Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China/Tea

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TEA.

 

By H. T. Wade.

 

FROM time almost immemorial the words China and tea have been so intimately associated that when the one of them is mentioned the other immediately and almost involuntarily suggests itself; and possibly in the whole range of the history of commerce there is no other known instance where the product is so thoroughly identified with the land of production as is the article tea with its parent home, China. And surely, if for no other reason, China would seem to have a prescriptive and justifiable right to call herself the home of the tea plant by reason of the long centuries in which tea was a national beverage before its virtues and its value became known to other countries of the world. Anyhow it is on authentic record that tea was extensively cultivated for drinking purposes in China in A.D. 350, while it is quite possible to believe that it was well known to the inhabitants many years before that date. Again, China is further identified with the tea plant by having furnished the very name by which the world-renowned product is universally known—tea.

On the other hand there are not wanting those who claim Assam as the original home of the plant because the shrub happens to be indigenous to that part of India; but when one remembers the contiguity of Assam with the Chinese province of Yunnan, where undoubtedly tea grows, both lying on the same parallels of latitude, Assam's special claim to the honour would not appear to be any too strongly substantiated. Indeed, Japan might equally well put in a claim to be considered the parent land of tea, for the two varieties, Thea Assamica and Thea sinensis, can both be traced back to very remote times, "the first still growing wild in India and the other occurring still wild in Southern Japan." On the authority of the writer of the article on tea in the "Encyclopædia Britannica" we have it that "no strictly wild tea plants have been discovered in China, but an indigenous tree (Thea Assamica) is found in Assam, and that it differs in many respects from the China plant in that it is a tree attaining to a height of fifteen to twenty feet and that its leaves reach a length of nine inches and upwards, while the leaf of the Chinese plant never exceeds four inches in length." This rather emphatic statement seems open to doubt, for it is competent for any one to see, what the present writer has frequently seen, tea trees of a height of twenty feet or more growing in the neighbourhood of the Treaty port of Kiukiang in the province of Kiangsi; while the leaves of the gnarled trees in the old time tea orchards of Yunglowtung and Yunglowsze in the province of Hupeh, which form a large component part of the heterogeneous mixture which goes to make up tea bricks for the markets of Thibet, attain to a length not one whit less than that ascribed to the Assam plant. But be these facts as they may the solid fact remains incontrovertible that for nearly fifteen hundred years—that is from A.D. 350 to A.D. 1838—China tea, and China tea alone, was recognised as the article of commerce known as tea, and that "China has been the fountain head whence the tea culture has spread to other countries." And even at the present day by far the most highly-prized and the highest-priced teas from India and Ceylon are produced from plants of indisputably Chinese origin. Coming to dates more within the compass of common knowledge, we know that it is only seventy years ago since it was discovered that the tea plant was indigenous to the East India Company's territories in Upper Assam, and that during Lord Hardinge's Governor-Generalship of India tea plantations were successfully established on the Himalaya range, worked by natives from the tea districts of Fokien supplied with plants and seeds and all the paraphernalia necessary for manufacturing the article. A little later fresh supplies of "men and arms" were sent over to India, and under the skilful guidance of Mr. Robert Fortune, well known in China for his charming books of travel in the tea countries of China, the industry was prosecuted with enlightenment and vigour. The last fifty years have witnessed the expansion of this great enterprise to this very day, when its proportions are stupendous and really phenomenal when considered in conjunction with the marvellous development of the tea trade in Ceylon.

Though deprived of her pride of place by the united activities of India and Ceylon as the greatest producers of tea for export purposes yet China holds a great place as a producing country.

Take the figures for the year 1907.

        Lbs.
The total output of Indian tea was 213,722,195
Ceylon 182,220,611
Java 27,760,000
China 134,198,100
(not including 80,563,500 lbs. brick tea). 557,900,906

The consumption of tea in China is estimated to be 5 lb. per head which, if correct, would necessitate the addition of the stupefying amount of 2,000,000,000 lbs. to the certified export figures. On the other hand the internal consumption of tea in India and Ceylon, insignificant as it is, affects no calculation.

While it is undeniable that China has been fairly ousted from the home trade by her virile offspring, and that "the consumption of China tea in the United Kingdom barely reaches 6,000,000 lbs. or 2·1 per cent. of the whole quantity consumed as compared with 4·3 per cent. in 1904 (Hosie) in the United Kingdom, though the direct export to the United Kingdom is more than double that amount, yet happily other markets still remain, and while the direct export to foreign countries during the past ten years has varied but little, averaging as it has done 196,576,670 lbs. per annum, signs are not wanting of a more favourable disposition towards China tea in England, and of a desire on the part of exporters from China to push their wares more energetically by freer advertising and reasonable appeals to the common sense of the consumer. The average cost of China tea is yearly coming more into line with the laying down prices of British-grown leaf. Hitherto that average has been much too high. This stumbling block once removed, and a little more attention directed to consistent manufacture, the future of China tea in the home markets should not be absolutely hopeless. The situation has not inaccurately been summed up in the words of an editorial of a Ceylon planting paper, "the way in which the China trade has steadily gone back is not at all conclusive proof that there can be no important recovery under changed conditions and methods. In other words the swing of the pendulum may be witnessed in this department of agriculture and commerce as well as in any other, seeing that China tea has suffered no radical injury." But this large and important question may be well left here for later consideration.

THE PLANT.

