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Across China: Russian Merchant’s Tea Journey to Origin of World-Renowned Black Tea

In a tea plantation in Qimen County, east China’s Anhui Province, Maksim Ruban scrutinizes the collected fresh tea leaves as local farmers usher in their annual tea-picking season.

The 25-year-old Russian runs a tea business in Russia’s St. Petersburg, which imports tea from China regularly. In addition to offline sales, his company has an online store selling its products across Russia and other European countries.

“We sell about three tonnes of tea every month, all imported from China,” Ruban said.

At an early age, Ruban was fascinated by Chinese culture when he watched relevant programs on television. His interest has since become an obsession with the profound Chinese tea culture. The then 19-year-old lad started his own tea company, specializing in selling tea and teaware.

To find suitable tea flavors for Russians and more trading partners, the young man began to shuttle between Russia and China almost every year. This year, he visited multiple Chinese cities with his wife, Daria Ruban.

“Our first stop was Chengdu (of Sichuan Province), and then Kunming and Xishuangbanna of Yunnan Province and Hefei and Huangshan of Anhui Province. We’ve been in China for a month and visited many tea plantations and local tea companies,” said Daria Ruban, adding they plan to visit Chaozhou City in south China’s Guangdong Province as their final leg of the tea journey.

Qimen in Huangshan City was a must-see on their journey. The county is famed as home to the world-renowned Keemun black tea, awarded the gold medal at the 1915 World’s Fair held in Panama. Featuring its intense aroma, the tea has a history of more than 100 years.

Keemun black tea, together with Darjeeling black tea from India and Ceylon black tea from Sri Lanka, are known as the world’s top three high-fragrance black tea varieties.

Invited by Wang Jing, president of Anhui’s chamber of commerce in St. Petersburg, the couple paid a visit to the Anhui Keemun Black Tea Development Co., Ltd., where they had a close look at the local showroom, production workshop, and tea plantation.

They picked some tea leaves as well. “The fresh leaves smell so good. I really like them,” said Daria Ruban.

An inheritor of ancient Keemun black-tea producing crafts also showed them the complex manufacturing procedures with rigorous standards.

“The local company has customized diversified products for its consumers. That’s something we need to learn from,” Maksim Ruban said.

On April 2, during the local Keemun black-tea picking festival, the Russian man signed an agreement with the local tea producer, reaching their initial cooperation intention.

Though it was his first trip to Qimen, Maksim Ruban was deeply impressed by the county’s beautiful ecological environment and high-quality tea leaves.

“Keemun black tea presents an attractive infusion with exquisite fragrance and a sweet aftertaste,” he said, adding that his company used to sell lots of Pu’er tea, a deep-brewed tea with a sweet aroma from southwest China’s Yunnan Province, but he has decided to introduce Keemun black tea to his family and friends and more Russian customers after this visit.

Many Russians enjoy coffee and milk tea, but there is also a growing number interested in Chinese tea, Maksim Ruban said.

Their tea journey has deep roots in the history of tea trade between China and Russia. In the 17th century, an ancient tea road stretched about 13,000 km, linking China’s Wuyi Mountains in east China’s Fujian Province with Russia’s St. Petersburg, where the couple hail from. Anhui is also along the route.

While doing tea trade, they also promote Chinese tea culture.

They took photos during the trips and posted them on social media platforms, hoping that more young Russians will fall in love with the exotic taste of Chinese tea just like them.