Tea production began in China as far back as 5000 years ago. Today, tea is produced in dozens of regions, with each region favouring teas of different styles. We have produced a brief guide to introduce you to the history and styles of some of the largest tea producing regions.
The cultivation of tea in India started at the beginning of the 18th century and is now the world’s second largest tea producing region. The mild, tropical climate, which predominates the region of Assam, proved to be ideal for the cultivation of strong, spicy teas. The cooler highlands of Darjeeling, on the other hand, were ideal for cultivating a finer, more floral tea. The black teas from the highland plateaus of Sikkim resemble those of Darjeeling but have an even softer cup. In the tea gardens of the southern Indian tea district Nilgiri, fine, lively teas grow on various mountains. These are similar to high-quality Ceylon teas.
China is the world’s oldest and largest producer of tea. Tea in China is believed to date back over 5000 years. The Chinese Middle Empire is generally considered to be the home of tea. The province of Yunnan is regarded as the birthplace of tea within the former empire. The world’s biggest tea-producing country is also one of the most fascinating. The many mountain ranges of central and southern China are the origin of countless green and black teas, such as Chun Mee, Gunpowder, Jasmine, Keemun, Lapsang Souchong, Lychee, Rose Congou and Yunnan.
The Zhejiang province is in the South East of the country and is famous for its Gunpowder ‘Temple of Heaven, and Fujian, located to the South West of Zhejiang, is considered to be one of the most important tea-producing regions. Fujian is the centre of the traditional Chinese Jasmine tea culture.
It is noteworthy that Chinese teas are not generally known under the name of the region that produces them, such as Assam or Darjeeling in India, but are given more prosaic names such as Lung Ching which means “Dragon’s Well”.
Japan is one of the few tea-producing countries that need to import due to high levels of domestic demand. After China, Japan has the oldest tea culture in the world. Tea production is believed to have been brought from Chain to Japan sometime between the 6th and 9th centuries. For seven hundred years tea was available exclusively to the Japanese imperial court. Japan started to export tea for the first time in the 18th century. In Japan, tea is not fermented. Immediately after arrival at the tea factory, the leaves are steamed in order to stop oxidation and to preserve the green colour. Japan is known for its high-quality green tea.
Africa is a fast-growing continent in terms of tea production. Once known for the production of inexpensive tea mostly for the British market, teas produced in Africa are now exported far further afield. The quality of African teas has also increased significantly, and we can find varieties including black, green and even white teas. Countries such as Kenya are notable for the fact that tea is produced on small plantations, typically of less than 1 acre.
In 1867, British planter James Taylor started a tea plantation in the Sri Lankan city of Kandy. Merely 19 acres in size, he slowly grew the plantation and the industry as a whole, with his Ceylon exports catching the attention of "Sherlock Holmes" writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The industry grew from the original plot to over 188,175 hectares today, and tea production is now one of the island nation's largest industries, employing over a million Sri Lankan workers.
Indonesian tea is often used in blended varieties.
Indonesians began tea production in the 1700s, having been introduced to the crop via Dutch colonialism. The tea culture didn't take off with the locals the same way it did with other colonial producers; In 2013, Indonesia produced 150,100 tonnes, however, 65% of that was exported from the country.
Indonesian production focuses predominantly on black tea, though small amounts of green are also produced. Additionally, many varieties grown here aren't well known globally, as much of the Indonesian crop is used in blends; mixed with other teas.
Tea production in Vietnam began in 1880 when the French developed the first plantation in Pho Tho.
The Vietnamese tea industry has both large-scale companies with modern technology and machinery, as well as small-scale independent producers who make limited quantities of artisan teas. The varieties produced are diverse: approximately 60% of the tea produced in Vietnam is cut-tear-curl black tea, 35% is green, and 5% is other speciality varieties such as lotus or jasmine tea.