Purists may be paying more than ever for a cup of Chinese tea but that hasn't stopped the money men looking to find ways to cash in on a growing international desire for nice hot brew.

On the eve of the Hong Kong International Tea Fair - which runs August 12-14 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre - the bad news breaking is that a poor harvest on mainland China has pushed tea prices up by as much as 50 percent this year.

Harvests of high-quality blends such as pu-erh and loong cheng have been hit by the extreme weather conditions which have lashed mainland China this year with 90 grams of the Premium Loong Cheng brand, for example, rising in price from HK$1,280 (125 euros) to HK$1,880 (184 euros) due to a drop in supply.

Such issues will no doubt be discussed at the Hong Kong fair's Tea Industry Conference which plans to address market trends and branding. The second edition of the fair has also attracted more than 300 exhibitors from 15 countries and regions.

But there has been some good news for tea lovers here, especially for those who fancy the Hong Kong style of brew which either means the milky variety (made using condensed milk) or yin-yang (tea and coffee mixed).

Hong Kong's cha chaan teng cafes - famous for serving these traditional local delicacies (and others such as pineapple-flavored buns) - have been springing up in mainland Chinese cities such as Guangzhou and Shanghai over the past year.

Owners of the new cafes say demand has risen as more and more Chinese tourists travel through Hong Kong. More than 18 million mainland Chinese visited Hong Kong last year and that figure is expected to rise to more than 20 million in 2010.

And even the international café franchise Starbucks is getting in on the act. Until September 20, its Hong Kong outlets will be selling Milk Tea Frappuccino Blended Creams and Yuen Yueng Frappuccino Blended Creams - the first time, according to the company, that local tastes have inspired a Starbucks brew.

Hong Kong International Tea Fair
August 12-14
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
http://www.hktdc.com/fair/hkteafair-en/

MS

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