 

A very large majority of people are still possessed of the idea that black and green teas come from distinct varieties of plants. For a time there may have been some reason for entertaining this view because originally black tea alone was traded in, and that came from Kwangtung and the north and west parts of the province of Fokien, and was shipped from the one port of Canton. Subsequently when green tea became an article of foreign trade it was discovered that this new departure was grown and made in the more northern provinces of Chekiang and Anhwei. To the black tea botanists gave the scientific name of Thea Bohea because largely grown on the range of hills of that name. The latter was designated Thea viridis from the comparative greenness of its leaf. But the plants have now long been known to be of one and the same description, though Chinese rarely make both kinds of tea, black and green, in one district. Two notable exceptions to this general rule are to be found in the provinces of Chekiang and Anhwei, in the former of which are made the Pingsuey and Hoochow green teas as also the Wènchow black teas, and in the latter the well-known green teas of Moyune and Fychow and the new celebrated black teas known as Keemuns. Yet, as early as in 1846 Fortune wrote: "It is now well known that the fine Moning districts near the Poyang Lake, which are daily rising in importance on account of the superior character of their black teas, formerly produced nothing but green teas." Similarly, the period is well within the writer's remembrance when the district which produces the popular Keemun teas of to-day was famous for the excellence of its growth of green tea. At one time green and black teas were made indiscriminately at Canton from Bohea, at the pleasure of the manufacturer and according to demand. The Chinese, as is well known, do not drink coloured green teas, but only the sun-dried article, and are said to express surprise that civilised nations should so unnecessarily go out of their way to take poison when the genuine, unadulterated article is at their disposal, and more often than not at a lower price. It is now well known that it is not necessary to invoke the aid of Prussian blue and other colouring materials to produce an even coloured green tea, for that result may be simply obtained by stopping the fermentation before it begins to discolour or darken the leaf, as is done in the case of India and Ceylon green teas. The only sane reason advanced for the colouring or facing of the leaf is that it is a protection against any fermentation that might set up on the voyage and so, possibly, render the article unmarketable. And that reason was framed in the long-past sailing ship days, when teas were packed into a stuffy hold and buffeted day after day during a six months' voyage. But fashion and utility have much to answer for its insane continuance. It is not known with certainty that teas were faced or coloured earlier than 1832, when the remission of the tea duties in America took place. But coloured they most distinctly were then to please a fancy which has continued ever since across the Pacific, and the practice has been kept up by the utilitarian Chinese not only to maintain uniformity and brightness of colour, but under cover of the "fake" to disguise inferior leaf.

 

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SIFTING THE TEA.

 

PICKING AND MANUFACTURE.

 

Tea is grown in an absolutely different way in China from that which obtains in India and Ceylon. In these latter countries large plantations are to be seen covering many acres of carefully tended and cultivated plants under one management. The produce of each estate is manufactured into the trade article entirely by machinery, and the busy work goes on uninterruptedly for ten months in the year. In China there are no plantations worthy of the name. The plant is cultivated for the most part on the slopes or bases of hills, generally in small patches around the endless farmsteads, where the drainage is quick and the necessary moisture unfailing. The small tea patch is the farmer's heritage. The leaves are picked by the members of his family, and the preliminary sun-drying is performed round the hamlet. This busy time seldom lasts much longer than a fortnight, when the produce is bought up by the middleman, who, when he has bought a sufficiency of the sun-dried leaf, takes it to the firing house for assortment and treatment. A second picking takes place towards the middle of May and lasts from ten to twelve days, and the third crop is gathered in August. The maximum time expended upon securing the whole of the three crops is well within two months, whereas, as we have seen, five times that length of time is occupied in India and Ceylon in securing their annual supply. In China the principal tea districts lie within the comparatively narrow limits between the 25th and 31st degrees of North latitude, while British-grown plantations extend over the wide range from 28° to 7° North. And yet tea, which is a great industry in China, may be regarded in the light of a by-product. It in no way interferes with or displaces any of the cereal, vegetable, or fruit crops. It requires little or no attention and receives but a modicum. That China tea should so long have maintained a standard of excellence, considering the indifference which attends its culture and the vicissitudes which the sun-dried leaf undergoes on its search for a market, is little short of marvellous—for it is thrust into light cotton bags and bandied about from cottage to village and from village to town, and exposed to many of those changes of weather so common in the fickle spring, until it finds a purchaser. It is not the small farmer and first manipulator who gets overpaid. The big country profit goes to the middleman. But under any and all circumstances the grower makes a profit, varying only in degree, and consequently is a contented man. And those variations are seldom very serious. In this connection the following comparisons are interesting. In 1848 the price of ordinary leaf in the country was 80 cash a catty, or about $4 per picul, for the number of cash to the tael in those days was much the same as it is now. In 1908 it was 70 cash. In 1848 good common Congou realised upon the Shanghai market $9 to $10 per picul. In 1908 similar teas cost $12 to $14 per picul. In 1848 exchange was 6s. 8d. per tael, and the lay-down cost in London of common tea at $10 per picul was 8½d. per lb. where its market value was 8d. To-day at the exchange of 2s. 4½d. common Congou lays down at 4½d., and is worth about 4d. per lb.

