The belt of the tea plant is a region that encompasses eastern and southern China, northern Myanmar, and the Assam state of India. The tea bush grows naturally in eastern and southeastern regions of China.
Origins of human use of tea are described in several myths, but it is unknown as to where tea was first created as a drink. For centuries China was the world's only tea-exporting country. Beginning in the 19th century, however, stiff competition arose as India and Ceylon began to grow tea. Today China remains one of the largest suppliers of quality teas. Green teas represent 75% to 80% of China's current consumption. The rest of the production of green teas, and all of the black teas, are exported. In the past 200 years the expansion of tea growing throughout the world has been extensive with even experimental US crops in South Carolina, the Northwest and most recently Hawaii.
Although tea is grown successfully in over forty countries throughout the only about ¼ produce it in such marketable quantities as to render them commercially important. These countries are: Argentina, Brazil, China, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Taiwan (Formosa) and Turkey.
China produces the greatest variety of tea; green, black, oolong, brick, white, yellow and pu-erh are all produced in marketable quantities. In fact China is the world's largest producer of all types of tea except black tea. The majority of the crops are concentrated in the south east of China in the provinces of Yunnan, Zhejiang, Anhui, Hunan, Fujian, Sichuan, Guangdong, Hubie, Jiangxi, Guangxi Zhuang (the last three having considerably less than the previous).
Known in the trade as Formosa, this island country is located in a sub-tropic climate with ample sunlight, appropriate temperatures and proper rain and moisture throughout the year to make this an ideal tea growing environment with a production season from April through November. Taiwan produces tea in black, green, pouchong, flower scented and is best known for its superior Oolongs.
Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
Sri Lanka resembles a pear-shaped island. Most of the tea plantations are located in the heartlands of the lower, central bulge. Tea growing takes place on three elevation levels. These include the top-quality, high-grown tea in the central hill region at 4,000 – 6,000 feet, with bright character and superior flavor due to the cooler air; medium-grown tea at 2,000 – 4,000 feet, known for being full-bodied with good color and strength; while strong and colory low-grown tea is produced below 2,000 feet. Much of the high-grown tea is cultivated on large estates whereas smaller gardens (usually under 10 acres) dominate the lower levels.
Sri Lanka's unique rainfall pattern guarantees an almost unbroken harvesting season within the country. Two separate monsoon seasons hit the island throughout the year; one from the north-east and another from the south-west. When production falls off on the teas from the western side or Dimbulla teas, there is a rise in production on the eastern side or Uva teas. The production of premium teas is aided by the presence of cool, dry winds. During the peak of the cropping season, teas can be picked at such a rate as to require a 24-hour processing cycle at the factories.
JapanAlthough now a minor agricultural crop for Japan, tea's value lies in its ability to grow on hillsides where other crops, especially rice, are less of a financial proposition. During the twentieth century, Japan has, at times, produced all major forms of tea. At the beginning of the twentieth century the production of small quantities of oolong was common, but quality could not compete with teas being produced in Taiwan or the Fujian province of China. The limited production of black teas eventually ceased in 1971, putting Japan in the unique position of being the only major producer to process green tea exclusively. They are prepared in three styles – pan-fired, basket-fired and natural leaf. Within these styles there are several quality levels: Bancha, Sencha, Gyokuro and the ceremonial tea Matcha. The vast majority of production is the middle quality grade Sencha.
IndiaThe East India Company, after losing the tea trade with China, started exploring the possibilities of cultivation of tea in British India, a colony of the then British Empire as early as 1600 A.D. However, commercial cultivation of tea in India began around 1837 A.D. only following the discovery of indigenous tea plants in Upper Assam in the year 1823 by the Bruce Brothers. The first Tea Estate established was CHABUWA (CHA - BUWA meaning Cultivation of Tea) in the year 1836. Large scale tea cultivation was taken up after 1857 and by 1900 almost all suitable land in the Assam Valley was brought under Tea. Simultaneously, cultivation of Tea was also extended to Darjeeling Hills and Dooars region (Himalayan foothills) of Bengal, the Surma Valley as well as South India. The then British Planters, who braved all adversities, however avoided planting of tea in the hilly regions of North East India, primarily because of inaccessible terrain, thick forest cover, hard living conditions and mainly due to scarcity of workers, who were imported into N.E. India unlike where the manpower is locally available.