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Cultural benefits of tea celebrated at UN event

By MINLU ZHANG at the United Nations | | Updated: 2024-05-23 10:34
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UN officials and representatives from various countries taste tea at an International Tea Day event on Tuesday at the UN headquarters in New York. [Photo by Minlu Zhang/]

A Chinese envoy to the United Nations said that tea is a driving force for economic and social development, as it helps eliminate poverty, improve health and living standards, promote urban and rural development and enhance women's empowerment.

"Tea is a vivid embodiment of the harmonious coexistence between humans and nature. Tea fields not only bring the joy of harvest to tea farmers but also form a sustainable ecological cycle by sequestering carbon, producing oxygen and conserving water and soil, perfectly interpreting the sustainable development concept of 'lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets,'" said Dai Bing, China's deputy permanent representative to the UN.

He gave the speech at an International Tea Day event on Tuesday, organized by China's Mission to the UN and the Xinyang Municipal Government of Henan province, at UN headquarters in New York.

Since 2005, tea-producing countries, including China, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Uganda and others, have celebrated International Tea Day. The UN General Assembly selected May 21 as International Tea Day in 2019.

"Tea is a messenger that promotes exchanges between civilizations among various countries. For thousands of years, tea has traveled along the Silk Road and sea lanes to thousands of households in different countries, creating cultural connections," said Dai.

"We hope that everyone can feel the charm of tea and share the story of tea through tea appreciation and tea tasting, so that tea can become a link to enhance communication and friendship, help implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and jointly draw a beautiful picture of a community with a shared future for mankind," he said.

Sri Lanka, famous for its Ceylon tea, has a history of 300 years of tea drinking, said Mohan Pieris, Sri Lanka's permanent representative to the UN. He added that the tea history goes much further back in China, when Emperor Shennong accidentally discovered tea when leaves from a tree blew into his boiling water.

International Tea Day aims to "raise awareness about the impact of tea on workers and growers", "promoting fair trade and sustainable practices within the industry", said Pieris, noting that tea has a long history and significant cultural and economic importance worldwide. He emphasized that tea plays a vital role in rural development, poverty reduction, and food security in developing countries.

Drinking tea promotes social interaction and facilitates conversation, providing opportunities for people to come together and fosters inclusivity within the community, Pieris said.

Sharing a cup of tea encourages egalitarianism, cultural exchange and mutual learning. Tea drinking can be an educational experience where participants learn about different traditions and rituals.

Tea also reduces stress, promotes relaxation and serves as a symbol of hospitality and respect, he continued. Unlike coffee, tea gatherings offer a setting conducive to resolving conflicts and strengthening community bonds, contributing to a shared sense of identity, Pieris said.

"You see in Chinese culture, in the spring, the jasmine tea is the best. In summer, we drink green tea. In autumn and winter, we drink black tea," Dai told UN employees as they were trying the tea at the event.

A whole process of preparing a cup of tea includes boiling the water, warming the teapot and cup, measuring the tea, pouring the water and steeping the tea, removing the tea leaves and serving.

Ernest Rwamucyo, Rwanda's permanent representative to the UN, described his whole tea drinking experience as "fabulous".

The tea feels soothing, and especially "the process of making the tea, the art, preparing the tea is just so enchanting," he told China Daily. "By the time you take the tea, you really feel that way, you're calming down. It was very nice."

It was the first time the ambassador had witnessed the tea-preparation process, which he said was "very special".

"The single act of preparing a cup of tea can be an act of kindness, care and connection in the way of the sharing of content and concepts," said Li Junhua, UN undersecretary-general for economic and social affairs. He also emphasized the tea industry's role in job creation, empowering women and improving social conditions.

The annual global tea production has exceeded $18 billion, and the trade volume has reached $9.8 billion. It is an important source of income for low-income and emerging economies, Li said.

Xu Haoliang, UN under-secretary-general and associate administrator of the UN Development Programme, along with permanent representatives and deputy representatives from more than 50 countries, including Pakistan, France, Switzerland, Austria, Indonesia, Kuwait, Ethiopia, Guyana, and Morocco, participated in the event.

During the event, guests attended tea ceremonies, along with paper cutting, dough modeling and shadow puppet performances and participated in a virtual reality experience of traveling through the tea mountains of Xinyang.

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