Reverting to the picking of the leaf, the young leaves gathered early in April are covered with a whitish down and are known by the name of pekoe. Only a very limited quantity of this costly article is manufactured for export, probably not more than 10,000 chests, which is consumed chiefly on the continent of Europe and in Persia. While it is the most costly, it is at the same time the least fragrant and most insipid of all teas. This picking over, the general picking commences, and this, unfortunately, is not carried on with any reasonable regard to future supplies. The aim of the native would seem to be to get, and to get immediately, as much leaf off the shrub as he can. There is none of the science in picking which obtains in India. In China the leaves are picked off wholesale with any amount of stalk. In India due care is taken that the lowest leaf in a "flush" or shoot shall be so nipped off as to leave the bud in its axil uninjured on the branch, as from it the next flush will then develop, and the supply so continued. There is a good description, of how the leaves should be plucked, and what special grade of tea the leaves supply, in Colonel Money's "Cultivation and Manufacture of Tea," which might well be taken to heart in China. He says that "the three leaves at the growing point," by which I understand that he means the three topmost leaves of the plant, "and the whole shoot down to the stem in the order of their age give flowery pekoe, pekoe, pekoe Souchong, Souchong, and Congou. Were the flush further developed another leaf might be taken which might be classed as bohea." When a sufficiency of leaf has been picked, it is thrown into large flat basket-trays and exposed to the sun. As the leaves begin to darken and curl up they are gathered up and manipulated into balls. When there is a very large quantity of leaf to be twisted, and not too much time to do it in, the twisting is done by the feet. And this, and the treading the fired leaf into the chests in which it is packed, are the only sentimentally dirty elements in the manufacture of China lea. The operation is simple enough. A horizontal bamboo is affixed to two perpendicular poles. The operators, supported and steadied by the bamboo, gather the sun-dried leaf and work it into a ball—often as large as an Association football—with their feet. When a sufficient "twist" has been obtained, the ball is broken up, the leaves thrust into cotton bags and hawked about the nearest marts for sale. Any one who has seen the Chinese irrigate their fields with chain-pumps worked by the feet will easily understand how the "twist" may be given to tea. The writer, when in Sung Yang, in the province of Hupeh, on a tea visit, was much struck with the speed with which the twist was thus given to the leaf. The real manufacture of tea only begins when it reaches the firer's hands, and the operation has been so well described by many writers, notably by Fortune (whose account, written more than sixty years ago, is about the best and truest existent to-day), Wells Williams, Sir John Davies, and Dyer Ball, that a reference to any of these authorities is all that is needed.

 

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THE COLLECTING BASKETS.

 

"The leaves are first thinly spread on shallow trays to dry off all moisture. They are then thrown into the air and tossed about and patted till they become soft: a heap is made of these wilted leaves and left to lie for an hour or more, when they become moist and dark in colour. They are then thrown on the hot pans for five minutes and rolled on the rattan table previous to exposure out-of-doors for three or four hours on sieves, during which time they are turned over and opened out. After this they get a second roasting and rolling to give them their final curl. When the charcoal fire is ready, a basket, shaped something like an hour-glass, but about three feet high, is placed endwise over it, having a sieve in the middle, on which the leaves are thinly spread. When dried five minutes in this way they undergo another rolling, and are then thrown into a heap until all the lot has passed over the fire. When this firing is finished the leaves are opened out (not untwisted, of course) and are again thinly spread on the sieve in the basket for a few minutes, which finishes the drying and rolling for most of the heap, and makes the leaves a uniform black. They are now placed in the basket in greater mass and pushed against its sides by the hands in order to allow the heat to come up through the sieve and the vapour to escape; a basket over all retains the heat, but the contents are turned over until perfectly dry and the leaves become uniformly black."

Thus much for the manufacture of black tea, from which may be gathered the main fact that often a considerable time may elapse after the sun-drying process and before the teas are put into the firing pans. Thus it is that black teas are heavily fermented.

Different altogether is the course of procedure in regard to green teas, whose leaves are roasted almost immediately after they are gathered, and dried off quickly after the rolling process. When the leaves are brought in from the gardens or patches they are lightly spread out on flat bamboo trays in order to dry off any superfluous moisture, and are left exposed for an hour or two, according to the state of the weather. The roasting pans having been properly heated, a quantity of leaves is thrown into them and deftly and rapidly shaken up by hand. As they become affected by the heat they begin to make a spluttering, crackling noise and become quite moist and flaccid, while at the same time they give out a considerable amount of vapour. After a few minutes the leaves are withdrawn and placed upon the rolling table. Here men take up as much leaf as they can handle and press it into the form of a ball. This is rolled upon the rattan table, and squeezed so as to get rid, as Fortune says, of a portion of the sap and moisture. And herein lies one of the great differences between the Indian and Chinese process. In the latter a good deal of the life-blood of the leaf is lost. In the former it is most carefully retained. As soon, then, as the requisite twist is obtained the teas are at once returned to the roasting pan, where they are kept in a state of constant move by deft hands. In an hour or two the leaves will be found to be well dried and the colour fixed, which is of a dull green at first but becomes brighter afterwards. From the foregoing it will be noticed that the hand seems to have most to do in the case of green teas, and the fire in that of black.

The leaves are now ready to receive their unnatural green colour. In his all-informing book. "The Middle Kingdom," Dr. Wells Williams says in respect of this artificial colouring that "the first tea sent to Europe was from Fohkien and all black, but as the trade extended some of the delicate hyson sorts were occasionally seen at Canton, shipped to England and America, and their appearance was appreciated in those countries as more and more was sent. It was found, however, very difficult to maintain a uniform tint. If cured too slightly the leaf was liable to fermentation during the voyage; if cured too much it was unmarketable, which for the manufacturer was worse. Chinese ingenuity was equal to the call." In short, it faced the hysons. For we have it on record that when the Bostonians on December 16, 1773, summarily threw overboard the tea cargoes of the Dartmouth, Eleanor, and Beaver, only amounting, it is true, to 342 packages, the contents were known to have been hysons. In reference to that event Dr. Holmes has it that—

"The waters in the rebel bay
Have kept the tea-leaf savour—
Our old North-Enders in their spray
Still taste a Hyson flavour,"

