Once upon a time, in China, long before the coming of Christ, a Chinese Emperor made a revolutionary discovery. According to legend, he had this habit of drinking only boiled water. Wind has always been a force of nature. One day, while his servants were boiling the water, a certain ‘leaf’ fell into the pot. Thus, ‘tea’ was brewed. That’s how the first cup of tea was ever made. The discovery of tea was inevitable, the only question was a matter of when.
Since then, this plant has embedded itself into the economy of a number of countries worldwide. In the year 2017, globally, tea in excess of 5.5 billion kg had been produced. Why so much tea? In fact, wrong question. Why not? Let’s now take a look at some of the top producers of tea in the world in 2018 and what difference those tiny leaves, at the top of a shrub, have made to a country.
10. Argentina (Sixty-nine thousand, nine hundred and twenty four tonnes; 69,924)
Apart from mate, tea is a very popular hot beverage in Argentina. Locally grown, yerba mate is the indigenous tea grown throughout the country. However, with reference to tea production the northeastern provinces of the country is where most of the magic happens. Bulk of the tea that’s produced in Argentina is grown in these regions, Misiones and Corrientes to be very specific.
The farmers depend on modern tools to assist them in all aspects of farming, from plant right up to the picking leaves process. Naturally, a lot of the tea that’s produced here is exported and is a major source of foreign exchange for the country. The United States of America, United Kingdom and a couple of other European countries is where most of the tea is exported to, where the tea is primarily used for blending purposes specifically.
9. Iran ( Eighty-three thousand, nine hundred and ninety tonnes; 83,990)
Iran’s love affair with tea is literally like a love affair. Initially, the Iranian’s were inclined towards ‘tea’s’ bitter rival, coffee. However, due to the difficulties involved in obtaining coffee, because of large distances to coffee producing countries, tea was soon introduced in the country. Tea was relatively easy to get, as Iran’s neighbours, China, were one of the largest exporters of tea. Not exactly neighbours, but comparatively closer to coffee exporting countries.
Once the people of Iran tasted tea, their demand could never be satisfied. Predominantly due to the initial exploits of prince Kashef, Iran today, is the ninth largest tea producing country in the world. Prince Kashef learnt the secret art of tea cultivation when he worked in India as a labourer in disguise. He then took whatever he had learned, along with a few samplings, back to Iran where he began producing tea. Today, most of the tea that’s produced in Iran is grown in the northern provinces on hill slopes, similar to those in Darjeeling.
8. Japan ( Eighty-eight thousand, nine hundred tonnes; 88,900)
The reality is that in Japan, tea is grown almost everywhere in the country. Although, it may not be grown for commercial purposes throughout, but it’s still capable of being grown almost everywhere in the country, perhaps with the only exception being, the island of Hokkaido and regions in Osaka. Owing to the differences in soil conditions and climate, different regions are famous for producing different blends of tea.
Shizuka remains to be the largest tea producing state in Japan, even today. Nearly, 40% of the tea that’s produced in Japan is produced in this area. Following, not so far behind, is the Kagoshima region which accounts for nearly 30% of the tea produced in Japan. Apart from these two popular and important regions, Fukuoka, Kyushu and Miyazaki are few other important tea producing states. Out of all the tea that’s produced in Japan, only a very small fraction of it is exporting, owing to its large demand in the country itself and most of the tea that’s produced is green tea.
7. Vietnam ( One hundred-sixteen thousand, seven hundred and eighty tonnes; 116,780)
Vietnam have tea deeply rooted into their culture. The French invasion of Vietnam helped the Vietnamese tea industry to a significant amount. They helped with the construction of factories and research in many key areas. Since then, the tea industry has just grown from strength to strength. In fact, most of the tea that’s produced is actually exported and only a fraction of it is retained for domestic consumption. Just like China and Japan, Vietnam primarily produces green tea only. A lot of the tea in fact, is exported to China itself. The plantations thrive in a number of regions within the country. Some of the most popular regions include, Son La, Lai Chua, Dien Bien, Lang Son, Ha Giang etc.
