Date (jujube) Processing in China – spotted in New Mexico

China is the kingdom of dates (jujubes or ziziphus jujuba). The national output was 5.62 million mt in 2017 up from 3.9 mln in 2005. The top region was Xijiang with 2.7 mln mt. They come in various varieties; so many that the New Mexico State University has started exploring them as alternatives for local jujubes.

The Chinese have known them for their medicinal properties, but have also been using them as snack food (leisure food) for ages. Now them are also processing dates into various food ingredients.

Jujube cake (Zaogao)

Along most the streets in Tianjin, you will find these little bakery shops. You don’t need to read Chinese to be able to spot one. Not only do you have the amazing smell coming from these small window bakeries. They are also kind enough to display these amazing breakfast cakes in the window. These cakes are made from dried jujubes and normally come 3 for RMB 10. After just one bite, you will find that they are not only sweet but also moist. These are a great alternative for someone in the mood for a light but filling breakfast. They can also be used for a snack between meals.

Zaogao

Medicinal properties

Dates are packed with nutrients: vitamins, minerals and various alkaloids. Chinese dates are also a great natural source of antioxidants. Jujube fruits assist very well in a healthy digestive system through its high fiber content, saponins and triterpenoids which prevent constipation, cramping and other gastrointestinal disorders. Chinese dates are said to support the strength of bones, muscles and teeth. They support the health of the nervous system and assist in alleviating stress, sleeping disorders and anxiety. The high antixodiant levels in Chinese dates take care for immunity, blood detoxification and a healthy skin.

A special type of dates with medicinal properties are grown in Leling (Shandong). The dates there belong to the ‘golden thread (jinsi)’ variety and are very rich in selenium and vitamin C. They also contain considerable amounts of calcium, phosphorous, potassium and iron.

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The same properties are also attributed to honey derived from date flowers. Jujube flower honey is often used to sweeten concoctions of traditional Chinese medicinal herbs.

Small fruits big business

Dates have become such an important product now, that they have recently played a leading role in a civil law suit. A Shanghai-based company, Dashanhe, produced and marketed dates with Hetian Tianzao (Khotan Heavenly Dates) printed on the packaging. Heavenly Dates, however, is a brand owned by a company in Xinjiang, Tianhai Oasis. This company produces a range of luxury date products (see picture), and sued Dashanhe for infringing on its brand. It won the suit. Dates have become big business in China.

Tianzao

 

The Kunlunshan Date Co. (also Xinjiang)’s Khotan Jade Dates (Hetian Yuzao) have been incorporated in ‘China 100 Best Agricultural Products’ in 2013. This company was founded on the basis of a military operated collective farm in 2005, and was reorganized into a limited company in 2012. Dates are indeed a conduit to success in China.

Here is a video demonstrating the processing of dates in China.

Innovative products

Innovation is the trend in the present day Chinese food industry. This innovation is taking place in a number of different directions, one of which is using traditional ingredients to produce foods and beverages that suit the lifestyle of modern hasty city dwellers, but still remind them of the traditional flavors, and retain the medicinal activities ascribed to them according to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

An example of such a product using dates as ingredient is: date juice breakfast milk, a good example of one of the many formulated dairy drinks produced in China at the moment.

Here is a reference recipe

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Stabilizer RH6 is a branded compound consisting of: sucrose ester, monoglyceride, sodium alginate, CMC and potassium dihydrogen phosphate. Ajiao (or ejiao) is a Chinese medicinal substance obtained from donkey skin that is often used in combination with dates. The complete text of the production process indicates that low calorie sweeteners can be used to. It is an experimental recipe.

Fuyuan Food (Binzhou, Shandong), is also producing a date enriched with ejiao: Changsi brand Ejiao Royal Dates. Another, sweeter and stickier, version is sold under the Selective (Zhenxuan) brand (Zibo, Shandong).

The latter’s ingredients list is as follows:

Dates, sugar, maltose syrup, ejiao (0.5%), food additives (citric acid, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, sodium pyrosulphate).

An interesting fusion between Chinese dates and Western food and beverage is: Manccio Jujube Coffee, produced by Manccio Co. (Xi’an, Shaanxi). Coffee is rapidly gaining popularity in China, but it still has a Western character. This product is therefore marketed as ‘China’s own coffee’. Its ingredients list is simple.