The notion that green tea derives its colour from being cured in copper pans is not wholly dead yet, and the question is often asked how tea obtains its green colour. The operation is simple enough and may be seen any day in Shanghai when the faking of what are called Shanghai packed green teas is going on. Williams concisely describes it: "A quantity of Prussian blue is pulverised to a very fine powder and kept ready at the last roasting. Pure gypsum is burned in the charcoal fire till it is soft and fit for easily triturating. Four parts thereof are then thoroughly mixed with three parts of Prussian blue, making a light blue powder. About five minutes before finally taking off the dried leaves this powder is sprinkled on them, and instantly the whole panful of two or three pounds is turned over by the workman's hands till a uniform colour is obtained. His hands come out quite blue, but the compound gives the green leaves a brighter green hue." The compound, if deleterious, is only so in an infinitesimal degree, and bears the proportion of about one pound of the powder to two hundred pounds of tea, and as gypsum is not a dangerous or irritating substance, "being constantly eaten by the Chinese," and forms the bulk of the preparation, the remaining ingredient does not count for much. And, curiously enough, it is just that scum from the gypsum which rises on infusion of the tea, quite innocuous, which so exercises the minds of the American food inspectors, whose illogical action is the cause of so much embarrassment to shippers of green tea to the States to-day. For even the choicest gunpowders are "shut out" from the American markets with the same airy nonchalance as would be the rankest, most highly faced Twan-kay. Nor does this inspection law extend only to green teas. All black teas must be up to a certain standard or they will not be admitted into the States. But there is nothing fixed about that standard, which seems to be lowered or raised annually at the caprice of the Inspection Board, and, moreover, it is very uncertain in its application; for it is on record that counterparts of teas that have been unhesitatingly admitted into America have been as ruthlessly rejected. The one taken, the other left, and yet one and the same tea. And here again the choicest black teas are not always exempt from suspicion and rejection, for it is a matter of common knowledge that "when the inspection law was first enacted in the United States of America the first inspector appointed to New York City thought fit to reject as unfit for consumption a small shipment of part of the very choicest Souchong produced, on the ground that the flavour was foreign to tea, and, consequently, that the tea was inadmissible under the standards of purity approved by the New York Tea Board." But it would seem that the reign of coloured green teas was approaching its end. Five of the health commissioners appointed by the authorities at Washington, whose function it is to put an end to adulteration of any kind, have taken up amongst others, the question of green tea adulteration, and two of the five, two years ago, voted against any further importations of "faced" tea. Possibly some definite action in this connection will be taken under the new Presidential regime. It is not possible to gauge with any great certainty the volume of the brick tea business, but its known proportions are enormous. The rich province of Szechwan, in the far west of China, furnishes an abundance of good tea, which is exported overland to Siberia. This brick tea is cured by pressing the damp leaves in a mould into the form of a brick or tile, 8 to 12 inches long and about 1 inch thick. The brick tea for Thibet is composed of the coarsest leaves, and of stalks moistened by steaming over boiling water, and then wedged into a mould until dry and hard; the pressing and drying being assisted by sprinkling the mass with rice water. The foregoing are the native methods of making brick tea, but the brick tea manufactured by certain Russian firms in Koochow, Kiukiang, and Hankow is altogether a superior article. It is not composed so much of leaf as of the fannings that have been separated from the leaf by winnowing, and good strong wholesome dust imported from India and Ceylon. In his report on the foreign trade of China for the year 1906, the commercial attache, Sir Alexander Hosie, writes: "In 1905, India, Ceylon, and Java sent 4,906,800 lbs., mostly dust and sittings, for blending with China teas, principally in the manufacture of brick and tablet tea; in 1906 they sent 8,767,200 lbs., in 1907. 15,000.000 lbs." The bricks which emanate from the Russian factories are hydraulically pressed, into bricks appetisingly faced with British-grown dust, that from Ceylon imparting a rich chocolate colour to the brick, each brick being stamped with a special design or with Chinese chop characters. They are usually packed in bamboo baskets to contain 72 bricks of 2j lbs. each, or 56 bricks of 2j lbs. each. These teas are shipped by steamer to Vladivostock and then disseminated by rail through Mongolia and Siberia. The following figures show the remarkable increase in the export of this article : —

In 1867... 8,441.466 lbs. passed the Customs. In 1886. ..49,361,600 „ In 1907. ..80,563,433 „

Of this quantity, 37} per cent., or 30,020,100 lbs. were green tea dust. How much further this expansion of the brick tea trade will go it is difficult to conjecture. The Trans-Siberian Railway must gradually take away much of the traffic from the old caravan routes, while its feeders will tap new districts. It is well known that the inhabitants of Siberia and Central Asia make a soup of these brick teas, possibly because a drinking infusion of them were wellnigh an impossibility, but it may be that when they become acquainted with leaf tea brought on for distribution by the main railway line and its arteries, there will not be that inclination for the wretched hotch-potch now supplied to them in the commoner brick teas. On the other hand, it is well known that the preparation of brick tea for Thibet is receiving much attention at the hands of Indian planters, who have volun- tarily submitted to a self-imposed tax to be devoted to pushing their productions amongst the Thibetans.

It is significant of the elasticity of the so-called moribund China tea trade how easily the article in any of its forms can be supplied when the demand arises for it. Take tea dust, for instance, which, as has already been shown, continues to be in increasing demand for brick tea. Last year, 1907, the impression obtained that there would be a deficiency more or less marked in supplies of leaf from India and Ceylon, and that the void thus occasioned would bring common China tea and dust for blending purposes into, at least, temporary demand. The demand came, but it came very late in the year, in November in fact, yet China was equal to the occasion. She put upon the London market 3,000,000 lbs. of very common Congou in the space of a couple of months which otherwise had not been exported, and 2,810,933 lbs. of dust, which was 10 per cent, more than the aggregate of the previous year's export. This fact is merely adduced to exhibit China's potentiality in the matter of supplies, and her ability to meet any sudden or extraneous demand for tea.

THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF CHINA TEA.

Black Teas.

