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Tea's Great Wall of China can be found in the offices of Halssen & Lyon.

It looks like part of a fairy tale; cobblestone road, archways, and guards that wave you on smilingly. These are all scenes from the Hafen, the free port of Hamburg which allows thousands of pounds of tea and coffee to flow through to all parts of the world.

Halssen & Lyon, the largest tea importer/exporter in Germany, resides in this magical port at humble #9 Pickhuben. Beyond the simple glass doors the fantasy continues through one of the most interesting arrays of tea origins in the world. Here, a personnel force of 25 individuals buy, taste, research and sell tea(Total work force in Hamburg is 200). Principals of the firm are Olav and Horst-Jurgen Ellerbrock. Olav has also chairman/president of the German Tea Association for 18 years as well as Hon. Consul-General for Sri Lanka.

Upon entering the main tea sampling area, the walls are adorned with tins of teas; black, green, semi-fermented, fermented, and white (I finally got to look at the famed white teas of China). The walls are divided geographically, regionally, estate-wise and down to the minute specifications of flushes. Instant and decaffeinated samples representing various decaffeination processes continue the array. The magnitude of the myriad nuances and availability of tea was astounding to me. I saw things I never conceived of in the tea industry.

Harold Vogel, manager of H& L, was my host, leading me through the many regions and types of tea. Anywhere from 2-3,000 tins of tea samples line the walls. Of this, approximately 500-1,000 tins make up the company's great wall of China teas. Samples are drawn continually throughout the day, and water from certain regions, such as the East Freesia region in Germany is used to imitate tasting conditions of the prospective selling area.

While my first cup of tea was a nice Black tea, Vogel introduced me to the world's most expensive tea-- a tea rose. This unique tea is composed of green tea bud leaves sewn together with silk string to make an actual ball or rose. When infused the creation looks something like a sea urchin. Truly a remarkable sight!

Halssen & Lyon celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1979 and holds the honor of being the largest stockholder of tea in Germany, always stocking an average of 5,000-6,000 tons of tea. Their exports account for more than 85% of their turnover and thus they are certainly a major re-exporter worldwide. Scandinavia is one of the largest re-export country for H & L due to a Norwegian grandmother of the owners and due to traditional relationships the company has built with this part of Europe through over a century of business. Due to the continuing consolidation of the packers, the company's base has been forced to become more concentrated, but I was assured there are more specialities in tea than ever before.

Five minutes by car, situated on the water front, H&L's main warehouse of 247,433 sq. ft. is divided into seven parts. One section is reserved for the manufacture of flavored teas. The four different production lines were conceived by and custom made for H&L. In the main blending unit, a computerized silo blender is located. The unit also extracts nails, wood fragments and other foreign bodies and automatically fills paper sacks, cartons, tea chests or so-called big-bags carrying loads between 500-900 kg.

H & L's business ventures include a decaffeination plant in Hamburg producing also easy-digestible coffee as well as a joint tea decaffeination plant on joint venture near Bern, Switzerland. H&L were not only the sole manufacturer of decaf teas, but are today the only one to produce three different types (CO2,MeC12, and ethyl acetate). In the late 50's, H&L built an instant tea plant in Sri Lanka which was later sold to friends. These wellknown instant teas are still distributed today in many parts of the world on an exclusive basis by H&L.

A small, but steadily growing part of the turnover consists of various other products, such as flavored fruit teas, herbal infusions, liquid tea concentrates, iced tea mixes, tea accessories and even tea packaging equipment.

The company purchases and blends tea for the packer and claims it can acquire any species of the for a client. (I don't doubt that they can, but I pressed Vogel for the the sake of the U.S. interest in specialty teas.)

"Is there a market for the highest quality level of speciality teas," I asked Vogel skeptically, for personally I don't see such an expensive market surviving in today's economy.

Vogel assured me there was a U.S. market for these specialty teas, and cited as least one supplier. I found this information fascinating, especially concerning the exotic tea roses whose astronomical price is more in line with Dom Perignon than a cup of 1[cent] tea.

Presently there is a steadily growing demand for green teas in Western consuming countries, a development which is due to the supposed beneficial effect on human health.

H & L caters to the different countries' tastes and desires. France buys the best Darjeelings and China teas; Germany the best Assams; Eastern Europe is interested in cheap grades; and the U.S. is by far the largest market for decaf teas; and worldwide, Earl Grey is the most popular tea flavor, followed by lemon and orange. The company was indeed a pioneer in the flavor field and its' ongoing research into the various flavors palatable for tea is a never ending job. Flavors are tested on different types of teas, as well as different decaf processed teas in a separate lab/sales room for sampling.

Again H & L's flavor research found that Ceylon and China teas are the best for flavor, as not all teas take on flavors. Cornflowers, lavender and lemon grass are best when added for appearance, and Vogel stressed that nature identical flavors often give the teas a better flavor than natural as they are more intense.

Again, H & L's arduous research on decaf teas resulted in the findings that decaf processes act the best upon certain Ceylon. For a good leaf tea decaffeination, Vogel recommends the [CO.sub.2] process. It does not crush larger leafs like other processes.

H & L mainly sells instant teas from fresh made tea leafs which are plucked to ferment, but no drying is allowed. Other suppliers produce instant tea from black tea. Extreme caution is advised during spray dried tea tasting. The tea will chunk up if exposed to air.

An extensive quality array of teas are all available from H & L. The company supplies the lowest grades of tea from Turkey, and the southern portion of the former USSR, which includes Georgia and AzurBijian; Argentina and Viet Nam, to the highest quality, which is grown in Northeast India (Assam and Darjeeling, of which the second flush is better).

The international tea industry has not experienced the roller coaster prices similar to that of the coffee trade. There has been no significant price change in tea for the past several years and prices have been steadily low, said Vogel.

This being said with the exception of prices for high quality teas where ever rising demand partially faces a declining availability with the logical consequence of rising prices.

"There's a good balance of supply and demand," he assuured me, though India may be an importer one day as their growing population continues to consume more and more tea. India's growing consumption demands an additional 40,000 metric tons each year and 1.1 billion Chinese would probably also consume tea if they could afford it.

After the Chernobyl accident, the former USSR and the rest of the world stopped buying Georgian tea as the whole area is polluted and tea bushes had to be uprooted. This incident forced the former USSR to become a major importer in the world tea trade. Though, at present, nobody knows when Russia will be in the market again.

Whatever or whereever the tea, Halssen & Lyon can acquire it, process it, and blend it to one's specifications. The honor and care the company bestows upon the leaf and bud is a wonderful, magical thing to see.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:McCabe, Jane
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Apr 1, 1992
Previous Article:Scientific research - part of the German Tea Association's ongoing activities.
Next Article:There's quality in Turkish tea, but no real incentive for export trade.

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