Date powder, instant coffee, microcrystal cellulose.

DateCoffee

Manccio cooperates with a coffee supplier in Malaysia. I haven’t been able to sample the product myself, but I will report on the taste as soon as I have had an opportunity.

Yimin Modern Farming (Jiaxian, Shaanxi) has developed a range of date wines and spirits.

Award winning dates

  

Chinese dates have started winning international awards as well. Bestore‘s crispy winter dates have won a Superior Taste Award from the International Taste Institute in 2020. Winter dates are a round variety of dates that become available in the fall. They are usually consumed unprocessed, but growing star Bestore has been able to process them into an award-winning product.

Date-derived ingredients

Some Chinese companies have developed food ingredients from dates like date powder. Our database includes a recipe for a type of bread using this ingredient. Dates are also used in babao porridge, birds nest soup, and zongzi, introduced in another posts of this blog.

The Food Ingredients China (FIC) 2018 (Shanghai, March 22 – 24) exhibitor list includes the following date products:

Ingredient number
Concentrated juice 3
Powder 7
Jam 1
Particles 1

Eurasia Consult’s database of Chinese industrial recipes includes numerous products with dates as a main ingredient, both traditional and innovative, including products like: date cake, date pudding, date juice, etc.

Date sausage

As the world’s date country par excellence, Chinese food technologists like to develop new foods with date as one of the ingredients. A recent proposition I picked up is a date flavoured sausage. The meat is a mixture of chicken and pork (ratio: 3:7), with dates added as a paste, made by mixing water and dates (ratio: 1:1). The total ingredients list is as follows.

Chicken meat, pork, ice water, modified starch, protein powder, glucose, salt, sugar, compound phosphate, koji red colour, pork flavour, red date pulp, red date paste, white pepper powder, ethyl maltol.

Nestlé adapts to Chinese taste

Nestlé has deftly noted the Chinese liking for dates and date flavoured products. The company has launched a red date flavoured oatmeal under the Nesvita brand. The product contains 400 gr of date powder per 1000 gr of finished product.

Nesvita

Branded dates

The following table lists the top 10 branded date products of 2017. The brand logos are shown in the figure.

Rank Brand Region
1 Haoxiangni Henan
2 Hetian Yuzao Xinjiang
3 Ruoqiang Hongzao Xinjiang
4 Loulan Miyu Hubei
5 Sanzhisongshu Anhui
6 Loulan Hongzao Xinjiang
7 Qiangdu Xinjiang
8 Baicaowei Zhejiang
9 Liangzi Puzi Hubei
10 Tianjiaohong Shanxi

The number one: Haoxiangni Jujube Co Ltd.

Haoxiangni (litterally: ‘I think of you a lot’), based in Xinzheng, Henan province, is the only listed company in China’s date industry. It is combines R&D, manufacturing, and distribution of jujube series products. The company primarily offers various jujube products, including royal jujubes, crystal jujubes and fragrant jujubes, and others; jujube chips and donkey-hide gelatin jujube chips; preserved products comprising preserved jujubes, wild jujubes, and ejiao (donkey-hide gelatin, an ingredient of traditional Chinese medicine TCM) jujubes; and dried jujube products, such as dried crystal jujubes and dried fragrant jujubes. It also provides jujube powders, which include original flavor jujube powders and high-calcium jujube powders; and honey products, such as jujube honey and acacia honey, as well as prepared and crisp jujube products, jujube beverages, and other series of products. The company was founded in 1992 and is based in Zhengzhou (Henan).

Washing dates in Haoxiangni’s plant

Jujube is not a rare food, but Haoxiangni made it into a luxury good, by selling gift boxes of jujube for several hundred yuan. The brand’s high-end image was its main attribute but now it is hard to maintain. After cooperating with Trout & Partners Ltd, a global consulting firm, in 2012, Haoxiangni started an overhaul of its brand image in 2013 by promoting low-price products for less than RMB 100.

According to Shi Jubin, the chairman of Haoxiangni, the company will focus on quality rather than number of franchisees by closing 600 of its 1819 stores, according to a statement released on the company’s website.

The government of Henan has included Haoxiangni in the provincial Immaterial Cultural Heritage in December 2014.