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of China tea, black and green, but these are subject to very distinct subdivision. The black teas from the North of China are quite distinct and different from the "red" teas of the South. The choicest Northern teas are the Keemuns, which are grown in the

PACKING THE CHESTS.

province of Anhwei, and the Ningchows and Monings from Kiangsi, and represent about one quarter of the total production of the North. But the great bulk comes from the two provinces separated from each other by the Tungting Lake, Hupeh and Hunan. From the first come those teas generally known as Oopacks and named after the particular districts in which they are grown, Sungyangs, Yangloutungs, Tongsans, Ichangs, and Cheongshukais. From the latter the distinctive Oonahm teas, Oanfas. Lilings, Nipkasees, Wunkais, Lowyongs, and Shuntams. Practically all the South China congous are grown in the province of Fokien, and consist principally of Panyongs, Packlums. Souchongs, Soomoos, Suey Kuts, antl a number of minor districts. The most desirable of these are Panyongs, Packlums, Soomoos, and Souchongs, the last named being the favourite teas on the continent of Europe. Russia takes but little tea from the South of China, the water and method of serving making the Northern teas more palatable. Foochow Oolongs have a delicate but not such an aromatic flavour as the Formosan tea of the same name. "Oolongs have some of the characteristics of black tea combined with certain of the cup qualities of green teas, and therefore in a measure somewhat resemble a blend of the two." The other varieties of Southern teas are Scented Capers, Scented Orange Pekoes, Pouchongs, Kooloos, and Flowery Pekoes. The fragrance of all scented tea is not natural, but is imparted by firing the leaf with a sort of jasmine flower, called by the Chinese "Mok-lee." In inferior teas the scenting flower is strewn over the top of the tea when packed and removed after a day or two. It is needless to say that the scent so applied is not long retained. "Flowery Pekoes are white, velvety tipped teas with no fragrance and are unfermented, and are used only on the continent of Europe and in Persia. These teas are made only from the earliest buds of young leaves in the Packlum, Chingwo, and Panyong districts. Scented teas generally possess but little cup merit."

 

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PUTTING THE "CHOP" ON THE CHESTS.

 

Green Teas.

As with black teas so with green. The dividing line between green teas of Anhwei and those of Chekiang is broad and distinct. The former are known as country teas, and in order of merit and popularity are the Moyunes, Tienkais, and Fychows. Although very similar in make and appearance they are wholly dissimilar in their liquoring qualities. The Moyunes have a most delicate flavour, emphasised by a slight but acceptable burntness. The Tienkais are wanting in any marked cup merit, but the infusion is of a very delicate yellow colour. The Fychows are of a lower grade altogether, not so well made in the leaf, and drawing a comparatively strong, rather rank and smoky water.

The Chekiang teas comprise the Pingsueys, Hoochows, and Wênchows. These latter arrive here from the Chekiang port of Ningpo, and in make somewhat resemble the Fychows. The Pingsueys are, with the exception of the allied Hoochows, very metallic in the cup—brassy was a term applied to them in earlier days—and are made up entirely for style to catch the eye—the American eye. The Hoochows, which are confined almost entirely to gunpowder makes, draw, when good, a water not unlike the Yenshu district teas of Japan.

A third kind of green tea which can always be made to order in any quantity, and is made largely for the continental markets of Europe in the form of small leaf Sowmee, goes by the name of Shanghai packed. Its chief constituent element is Pingsuey leaf, with sometimes a very modest admixture of country tea to "bring up or brighten the infusion." Though not at all "desirable" teas, yet a very considerable business is done in them, while a new outlet has been found for them by Parsee buyers, who blend certain grades to cheapen the cost of their extravagantly high-priced Hysons.

Formerly country green teas came to market in the shape of full chops of 500 to 1,000 half chests. Now they arrive for the most part minus the Hysons, which are almost entirely taken for Batoum, and which aggregate the large total of 130,000 half chests. The modest quantity of green tea which is now shipped to Bombay, about 1,000,000 lbs. is made up of the lower kinds of Hysons and a small proportion of choice Chun-mees, the highest type of Young Hysons. Whether the export trade in green tea to Russia will increase is a question which time alone can decide. Meantime, the tendency is towards increase. Regarding America, unless some wonderful increase in the general consumption take place, the prospects are anything but encouraging, for British-grown teas are but too visibly growing into favour, and so ousting the China article, possibly as some compensation for the cold water thrown upon the attempts to foist foreign made green teas upon her markets. The manufacture of Indian and Ceylon green tea has not been a success, despite the advantage of a "cess" under which it was started.

A full chop of green tea consists of several grades of leaf, of different make and flavour, well known in their order of make as Gunpowders, Imperials, Hysons, Young Hysons, Hyson skin, and Twan-kay, and the derivation of those names is not without its interest. Dr. Wells Williams tells us that "Gunpowder and Imperial are foreign made terms; the teas are known as Siaou Chu (small leaf) and Ta Chu (large leaf) by native dealers. The first is rolled to resemble shot"—rather an Irish way of putting it. The native names for Imperial are the equivalents of "Sore crab's eyes, sesamum seeds, and pearls. Hyson is a corruption of Yu-tsien, before the rains, and of Hi-chun, meaning flourishing spring." Young Hyson, of course, and Hyson skin explain themselves, while Twan-kay is said to be the name of a district.

Black teas as a rule derive their names from the districts from which they come. A list was once made of the "localities, each furnishing its quota and peculiar product, amounting in all to forty-five for black, and nine for green. The area of these regions is about 470,000 square miles."

Until comparatively late years green teas arrived in full chops, and were shipped off in their entirety. At first began the selling out of the Hysons to Bombay buyers at such prices as would materially lessen the cost of the original chop. The opening of Batoum ruined the Bombay market, and so great has been the demand for Hysons for the newer market, and so high the prices paid, that the natives now seldom include the Hyson in a chop, but send it down to Shanghai three weeks ahead of the arrival of the bulk there. Later again Batoum and France have made such inroads into the young Hyson grades that a special preparation of them has been made, commonly designated small leaf Sow-mees. And as the demand for special lines continues to increase so much the nearer comes the day when the "chop," as a chop, will cease to exist. The green tea "chop" will not recognise itself in the near future, any more than now do the once distinctive teas, Oanfa, Cheongshukai, and Shuntam, amongst many others, recognise themselves. An extra demand upon any one special district naturally leads to its being supplied by tea nominally only from that district. The extra quantity required is usually made up from an admixture of leaf from contiguous districts; this has noticeably been the case with Oanfa and Shuntam teas, when extra supplies of each have been found in mutual borrowings. And the fair name of Moning covers a multitude of sins.

