunity to make inroads into the country with quality tea products. Once local vendors clean up their act, though, they’ll be doing their best to replicate the English tea experience.
Whittards of Chelsea is a famous English tea house and shop that for 125 years has been selling select teas, coffees and porcelain (china) to discriminating customers. According to the website of its Shanghai shop, “It offers more than 30 kinds of house teas, over 80 types of specialty teas, and around 40 varieties of fruit and herbal caffeine-free blends.” Increasingly affluent Chinese love that sort of product…
The waitress passed us heavy menus. The young woman was dressed in a simple frock of floral design and wore a small cap that reminded of engravings of the bar maids of yore. I perused the generously illustrated menu. It was stocked full of teas from around the world. There were even some Chinese teas.
My companion asked me to order; she was already keenly aware of my enthusiasm for infusions. I ordered a pot of Earl Gray with oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot oranges grown in India. I looked around at the customers buzzing with light caffeine highs.
Every table was full in the place. 95-percent of the customers were women in their 30s. They dressed well, though not splendidly; at least, they were not the Gucci crowd. They clearly had disposable incomes and time to spare – likely husbands who worked at good jobs, not necessarily executive level.
My associate told me the place was popular with young people who were open to new experiences. And the price was right: for just over 100 rmb the polite and attentive waitress delivered us a strong pot of Earl Gray (no re-fills) and a three-tiered platter of finger sandwiches, tarts and biscuits, all freshly made.
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