Haoxiangni suffered from the government’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign. It saw a decrease in revenue, though small, in 2013. It was the first time it had seen a decline in revenue since being listed in 2011. The company filed a turnover of RMB 973 million for 2014, up 7.10%. 65% of that turnover was derived from the company’s dedicated outlets. Unfortunately, the first quarter of 2015 turned out particularly disappointing, with a drop in net profits of almost 47%. Insiders attribute this to the ongoing change of strategy from focusing on special shops to multiple channels. Haoxiangni is also in the midst of a construction project. These investments are eating up a considerable part of the profit, but the company is still regarded as healthy and promising. Haoxiangni is also broadening the raw material of its products, like: lotus seeds and yin’er (silver fungus). The first quarter of 2017 saw a huge increase again with a turnover of RMB 1.2 bln, up 300%.

HaoxiangniStore

 

Haoxiangni has also sponsored a ‘China Date Culture Museum’ in its home town.

The government of Xinzheng has also adopted date growing a symbol of the local economy. The city’s website is laden with date flavour.

To counter the problems of relying to heavily on one product line, Haoxiangni launched a broad range of fruit snacks like dried fruits based on different kinds of fruits in 2018.

As part of the same diversification strategy, Haoxiangni has also launched a fruit nectar made from dates and hawthorn. The latter is a typical Chinese fruit, used in the famous North-China winter snack tanghulu.

Late 2019, Haoxiangni launched a breakfast replacer with dates, specially marketed among female students, under the brand name Qingfeifei.

Interesting new comer

A relatively new player in this market that is arousing nation wide interest with innovative products and promotion campaigns is Baiweicao (Bee & Cheery) (Hangzhou, Zhejiang). It is a general producer of nut and fruit-based snacks. One of its flagship products is a combination of those two: dates stuffed with walnut, marketed under the Baobaoguo (literally: Wrapped Fruits) brand name. It is packed in a series of boxes with drawings of various animals.

Bee & Cheery has an interesting relation with Haoxiangni. Haoxiangni was the owner of Haomusi, Bee &Cherry’s mother company, until Haoxiangni sold its stake in Haomusi to PepsiCo early 2020 for USD 705 mln. So, PepsiCo is now competing with Haoxiangni in the date products market.

Introducing: peach dates

Snack maker Three Squirrels, a major competitor of Bee & Cheery, introduced a new type of date called: ‘peach date’ in May 2020: called peach date. It is a date, but with a peachy texture and flavour.

Eurasia Consult’s database of the Chinese food industry includes 259 companies producing date products.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

 

Pu’er – the place for vintage coffee, tea and wine

I intend to highlight a number of Chinese regions and cities that stand out in the food and beverage industry. This post introduces Pu’er that has developed from a relatively unknown agricultural town to an international centre where a number of the world’s most popular beverages join to create great synergy. Pu’er, located in the border area of southwestern China, is an oasis on the Tropic of Cancer. Biological and cultural diversity are the most vivid characteristics of the region.

TEA

– background

Pu’er is a special kind of tea grown in southern Yunnan. It is widely believed in China that after a heavy meal, a cup of Pu’er tea will help to dissolve the grease and remove excessive fat from the body. In the Chinese imaginary, Pu’er tea often seems to be symbolic for the entire Chinese tea culture. Read more about this in my essay in Weber.

This knowledge has seeped to the West as well. The Dutch drug store chain Kruidvat (owned by Hong Kong based A.S. Watson) sells Pu’er tea in convenient tea bags as a slimming agent.

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Pu’er tea is traditionally pressed into bricks. These are easy to transport and store for longer periods. In the old days, traders would sell the tea bricks in Tibet and Southeast Asia. There even was a special Tea-Horse Road, a kind of Silk Road for tea. Nowadays, Pu’er tea is exported to all continents, generating more that USD 2 million in hard currency p.a.

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Pu’er tea is the typical tea used in producing chayedan, salty eggs cured in tea, one way in which eggs can be presereved in Chinese cuisine.

With an output of 114,000 mt in 2014, Pu’er tea has become such an important product for its home region in southern Yunnan province, that the local government changed its original name Simao to Pu’er a few years ago.