 

SOME EXPORT FIGURES.

 

It is not necessary, nor would it serve any practical end, to furnish here in detail the progressive export of tea from China since the opening of the Treaty port of Hankow in the sixties, triumphant as that progress was until the culminating year 1886, when the direct export to foreign countries amounted to the great total of 295,626,800 lbs. Then China began to feel seriously the effect of competition with British-grown teas, as shown by the figures of 1906, when only 187,217,100 lbs. were exported. So that in the space of twenty years had occurred the visible shrinkage of 108,409,700 lbs., or 63 per cent. This difference, it is true, was somewhat reduced last year, 1907, when, owing to a temporary demand in England, the export rose to 214,683,333 lbs.; but for the past decade, 1898 to 1907, the average of 196,500,000 lbs. has been maintained; an average not likely to be disturbed for some time unless any further phenomenal expansion should take place in British-grown production to the expulsion by so much of China tea, or consumption outstrip the general average production, and so create a demand which China is well fitted to supply.

Meantime, to those who have not made themselves acquainted with the volume of China's direct exportation of tea to foreign countries, and are unaware of the multiplicity and nature of her customers, the following abstract from the Imperial Maritime Customs returns will reveal information of peculiar interest.

As has been stated above, the total export in 1907 was 214,683,333 lbs., which was distributed as follows:—

Lbs.
European Russia … 25,000,000
Russia: Russia and Siberia 25,500,000
Russia: Pacific ports 81,250,000
United States of America 27,000,000
Great Britain … 21,000,000
Hongkong … 13,250,000
North Sea ports … 7,750,000
Mediterranean ports … 4,350,000
Canada … 1,750,000
Japan and Korea … 1,500,000
British India … 1,250,000
Macao … 1,100,000
Australia and New Zealand 950,000
French Indo-China … 920,000
Singapore and Straits 550,000
Turkey, Persia, Egypt 500,000
Siam … 475,000
South Africa … 250,000
Central and South America 180,000
Dutch Indies … 125,000
Other countries … 33,333
214,683,333

It is very difficult to trace the destination of teas exported from Hongkong and Macao, nearly 14,500,000 lbs., but the presumption is that the bulk of it goes to America, and limited quantities to Australia, South Africa, and England.

Figures and facts have been adduced to show sufficiently that China is still a great tea producing country, and a factor to be reckoned with in the future production of the article. It is unfortunately true that the great markets of England and Australia have been lost to her, the latter, perhaps, irrecoverably, for India and Ceylon supply exactly the article that the Commonwealth requires—something dark and strong and cheap. With England the prospect is more hopeful, and there are those who do not hold with Sir Alexander Hosie that "the English taste has become so perverted and insensible of the delicacy and cleanness of flavour characteristic of China tea, that the market can never be recovered even by reduced price."

 

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TEA READY FOR SHIPMENT.

 

THE DECLINE OF THE TRADE WITH ENGLAND.

 

The decline has come entirely from the competition with India and Ceylon. Not only has the English market been almost entirely lost to China, but that of Australia, with the largest per capita consumption in the world, has become hopelessly so. China tea no longer presents a fair mercantile risk. Formerly it was dealt with in the London market by merchants in the same manner as other products which require from importers a knowledge of markets. The merchant could find reasons for holding or selling as the case might be, but as he discovered year after year that his knowledge was of no avail he gradually withdrew from the trade and allowed it to pass into the hands of the dealers, who, through their special agents, have become importers themselves, as also to those who have special outlets for certain teas, and conduct their business almost entirely by telegraph. This giving London "firm offers" or "refusals" for a certain time has reduced the trade, as far as China is concerned, to a very poor commission business. Although finest China tea is returning fair profits at the time of writing, it is only because it is not in over supply and is being judiciously managed. Last year finest China tea was in rather too full supply, with the consequence that the importer who had not his special outlet and had missed his chance of sale on arrival had finally to put up with fabulous losses of 50 per cent. or more. To attempt to hold China tea nowadays is fatal, even the very commonest and cheapest kinds. In a booklet written by the agent in China of the "Pure China Tea Importing and Distributing Company," appears the following brief but very informing view of the present position of the article, with the causes that have brought it about:—"It is but a few years since Indian, Ceylon and Java teas took up the leading positions in the world's markets, and whilst to the casual observer it might appear that this position has been attained solely by their superior merits, it is a well-known fact in the tea trade that this is not the cause. The advent of Indian, Ceylon and Java teas found the existing method of disposing of shipments to be too slow, and the crops from these countries continuing to arrive practically throughout the whole year, it was necessary to dispose of the product quickly at auction at the best price it would fetch, the direct result being that the article has been literally forced into consumption. In this manner the merchant was bound to sell because other shipments were following close upon the one in hand. The broker who bought in the auction sale was compelled to get rid of his purchases immediately to the large wholesale dealer, who in turn was compelled to let go to the exporter and small dealer who again were forced to get rid of their holdings to the blender and shopkeeper. Every pound bought had to be paid for in a very short time, and this fact, coupled with the fear of a falling market, has continuously forced the pace and driven the tea into the consumer's teapot. The demand from the masses for strong tea was met by the extra strength from the British-grown varieties. This demand exists mainly from English tea drinkers of middle and lower classes, who have always insisted that all their beverages should be pungent, strong and stimulating, whether it be porter, ale, coffee or other liquor, regardless of the effect upon the nervous system. The increased demand for other than China tea is entirely due to this and not to any desire for quality or flavour, but merely for strength in the cup." That strength is kept in the leaf by the foreign method of rolling. In China the sap is expressed in the native efforts to get curl and twist in the sun-dried leaf by their mode of manipulation, and consequently much of the real strength of the tea is lost. To retain that sap without the aid of machinery is a question which may yet be solved by native genius when once properly centred upon the great advantage to be gained by the effort. At present this sap, the life-blood of the leaf, is almost entirely lost. It is not difficult to imagine that it is quite possible to save some of this natural and much desired strength and return it to the leaf before the final firing.

