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One Dutch trader makes tea a matter of marketing and poetry.

One Dutch trader makes tea a matter of marketing and poetry

This company is full of surprises: Rotterdam Tea Trade and Agency, it's very name seems resonant of Victorian docks and ink smeared clerks. To find it nestled in open farmland, far from the madding crowd is the first surprise. Then meet Karel Thieme, the general manager, a tall somber looking youngish man who suddenly lights up with smiles. Finally, although services and teas available from the company are as much as one might expect from a well-established firm, here too one has come to the source for some of the rarest tea products - and experiences - to be found. All in all, Rotterdam Tea Trade is one of those unorthodox enterprises that gives tea a special charisma.

Rotterdam Tea Trade was formed in 1959 by F.J.G. Seitz, a gentleman of German nationality, who brought a keen appreciation of the finer teas to his Dutch company along with customers in Germany. Karel Thieme trained for years in apprenticeship to Seitz, a rigorous school of tea, that apparently would have few, it any, superiors.

The company offers the range of contemporary tea trade services - sourcing teas from origin, controlling transport, warehousing, blending and scenting to order. In this, Rotterdam Tea Trade offers on hand about 150 different teas, either afloat or in warehouses. In addition, as tea trading has changed, the company has evolved into an important supplier of speciality teas, highly unusual tea specialities and as a tea-consulting business, advising clients not only on tea-orgins, blends and prices, but also on quality control, consumer-trends, and tea-marketing ideas, Actually, it is in the consulting aspect on the business that Thieme is particularly pleased to apply the range of his knowledge and ability in tea dosed with that unquantifiable commodity "creativity".

He's also fun to quote. "To justify our existence tea traders must now give added value to their product. In our case this is knowledge, experience, creativity and unlimited service. Here at Rotterdam Tea Trade we do what others may think too unrewarding or too complicated. Tea is a matter of trust. Quality is a very clear business card. I see the poetry in tea, for me it's more than just hard work and long years of study."

Given this articulation, it is not surprizing to learn that Thieme has become a sought after lecturer on tea. But Thieme is not only devoted to tea, he's aggressive in promoting it. In fact, he appeared in various Dutch TV-shows; in one of which he was asked to identify teas by taste in a given time period. Another quote is appropriate here, "we must fight for the image of tea."

Major markets for Rotterdam Tea Trade are Germany, France, the Netherlands (where the company leads in the speciality market) and Switzerland. Recently Poland and other East-European markets are being explored, while Thieme is keen to export their (rare) specialities and organic teas to markets like U.S., Canada, Japan and Australia.

In addition to packers and speciality tea shops (chains) where Rotterdam Tea Trade offers, what Thieme refers to as a "total tea service", the firm also supplies to packers and health/natural food companies. The latter particular because Rotterdam Tea Trade is a key source for certified organic green and black teas.

Thieme himself travelled to China to help locate and certify the organic teas. He found them in a remote area from a garden accessible only after a six hour trek by foot. This is now a source for 6,000 kilo's of an unique handrolled green tea, harvested in springtime only.

Thieme can also offer black organic China tea (whole leaf and fannings). These teas are circulating successfully now in Europe. In close cooperation with both producers and packers new projects in Darjeeling and Ceylon are being developed.

In the speciality area, the company has sought to provide rare items like authentic handcrafted decorative Chinese tea chests for store display or home use.

"We always look for, and develop, items the improve the general image of tea, and that will help our customers to distinct themselves as true tea-specialists", said Thieme.

These tea chests themselves are evidently a particular joy the Thieme, and are exemplary of his tea-ethic. A few years ago he saw a 250-year old version in a private collection, now invaluable because of the technique of manufacturing them has been lost. The beauty of the old chest inspired him to search China for a province where the requisite tradition and craftsmanship survived to replicate the style and artwork. Reportedly, the effect in getting good results and starting up production has been arduous, but Thieme is clearly proud of what is now offered uniquely by Rotterdam Tea Trade. He says with a note of awe, "what our ancestors did 250 years ago we do again now. We go back not only to the basics, but also to the poetry."

PHOTO : Karel Thieme and one of his hard won decorative China tea chests, now being offered on an exclusive basis by Rotterdam Tea Trade and Agency.
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Title Annotation:Rotterdam Tea Trade and Agency
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Dec 1, 1991
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