Over the last few decades, pu’er has gained a cult-like following, with some of the costliest tea leaves exceeding their weight in gold. At the Guangzhou International Trade Fair in 2002, a 100-gram portion of pu’er was auctioned for RMB 168,000, dethroning tieguanyin green tea as the most expensive tea in the world. In Beijing, a three-gram portion reached 32 times the price of gold in a 2004 auction. During the market’s hottest years leading up to the “Pu’er Tea Bubble” of 2007, wholesale tea markets kept desktop monitors listing the fluctuating cost-per-kilogram of pu’er, as if trading stocks or futures. Prices could rise or fall by RMB 500 in a day. Even today, Qu divulges that one kilogram of his leaves, once dried and packaged, retails for over RMB 1000.

– modern presentation

While the bricks look mysterious and attractive to certain tourists and tea lovers, they are not convenient for world wide marketing. This is why Pu’er tea has also been made available in tea bags.

Now traditional Chinese medicine company Tasly has taken the ambitious step of trying to make it “the third coffee” for people in the West.

Tasly uses modern extraction processes to make highly purified Pu’er tea extract and completely remove any possible heavy metals, pesticide residues and foreign substances.

Tasly intends to market its instant Pu’er tea as a functional supplement lowering lipid levels, helping weight loss and reducing blood pressure.

According to the general manager of Tasly Deepure Tea Technologies Co. “It has a good taste, is good for one’s health and it does not affect sleep. Some of our distributors in the United States said it would be a perfect substitute for ‘the third coffee’ in the afternoon,”

Tasly

See my essay in Weber – The Contemporary West for more about Pu’er tea as a cultural symbol.

COFFEE

background

The local government has taken an even bolder step: not only marketing Pu’er tea as a substitute for coffee, but developing the real product.

Yunnan is one of China’s earliest coffee producing regions. A French priest brought a coffee sprout into what is now Zhu Ku La village, Binchuan District, Dali City, Yunnan. This small sprout rooted itself deep into the local soil, and this century old coffee tree is said to still stand tall today.

Yunnan grows a variety of coffees, including Arabica Catimor, Typica, and Bourbon. The unique combination of high elevation and differences between the temperature during the night and day creates the original character of Yunnan coffee – “Fruity fragrance, rich but not bitter, and aromatic but not overwhelming”, reflecting the beauty of the Yunnan.

The statistics from the provincial Department of Agriculture in 2012 state that the total coffee growing area is 89,333 hectares, with a total production of 82,000 mt. Yunnan is good for 98% of China’s coffee production.

The government of Pu’er has had the foresight to recognize the potential synergy that can be generated by growing both in their home region. In 2019, Pu’er had a total of 120,000 hectares planted with coffee, producing more than 150,000 mt of coffee beans. The export earnings from coffee in 2015 reached USD 400 mln. There are 70 registered businesses, and around 1 million people in Pu’er’s coffee industry. The objective is to reach 1 mln mt by 2016.

Hogood Coffee Co., for example, has become the largest instant coffee producer in China with a capacity of 33,000 mt/p.a.. Started as a supplier to Nestlé and Starbucks in the 1990s, the company decided to promote its own brand at the turn of the century by collaborating with hundreds of thousands of farmers in the province. Hogood does not stop with coffee alone. The company’s R&D department announced that it has developed an alternative, healthier, vegetable fat: freeze dried waltnut protein, branded Waltnut 007. This could become a functional ingredient for the next generation of coffee creamers. Hogood posted a turnover of RMB 3.2 billion in 2018.

Yunnan Coffee Traders is a wholly foreign-owned enterprise operating in China’s Yunnan province.

Recently, another 611 coffee famers and coffee growing companies in Yunnan have passed international third-party verification, allowing them to sell 4C (Common Code for the Coffee Community) Compliant Coffee. This is the third batch of coffee suppliers that have passed the verification process since July 2013.

Netherlands-based UTZ is also working with tea and coffee organizations in the region. Li Gongqin, secretary general of the Coffee Association of Yunnan, says farmers are receiving more training and that working with UTZ will help them with profits and standards.

The State Quality Inspection Bureau officially opened a Coffee Inspection Lab in Pu’er in December 2014. The main task of this organisation is to ensure that coffee exported from the region is in accordance with international quality specifications.