As for the Chinese process being a dirty one, as so strenuously urged by the Indian planter to the detriment of China tea, the objection to the manipulation of tea by hand (and by feet) instead of by machinery has about the same logic on its side as has the objection to the grape being trodden under foot before the wine is produced. No one gives much thought to the fact when drinking a favourite claret. Machinery has been tried in China, both at Foochow and at Hankow, but has not proved successful owing to the lack of a continuous supply of leaf to keep it going. Nor is it obvious that machinery can ever be made use of in China, save perhaps in the thickly planted green tea districts of Chekiang, for, "owing to the peculiar nature of the Chinese laws as to inheritance and probably also, in some degree, to the despotic genius ol the Government landed property is much divided throughout the Empire : and so it is that tea is grown in gardens, or patches or plantations of no great extent." Until such time as large areas of tea land can be leased or owned, cultivated and carefully managed as they are in India. Ceylon, and Java to-day, there can be nothing similar to an Indian plantation or a Ceylon estate in China, where the land is owned by the foreigner, the plants tended and cultvated by the foreigner, the leaves picked day by day, and day by day manufactured by machinery on the spot.

More might be done immediately for the improvement of China tea had shippers such a vested interest in the article which has given them some cxmtrol over it ody acting in concert with a definite aim." In China it is a case of each shipper for himself. It is only those who have witnessed the opening of the Hankow tea market in the month of May who can form any idea of the conduct of the business. They will have seen the extraordinary and irregular prices paid, and the speed with which the article is shipped off to markets too often quite unable to deal with more than a moderate quantity, a speed which may be gauged by the fact that some 600.000 half chests out of a possible total supply of 800.000 half chests of Congou are afloat within the very limited time of six weeks. And in due time from across the seas comes the effort to sell, with the result that such fluctuations in prices occur as are unknown and impossible in any other article of produce in the known world. It is this absolute inability to control prices in any degree which has driven the genuine old exporter from the field, and is one of the causes of the decline of the China tea trade. To such fluctuations the British-grown article is never subject l>ecause shipments are regulated, and the quantity offered for sale at one time on the home market, although large, never excessive. The cost of production in India and Ceylon varies but little. A good season may bring out a larger supply of leaf than usual, and so lessen the cost of the article. In China neither quality nor quantity materi- ally affect prices which alone are determined by the caprice of buyers, for the tea-man once having brought his produce to market must perforce sell it or ship it. And he is much too wise to do the latter. Very inter- esting is a comparison of the average prices realised for a season's yield of British-grown tea. and the average prices paid for China tea. In 1904 the average obtained, according to the Daily Telegraph, for all the Indian and Ceylon tea sold in London was 7jd. per lb. for the former and 7d. for the latter. In 1905 the prices were respectively 7jd. and 7}d. In 1906, 8}d. and 8d. According to the Customs returns the average value of black tea from all China was for the following decades : —

to 187 1 $247.1 per picul. 
to 1881 $1999 
to 1891 $1664 
to 1901 $2025 „ 

It would be very diflicult with any accuracy to determine the average laying-down cost of tea in any of these decennial periixls because of the fluctuations in exchange ; but the prices paid to the native tea-men were on a marked decline for the thirty years from 1862 to ii;oi. a decline that no British planter could understand and a depreciation unknown to British-grown produce. And anomalous as it may appear, despite the very low aver- age price at which China tea has been laid down in London this year, the article, save for a moderate quantity of finest quality tea, is practically unsaleable. Is It possible to recover, at least, a part of the lost trade with Eng- land P And If so, how? This is a question to which the answers are as numerous as they are varied, strongly con- firming the lafinism of long centuries ago, qiiof homines, tot scntcntiiv, that the number of opinions was limited only by the number of men capable or otherwise of forming them. There are those who look upon the future of the tea trade with England as hopeless. There are again those who think the present limited trade will drag on for years under much the same conditions as now exist. The Indian view of the prospects of China tea are thus summarily dismissed in an article on the Indian tea companies, in the Daily Telegraph of August 17, igo8 : — " China's export may be expected to decline if India's advance." Everything points to an Indian advance, though "as regards Ceylon the opinion pre- vails that its output will not increase." But let India t;ike heed lest she has but " scotched the snake, not killed it." for China is a land of surprises. And there are a few, very few, who think that a part of the lost trade may be recovered. Amongst these last I am con- tent to take a humble place and believing in the adage that " she may have been asleep but is not dead yet," I think that China, imbued with the spirit that is now making for a new China, will rise to the grand occasion, and through her all-powerful ofli- cials not only make the effort to resuscitate her tea trade, but even to extend it materi- ally. And for whatever they may be worth I submit the following suggestions as possible aids towards the extrication of the trade from the slough of despond in which it is at present so hopelessly floundering : — 1st. — The effort must be made to cheapen the cost of the article.

(a) This end might in a measure be attained could some combination, such as that which regulates output and shipments in India, be entered into not to pay such inordinate prices for that great bulk of tea which fills up the space between choicest and commonest descriptions.

(b) In India there is no tax on the pro- duction or export of tea ; in China there is a specific export duty of $125 per picul, based on an average value of Tis. 25, and a series of taxes on the article from the place of production to the port of shipment, levied by the local oflicials and generally known as likin, which amounts on the average to rather more than the export duty, "with something added for irregular levy and delay and loss of interest." *

Obviously no industry thus burdened can compete with a rival free of all burden. And strange to say, with the knowledge that these internal taxes are illegal and abolished by

  • Morse. "The Trade and Administration of the

Chinese Empire." Treaty, which in their place imposes a transit duty of one half of the export duty, namely. $0'625 per picul. the natives are content to be mulcted rather than incur the displeasure of the local officials, and the consequent penalties and lets and hindrances to the prosecution of their legitimate trade. Nothing could be clearer on this head than the words of the supplementary Commercial Treaty with China, which was ratified at Peking on July 28, 1903 : —

Preamble. — " The Chinese Government recognizing that the system of levying likin and other dues on goods at the place of production &c. &c. &c. undertake to discard completely this means of raising revenue." Art. VIII. — "The total amount of taxation leviable on native produce for export abroad shall, under no circumstances, exceed 7J per cent. ad valorem."

