Over 3 million tonnes of tea is consumed every year, making it the second most popular beverage, after water. Suffices to say, it occupies an important place in cultures and in economy. As a beverage, it comes in as many variations as there are cultures who drink it. As an agricultural commodity, the tea industry is an important economic factor in regions where it’s produced.
The top tea producing regions of the world
- China occupies top spot among tea producing regions of the world, making over 30% of the tea. China is the largest producer, consumer and also the largest exporter of tea in the world. Its long history and the legacy attached to tea along with the availability of skilled tea masters make them the undisputed leaders.
- India comes next on the list. There are many tea plantations in India out of which Assam produces the most amount of tea. With tea introduced here by the British East India Company, India owns a large market share in exports and in domestic consumption too. India also has its own native species of the tea plant Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica.
- In third place is Kenya, where tea is an important cash crop. Much of the tea produced here is grown on small farms and are now moving towards artisan teas.
- Sri Lanka, a former British colony continues to produce tea as well and remains an important commercial industry for the country. The teas are renowned for their quality, especially their high grown white teas.
- Another major producer and consumer of tea is Turkey, ranked at No. 5 in the world.
- Indonesia was introduced to tea as a Dutch colony and production began in the 1700s. Much of the tea produced here is exported.
- The French introduced tea to their former colony, Vietnam in the 1880s. In the 20th century, the wars put a halt to the development of the industry which began to see a revival only by the 1980s. Vietnam mostly produces green teas.
- Japan keeps much of the tea it produces for its domestic consumption. Its main export is the green tea variety, matcha, one of the most popular teas in the world.
- Iran has an interesting history to its tea. The story goes that the Iranian ambassador to India under the British, Saltaneh, went undercover as a French laborer to learn about tea production. He returned to Iran with saplings that he planted at Gilan and the rest, as they say, is history.
- Argentina is a surprise addition to this list, producing tea that’s used in making iced tea blends in the USA.
One beverage, several ways to drink it
Across nations and regions, people have their very own, unique and distinct tea cultures. The far eastern cultures tend to be more ceremonial with their tea rituals. The Japanese Tea Ceremony has been in practice since the 1500s when Sensei Rikyu designed it, creating three schools of tea ceremony. For the Japanese, the delicacy of the color of the tea liquor is supremely important. The matcha may be their most famous export but the sencha, bancha and gyokuro teas all have their place in Japanese society.
Tea Culture of the World
In China, a visit to Chengdu reveals the place of tea in their society. (Read People Who Love to Drink Tea From Morning to Evening by Zac O’Yeah). Here, there are several tea houses and there’s conversation, food, and even ear cleaning followed by a shoulder massage!
India enjoys an interesting dichotomy when it comes to tea. It produces some of the world’s best teas from Darjeeling, Assam, the Nilgiris and Kangra but what the population best enjoys is chai, a sweetened milky tea made from CTC tea. The rest of Asia too sees much variety in how tea is made and enjoyed. Sri Lankans enjoy a bitter black tea while the Thai prefer their tea cold. The Mongolians have a special tea called the ‘brick tea’, wherein they add finely ground brick tea to a pot of boiling water and serve the brew hot with goat’s milk. In Mali, tea is had after every meal. Traditionally, a teapot is placed over a mud stove with some fresh leaves and left to boil. Surprisingly, it’s also enjoyed as wine in other parts of the world.
In Russia, large samovars, a combination of kettle and teapot, are part of every home. Strong black tea is brewed with a wedge of lemon. The samovars can also be found in Turkey and the Middle East, and here, teas are elaborate social affairs. The Moroccan specialty of green tea with fresh mint and sugar is now a classic tea blend popular across the world.
In Britain, tea is the national drink. They are credited with the cultures of high tea and afternoon tea. On the Continent, the French enjoy a rich tea culture, with many teahouses found across the country. Across the Atlantic, the USA is growing as a consumer of tea, and has been credited with introducing both iced teas and tea bags to the world.
With tea being the 2nd most popular beverage in the world, consumed by so many people, it’s hard to say which country produces the best tea in the world. The only right answer to the best tea in the world is your favorite one.
More tea trivia
- Most East European cultures serve their tea in glasses. Russians serve it with an ornate glass holder called the ‘podstakannik’.
- Tea is the national drink of Egypt and is compulsory after lunch.
- In Turkey, tea is sweetened with beetroot sugar.
- In Pakistan, the ‘noon chai’ is a bright pink in colour flavoured with the richness of pistachios and cardamom.