In the course of 2015, the price of coffee has been decreasing to a level that is felt threatening my most players in Yunnan. Insiders ascribe the problem to the fact that anyone can buy coffee strait from the farmers in Yunnan, while other coffee regions in the world use a system of central purchasing and sell the coffee though the commodity exchange. The CEO of Hogood Coffee has proposed a similar system for Yunnan.

Tourism

Another recent development is that the coffee industry in the Pu’er region is becoming a more and more popular holiday destination for domestic tourists; yet another way to cash in on coffee. The local coffee people have arranged for the tourists to experience ‘traditional’ ways of brewing coffee like using filters or even percolators.

YnCoffeeTour

Festivals

The 4th Coffee Culture Festival will be held in Dehong, Yunnan, January 23 – 25, 2015. The culture week series activities will include the China final of the third Syphon Competition, the Pu’er Green Coffee Competition, the Pu’er Coffee Summit Forum and the third Pue’r Coffee Exhibition. The government of Pu’er is further organising a National Coffee Making Contest in January 2015, with regional contests in several cities and the Grand Final in Pu’er.

CoffeeMaking

Foreign aid

Coffee in Yunnan has even become an occasion to help fight drug trafficking through China, and create new business opportunities. Changshengda Investment Co. based in the Kunming Hi-Tech Zone supports its neighbor Laos to cultivate coffee instead of opium poppies, lifting more than 6000 peasant households out of poverty and contributing to the stability in borderland.

Foreign investors

This development has caught the attention of a number of international players in the coffee business.

Starbucks

Starbucks that has been using Yunnan coffee in its Asian outlets for a few years. The company established a Farmer Support Centre in Pu’er in 2012. It cooperates with the Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Science.

Earlier that year, Starbucks had set up a joint venture with Yunnan based Yunnan Aini Agriculture Livestock Group (the producer of the Sunlight brand coffee) for processing up to 20,000 mt of green coffee beans p.a.

Have a look at this Aini commercial.

Since Starbucks entered Yunnan, it has been encouraging its local suppliers to follow CAFE practices. The company publicly stated in 2008 that it hoped to source 100% of its coffee through CAFE, Fairtrade or another externally audited system by 2015. In 2014, 96% of its coffee met this standard, with 95.5% through CAFE and 8.6% through Fairtrade.

Nestlé

Nestlé, which has been active in the region since the 1980s, has also announced it is expanding its operations in the province. The company has signed a memorandum of understanding with the prefectural government pledging to invest RMB 100 million to build a coffee farming institute in Pu’er.

The planned Nescafé Coffee Centre will have warehouses, laboratories and education facilities. According to a press release announcing the memorandum, Nestlé plans to train 5000 coffee farmers, agronomists and business professionals at the center each year.

Over the past several years the Nestlé has steadily increased its purchase of Yunnan coffee and last year bought more than 10 000 mt of beans. This accounted for 20% of the province’s total coffee production. The company has said it has plans to double coffee procurement in Yunnan over the next two years. Nestlé has made a new coffee capsule from Yunnan Arabica beans for its Dolce Gusto coffee machine. It hasn’t been on the market for long, but so far 70 countries where they sell the capsules seem to be happy with it.

Nestlé has signed an agreement with fertiliser producer China Green Agriculture to supply fertiliser to local coffee bean farmers. The company has also introduced 4C in the region.

Nestlé has set up a scholarship program in Yunnan since 2013, which is open to outstanding students from families of coffee farmers who are registered under Nestlé Agricultural Services Department. The program encourages the students to pursue a high-level professional education and also rewards farmers for their contribution in the development of the local coffee industry. All scholarships are fully funded by Nestlé, and are selected based on an open, transparent and merit-based process, under the supervision and guidance of the Puer City’s Committee for the Wellbeing of the Youth and jointly implemented by China Women’s Development Foundation, Puer City’s Women’s Development Foundation and Nestlé China.

ManLao River

ManLao River Agricultural Co. Ltd. Is a Sino-American venture in Pu’er. The partners are:

  • KunMing Jiesi Trade Co., Ltd., in Kunming (the capital of Yunnan) – exclusive distributor and exporter of ManLao River coffee.
  • JS Catalyst, Inc. , DBA ManLao River Coffee Company USA – exclusive US distributor.
  • Yunnan Pu’er ManLao River Agricultural Development Co., Ltd – the original ManLao River plantation continuing the initiatives of poverty alleviation and organic/sustainable farming.

