In fact, it was common knowledge that tea played a crucial role in the development of history of major countries where tea took precedence in traditions and rituals of life.
With this in mind, Sabah Tea Sdn Bhd (Sabah Tea) aimed to uphold the mentality and mechanisms of savouring tea by incorporating it with local elements to serve the market in Malaysia.
“We want to provide consumers and the public with a healthier choice of tea. Our Sabah Tea is 100 per cent pesticide free due to its strategic location, surrounded by the pristine rainforest around Mount Kinabalu,” said Sabah Tea’s director Goh Mung Chwee in an exclusive with The Borneo Post.
With a defining motto – ‘From the Borneo Rainforest’ – the state government of Sabah, under Chief Minister Datuk Harris Salleh, was the visionary for the initiation of this venture.
Goh revealed that the plantation originally began as a socio-economic project by the state government to develop the then-forested Kampung Nalapak area to provide jobs to the local people.
Apart from selling tea and tea-related products, Sabah Tea also offered educational holidays and holiday packages for guests to visit its tea gardens.
“Tourism plays a critical role in educating people about the fact that our teas are grown without pesticides. This segment contributes immensely in establishing a strong Sabah Tea product brand.
“On the company’s revenue distribution, tea provides 80 per cent of sales while tourism contributes 20 per cent on a 4:1 ratio,” Goh revealed.
“All our tourism activities and packages have an educational component with responsible tourism practices such as pesticide-free and organic tea cultivation, role of rainforests in providing food to insects, guided nature walks, tea gift packs using leaves and so forth,” he added.
The tourism aspect also preserved the seven ethnic cultures of Sabah via its longhouses aimed at educating visitors about its history similar to the concept practiced at the Sarawak Cultural Village in Santubong.
“Feedback from local and overseas visitors has been very positive as evidenced by the increasing number of tourists coming in. In 2005, we had 4,000 visitors, in 2009, we had 10,000 visitors, including day trips and overnights.
“Our focus is on nature lovers, people who want an escape from the hectic city life, travelers who want to learn something useful while on vacation, and group travelers,” he explained.
As Sabah Tea’s plantation plots were one of the few tea plantations in the world certified to produce organic tea, the group’s products faced strategic competition in the market with other drinks such as cordial drinks, coffee products and such.
Goh said, “Our Borneo Rainforest Organic Tea is the only tea grown organically in Malaysia and in Borneo. Sales are growing rapidly as international tourists and as well Malaysia visitors are choosing to buy our organic teas.
“Since our organic production is limited in volume, we rarely advertise our organic teas. We compete very well against heavy sugar-based beverages.”
As proof of the group’s innovative progress for its tea-related products, Sabah Tea was in the process of promoting its unique tea biscuits throughout November called Sabah Tea Bites at its outlet in Sabah as well as tourist gift shops throughout Malaysia.
“We are currently working on several new flavored teas as well. We already have unique flavors such as pandan, cinnamon, ginger, tongkat ali and geranium, and we plan to add these to our collection of tea gift packs.
Goh wrapped up the interview by confiding his future expectations for the company.
“We are exploring exciting projects which we hope to announce in 2011. Our goal is to make Sabah Tea’s garden a must-stop destination for visitors to the Kinabalu Park- Kundasang area.”