Ever since it was first discovered in China in 2737 BC tea has been one of the most popular beverages across the world. Today tea is cultivated all over the world, primarily in Asia and Africa, however it’s commercially produced by more than 60 countries. Here’s a list of the top 10 tea producing countries in the world in 2020.
It would seem by happy coincidence that tea was first discovered (at least as the story goes…) by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, who first tasted the beverage when he and his soldiers were busy sheltering under a tree. Several windblown leaves fell into a pot of boiling water, which in turn infused into the water and tea as a beverage became a reality.
Whether or not this tale is a little tall doesn’t really matter, whatever the truth of its origins tea rapidly became a staple within Asian culture, as a drink, a medicinal cure all and a symbolic part of religious rituals.
Since the 8th century tea has steadily spread along numerous trade routes through the Middle East and Himalaya into northern India, eventually reaching these shores by the 17th century via Holland.
So let’s travel a little and go on an international journey of tea discovery to find out who are the top 10 tea producing countries in the world…
The Top 10 Tea producing countries in the world
10. Iran – 75,000 tonnes
Heading across the Indian Ocean we find ourselves in the Middle East, in the unlikely tea producing country of Iran and the Caspian sea region of Gilan, which produces just under 75,000 tonnes of tea.
Tea first appeared as a drink in that region in the 15th century, due to the trade along the famous Silk Road and it quickly became popular. However, the crop wasn’t grown in the country until 1899 when Prince Mohammad Mirza smuggled tea bushes from India into the city of Lahijan and began cultivating the crop, with the first modern tea factory being established in 1934.
9. Japan – 80,000 tonnes
Heading across to the Pacific we head to Japan, which produces around 80,000 tonnes of mostly green tea in the regions of Shizuoka, Kagoshima and Uji. Tea has enormous cultural significance in Japan; it’s their most popular drink and is central to tea ceremonies.
Tea may have been introduced to the islands as early as the 6th century by Buddhist monks. The drink quickly became aligned with religious ceremonies with accounts of tea being served by the Emperor Shōmu to 100 monks. Tea seeds are thought to have first arrived in Japan in 805 and 806, with the burgeoning tea industry catching the attention of the 52nd Emperor, Saga, during his reign between 809 and 823. Further seeds were imported, tea cultivation began and the rest as they say is history.
8. Argentina – 90,000 tonnes
While South America is more widely known for coffee production, we’re going to cross the Pacific and fly over to Argentina, which produces just under 90,000 tonnes of tea. They primarily produce black tea varieties of Indian origin.
Tea was introduced in the 1920’s when the Argentine government began to urge farmers to experiment with a range of different crops. Hybridised black and green teas were introduced to the provinces of Misiones, Corrientes, Formosa, Chaco and Tucuman.
In terms of domestic consumption, Yerba Mate (which is earthy and bitter in terms of taste profile) is the most popular tea in Argentina.
7. Indonesia – 144,000 tonnes
Back across the other side of the world, we head to Indonesia, which produces 144,000 tonnes of tea annually. The crop was introduced in the 1700’s by the Dutch East India Company during colonial rule, producing mostly black and green teas from Indian Assam varieties. The Indonesian climate allows these tea varieties to thrive.
Indonesian teas are renowned the world over for their high levels of catechin, a natural phenol and antioxidant, which plays a significant role in helping to maintaining a healthy gut and heart.
6. Vietnam – 240,000 tonnes
Switching back to Asia we head to Vietnam, where the French introduced the crop to them during their period of colonial rule. Vietnam produces in the region of 240,000 tonnes of tea per year.
The Yen Bai province in North Vietnam cultivates a wide variety of tea leaves including green, black, and white, as well as some speciality teas flavoured with flowers including lotus tea.
5. Turkey – 250,000 tonnes
This time we find ourselves in the Middle East, specifically to Turkey, which historically sat squarely on the ancient trades routes between east and west. At number 5 on our list Turkey grows 250,000 tonnes of tea.
Notably, they grow Riza, which is a tea from the region of the same name found on the Black Sea coast. Despite a relatively modest harvest people in Turkey drink more tea per person than any other nation on the planet (which as Brits, we find hard to believe!).
4. Sri Lanka – 350,000 tonnes
Heading back to Asia and to Sri Lanka, which produces just under 350,000 tonnes, around 17% of the world’s tea crop grown in the central mountains. Sought teas like Dimbula, Kenilworth and Uva are cultivated here such as Ceylon.
The British in a bid to compete with China‘s tea production introduced the crop in 1867 and ever since the country has produced some of the world’s finest single origin teas.
3. Kenya – 500,000 tonnes
Asia doesn’t have it all its own way, as we head across the Indian Ocean to the top tea producing country in Africa, Kenya, which harvests just under 500,000 tonnes of tea each year. Kenya claims the accolade of the world’s top black tea producing country, with teas grown in the Kericho region, the Nyambene Hills and Nandi.
Tea was first introduced to Kenya in 1903 by GWL Caine and fully commercialised by 1924 for Brooke Bond by Malcolm Bell who was sent out for that specific purpose.
2. India – 1,250,000 tonnes
The crop was first introduced commercially by the British in 1824 to compete with neighbouring China’s tea production monopoly.
The venture worked. India was producing the most tea for over 100 years. However the number 1 on our list reclaimed its top spot in the world rankings at the turn of the 21st century.
Honourable mentions – Interesting Tea Exporters who didn’t make the top 10
While these countries don’t make our top 10 tea exporters these countries still produce a wide variety of exotic and aromatic teas.
Despite the dominance of the larger exporters other countries are busily waiting in the tea growing wings; including Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.
Even Great Britain is getting in on the act with the first ever crop grown being and harvested at Tregothnan Estate, Cornwall, in 2005.
Watch this space; you never know Farrer’s may even plant a tea estate in the Lakes.
1. China – 2,400,000 tonnes
Unsurprisingly China is top of the charts as the spiritual home of the humble cuppa and tops the list as the world’s largest tea producing country.
China produces some 40% of the world’s tea weighing in at 2.4 million tonnes. It’s primarily grown in the provinces of Yunnan, Guangdong, and Zhejiang. While it’s the biggest exporter and grower of tea, China produces some of the best teas out there including Lapsang Souchong, Keemun and Green Gunpowder.
Top 10 Tea Exporting Countries
|Rank||Country||Metric tonnes of tea produced per annum|
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