The company provides educational, sales and facilities support to its 3,000 employed farmers. ManLao River produces roughly 500 mt of coffee annually, a number that is not intended to grow significantly over the next five years as it looks to increase quality over quantity.

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Volcafe

At a signing ceremony in Pu’er on 22 October 2014, Volcafe and Simao Arabicasm Coffee Company (SACCO) signed an agreement to establish a joint venture to be called Yunnan Volcafe Ltd. The new company will be majority owned by Volcafe. It will procure and process green beans from the expanding Chinese coffee-producing region of Yunnan, for export to Volcafe’s worldwide client base. “Chinese mild Arabica is still relatively new to the world coffee scene, but its improving consistency means it is rapidly growing in acceptance with global roasters,” said Jan Kees van der Wild, Global Head of Commodities at Volcafe’s parent company ED&F Man. “The new company will harness Volcafe’s expertise in managing sustainable supply chains and improving quality control and post-harvest practices. Simao Arabicasm Coffee Company has been active in coffee export from the region for over a decade, and its operating activities include coffee cultivation, processing, procurement, sales and export. Currently, the company has established a production line with annual processing capacity of 10,000 mt of green coffee in Pu’er Industrial Zone. Presently, SACCO has been consistently ranked as the top 5 exporters in Pu’er, and has been recognized as one of the leading enterprises in Yunnan coffee industry.

Train to Europe

Pu’er has recently started to export coffee to Europe by train via the Chongqing Commodity Exchange. A major problem for Yunnan’s foreign trade is that it is a land-locked region. By first transporting the coffee to Chongqing, it can use the so called New Eurasia Land Bridge, a rail link between the Chinese east coast and major industrial centres in Europe. This also fits in with the recent ‘One Belt and One Road’ initiative of the Chinese government for international economic development. Pu’er expects to dispatch 30,000 – 50,000 mt of coffee this way within 2015. This volume may grow to 100,00 – 150,000 mt in 2016, and 230,000 – 250,000 mt in 2017.

Environmental concerns

Yunnan has realised that to establish a coffee reputation, it must improve the quality of its beans and plant in an environmentally sustainable way, rather than follow the mass market’s demand for quantity over quality. The local authorities want to develop speciality coffee which gives the farmers the power to set the price themselves. By 2020, Yunnan plans to have more than 4,600 hectares of organic coffee farms using only organic fertiliser and bio-pesticide, and with more shade trees to improve soil quality and water retention. It also aims to have more than 3,000 hectares of coffee certified by the Rainforest Alliance (RA), a non-profit organisation that promotes sustainability in agriculture and forestry. Yunnan plans to achieve these goals through efforts including government investment in training farmers and building dozens of “demonstration farms”.

WINE

Yet another way in which the city government is trying to diversify the local economy based on the traditional Pu’er tea is linking it with Bordeaux wine.

The City of Pu’er has signed a trade agreement with the city of Libourne in Bordeaux to promote each other’s products in 2012. Libourne is the closest city to the Pomerol and Saint Emilion vineyards. Two Chinese delegations have visited Libourne since the accord was signed, while the mayor of Libourne and the presidents of the local wine syndicates have been to Yunnan to learn about tea culture. The related Press Release confirms that this marriage between tea and wine is taken seriously.

There are many similarities between the two products. Pu’er tea is harvested by hand each year, is labelled with a vintage, and can be aged for up to 50 years. The finest teas can reach prices as high as the best wines of Pomerol and Saint Emilion.

Its taste is affected by the soil it is grown in, and the weather conditions during the year of harvest. Tea can also be fermented, with bacteria converting bitter tastes to softer, rounder flavours, a process similar to malolactic fermentation in wine.

Pu’er tea is rich in polyphenols, and is said to have health benefits in much the same way as the French Paradox is linked to polyphenols in wine.

Eurasia Consult Food knows the Chinese food industry since 1985. Follow us on Twitter.

Eurasia Consult Consulting can help you embed your business in Chinese society.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.