Two workers make black tea using a traditional method in a workshop in Xianyang, Shaanxi province, on Dec 2.ZOU JINGYI/XINHUA
Zongzi tea, a type of tea that comes wrapped in the shape of the traditional Chinese delicacyzongzi, is gaining in popularity in China as the new wrapping technique gives the product fresh appeal.
Pyramid-shaped zongzi are made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings that are wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves. The sticky food is eaten to celebrate the annual Dragon Boat Festival.
Zongzi tea is made with Keemun black tea, which is wrapped in the same bamboo leaf that has long been used as food packaging to add a special flavor to the tea.
Jiang Xuexia runs a tea plantation and processing plant in Qimen county, Anhui province. She first introduced the new tea to consumers in 2018. The 35-year-old quit her job in Shanghai and returned to her home village of Xiejia in Qimen to help revive the black tea business in 2014.
At the time, the local specialty, Keemun black tea, was not selling well or for a good price, so Jiang and her sister Jiang Xueqin set up a business to find ways to expand the market.
In the early years, they focused on making the same kind of traditional tea products their market peers made, but later they began to try new product designs as well as marketing strategies.
"By chance, I saw my mother wrapping some zongzi to serve guests. I wondered what our black tea would taste like if it were wrapped in the bamboo leaves used for zongzi. That was the idea behind our zongzi tea," Jiang Xuexia said.
Bamboo grows abundantly in Xiejia. Using bamboo leaves adds a hint of bamboo fragrance to the tea, and Jiang bet that many tea drinkers would welcome the novel idea.
To introduce their new product, the sisters experimented to find the best flavor. Zongzi tea proved to be an instant success when it hit the market in 2018.
China's younger generation of tea lovers have welcomed the tea and turned it into a bestseller on leading e-commerce platform Taobao.
Thanks to their idea, the sisters have driven up annual sales of their black tea by 70 percent, making 10 million yuan ($1.44 million) a year. The pair, who run a 130-hectare tea plantation in Qimen, sell their tea both through e-commerce and in brick-and-mortar stores, but their sales surge was largely the result of livestreaming e-commerce and community group-buying.
To cash in on the e-commerce boom, Jiang Xuexia livestreamed herself picking and roasting tea leaves, and also made clips about tea culture and associated New Year traditions.
She is now busy preparing promotional activities for the Lunar New Year holiday.
"For our traditional tea products, innovation is important and so is marketing," she said.