6. Indonesia (One hundred-fifty seven thousand, three hundred and eighty-eight tonnes; 157,388)
Indonesia is a country where tea was, once upon a time, the most important crop of the region. However, due to growth of the more lucrative palm oil business, land devoted to tea plantations has taken a hit. Despite that, today, Indonesia is still one of the leading producers of tea in the world. Half of what they produce is exported, while the other half, is left for domestic consumption.
Their main export partners in relation to tea at least, are Russia, Pakistan and the Great Britain. One major problem that tea cultivators in this country face is maximising their output. Keeping all this aside, most of the tea produced in the country is black tea, while only a proportion of it constitutes green tea. The bulk of the production is carried out in Java, specifically West Java.
5. Turkey (One hundred-seventy four thousand, nine-hundred and thirty two tonnes; 174,932)
The people of Turkey love their tea. This not an individual’s observation or perspective, it’s more or less an established fact. According to a study conducted nearly a decade ago, the people of Turkey consumed the most amount of tea, an average of 2.5 kgs per person. Where do Turkey get so much tea from? Well, they produce a lot of it, a lot. In fact, in 2004, they produced more than 200,000 tonnes of tea! Today, while a good portion of their tea is exported, a lot of it is used for domestic consumption. The soil of the Rize Province is like gold dust. It’s this soil, this fertile soil along the coast of the Black Sea where all the tea is grown.
4. Sri Lanka (Two hundred-ninety five thousand, eight hundred and thirty tonnes; 295,830)
Tea, in Sri Lanka is more than just a plant. It’s a huge component of their economy and an immense source of livelihood for the people living on this island. The numbers to back this statement are astounding. Over 1 million people are employed because of tea. More than $1.3 billion, as of the year 2013, that’s how much tea contributed to Sri Lanka’s GDP. One can go and on about tea facts and Sri Lanka. A lot of the tea that’s produced here is exported and there are a lot of countries that actually get most of their tea from Sri Lanka. Russia, UAE, Syria and even Turkey, who themselves are one of the leading producers of tea, import a good portion of tea from Sri Lanka. It’s a relatively small island and most of the tea is grown in two regions: Kandy and Nuwara Eliya.
3. Kenya (Three hundred-three thousand, three hundred and eight tonnes; 303,308)
Kenya’s position as being one of the top producers of tea in the world is quite extraordinary when one looks at the working conditions of the cultivators of these crops. Tea is the most important cash crop for the Kenyan economy and yet the people who produce it struggle to optimise production. No huge farms, very little modern equipment and poor working conditions.
And still, Kenya ranks third in production of tea in the whole world. That’s remarkable. Almost all of the tea that’s grown in Kenya is black tea and most of it is exported. Very little is left for domestic consumption, which is understandable as nor their is a substantial demand for it and after all, tea is the most important cash crop for this country.
2. India (Nine hundred thousand and ninety four tonnes; 900,094)
Tea, or more popularly known as ‘Chai’, is integral part of Indian culture. Officially or unofficially, tea can also be called the ‘National drink of the country’, that’s how important it actually is. Tea production in bulk, started in India at the time when India were under the British. The East India Company took full advantage of the now world famous, Assam tea, while establishing a separate company in itself called the Assam Tea Company to look over it’s tea plantations in Assam.
There was a time, not so long ago, when India infect, was the leading producer of tea in the world. However, that cannot be said today. Unlike Kenya and Sri Lanka, a lot of the tea that’s produced in India is utilised for domestic consumption, while only a part of it is kept for export purposes. The most famous tea growing regions in India are Assam and Darjeeling without a doubt, however the tea that’s grown in the southern regions around the Nilgiri hills is also noteworthy.
1. China ( One million, one hundred and thirty tonnes; 1,000,130)
China is the world’s largest producer of tea. The focus is on the production of superior quality green, yellow and white tea. In China, a lot of land is allocated towards the cultivation of tea. Accordingly, as the production of tea in China grew over the years, so did the exports. In fact, approximately 80% of the green exported in the world, is from China only. It was in China where tea began its story. One of the oldest regions where tea has been known to be cultivated is the Yunnan district in China. Anhui and Fujian districts are two other very important tea growing regions.
Which country is the largest producer of tea? How did tea find its way to Iran? If you really did read this article, you could answer these questions. By now, you must have a slightly better understand of how important a plant can be to a country and it’s people. It’s funny when you think of it in that way but that’s the beauty of it.