It is possible that natives will sooner or later resent the fact that their produce is being illegally taxed, while it is not only to the interest but it is actually the duty of all those engaged in the tea trade, whether foreigner or native, to obtain their Treaty rights. That a little perseverance will go a long way towards attaining this end is proved by the fact that the present writer, in the month of June this year (1908), actually succeeded in bringing tea down from the country free of all burdens except the legitimate tax imposed by Treaty, viz.. one half of the export duty per picul.

What has been attempted by an individual single handed, who takes this opportunity of thanking the Consuls-General of Shanghai and Hankow and the Consul at Kiukiang for their whole hearted and inspiriting support of his action, might be carried into general and permanent effect by the combination and co-operation of all those engaged in the trade to insist upon their Treaty rights. Had the Chinese Government properly fulfilled its Treaty obligations there would have been saved last season to the export trade in leaf tea and dust no less a sum than Haikwan Tls. 621.981 (as per Customs returns), or roughly ;£f90,ooo sterling, while exporters of brick and tablet teas would have enjoyed an abatement on 82,000,000 lbs. of the article so manufactured. Surely this is a betterment which shippers as a body should at once make an effort to obtain.

2nd.— Greater strength must characterlse China tea. At first sight it does not appear very obvious how strength can be imparted to the leaf, but when it is suggested that this end may in a degree be attained by returning to the leaf before its final firing some of that precious sap wherein lies the strength now largely lost through the existing native methods of manipulation, the experi- ment should certainly be worth the trial. Inventive native genius should surely be able to manufacture a rolling machine to be worked by hand which would answer all the purposes which the Indian machine is supposed to meet, or in any case to devise some means whereby the loss of strength of the tea may be minimised. For great and natural original strength is in the leaf undoubtedly. Again, greater strength and increased productiveness might be ensured were those tactics followed which have been so successful in India and Ceylon, viz., replacing worn-out sections of the patches or gardens by newly planted areas on more fertile soil, and by more scientific manuring. The system now adopted in India is called "Green manuring." It has been ascertained that leguminous trees, shrubs, and annual green crops provide the organic matter and the nitrogen required by the tea bush for its fullest development. And China is rich in this resource, with her bean and pea fields, her Sesamum and kindred vegetable plants. A little local official pressure, the terror of the agriculturist's life, in this direction would soon result in a productiveness without increased planting which would benefit both grower and tax-collector alike.

 

3rd.—Regulated, not hurried shipments.

It is a time-honoured belief that because tea arrives in almost unwieldy quantities in the markets of China within a month that it must be philanthropically shipped off without delay to relieve the local congestion. Further, buyers are actuated by the fear that if they do not buy tea immediately it is offered on the market they will miss their opportunity, and be left out in the cold until another tea season comes round. The result of these ill-consideredly hurried shipments, while usually disastrous, is at the same time preventable. Why, for instance, cannot the native tea-man be made to hold his stock in China for a few weeks instead of delegating that task to the foreign exporter, who has to carry his holdings, whether in America or England, for months, and sometimes for years? Here, again, a lesson may well be learnt from the Indian shipper. Rational combination to retard shipments should not be impossible.

 

4th.—A more serious pushing of the article and insistent advertising.

There can be no question of the superiority of China tea in the æsthetic properties of aroma and flavour, while it is distinctly a more wholesome beverage and superior dietetic nutrient. While Indian, Ceylon, and Java teas contain an excessive amount of tannin, the fruitful mother of dyspepsia, only an insignificant amount is found in China tea. The consensus of opinion of the leading medical authorities in the world has proclaimed in favour of China tea above all other teas. These important facts should be brought home to the great tea drinking public of Great Britain in some less lymphatic manner than that adopted by the self-constituted China Tea Association. Tea should be advertised, as Indian and Ceylon teas have been advertised, and as strikingly and as appealingly as the merits of patent medicines are made known. Even for this purpose should a voluntary tax be levied as in India. China must vigorously fight India, Ceylon, and Java with their own weapons if she would get back even a part of that trade which once, and not so long ago, was all her own.

An independent step, but one quite in the right direction, is now being taken by a private enterprise well fitted financially and with ability to carry its project to a successful issue. The Pure China Tea Importing and Distributing Company, with its buying agencies in Hankow and Shanghai, and a London distributing office, are prepared to place in the hands of those requiring it strictly choice pure China tea packed in China and distributed in original packages only at most moderate prices. With the aid of intelligent pushful travellers and a strong advertising appeal to the common sense of the great body of tea drinkers, there can be little doubt of ultimate success. But this is a step which, at its inception, ought to have been taken by the China Tea Association, who should have canvassed for funds from all those interested in the amelioration of the trade, and so got them financially interested in the new departure. But there is yet time for that august body to take the matter in hand.

I am strong in the belief that with a scientific enrichment of the soil and a more intelligent attention to the growth and cultivation of the plant the resultant extra-productiveness would largely tend to the cheapening of the initial cost of the leaf—a cost that will be further lessened by the removal of the present illegitimate internal burdens; that a saving of the wastage now occurring by reason of the ancient native method of manipulation will impart a much desired strength; and that, finally, with an article not comparing unfavourably in cost and strength, but comparing only too favourably in wholesomeness, quality, and flavour with the British-grown teas of India and Ceylon, properly regulated shipments, and persistent, strenuous, intelligent advertising, China may not unreasonably look forward to a future bright with promise for her naturally magnificent industry.

 
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