Tea is grown everywhere from the craggy Himalayan mountain range to the sandy lowlands outside Charleston, South Carolina. Here's a quick look at some of the major tea producing countries and regions across the world. Follow the links to learn more about the terroir of each region.
African Tea Production Regions
Most of the tea produced in Africa is CTC black tea destined for teabags. Tea-producing countries include:
- The Democratic Republic of Congo
- South Africa
Orthodox tea producers include Cameroon, Kenya and Malawi.
Chinese Tea Production Regions
China is the birthplace of tea production. This one country produces more types of tea than any other, and it produces more orthodox tea than any other. These main Chinese tea production regions are within the provinces of:
Different provinces, regions and even towns are known for producing different teas. For example, different areas of Yunnan are known for pu-erh and dian hong (a.k.a. 'Yunnan black tea'), and different towns in Fujian are known for white tea and jasmine tea.
The main tea regions of India are Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiri/Conoor (in that order). Other regions include Dooars, Sikkim, Terai, Himchal Pradesh (including Kangra and Mandi) and Travancore/Kerala.
Generally speaking, Darjeeling teas tend to be orthodox teas with complex flavors and aromas. Assams tend to be bold and tannic, and are usually consumed with a bit of milk and/or sugar. Nilgiris tend to be fragrant and clean.
Japanese Tea Production Regions
The major tea-producing regions of Japan include Kyushu, Shikoku and southern Honshu.
Notable areas within Honshu include Shizuoka (a prefecture bounded between the Pacific Ocean and Mount Fuji), where most of the nation's tea is produced, and Uji (in the the Kyoto Prefecture), where some of Japan's most prized teas are grown. Regardless of region, very nearly all of the tea produced in Japan is green tea. (There are very small amounts of black tea and a fermented type of tea made as a novelty or out of tradition, but this is pretty much negligible compared to the huge amount of green tea grown there.)
South and Central American Tea Production Regions
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Guatemala all produce tea. Most of it is blended into cheap teabags, but there is some orthodox tea production in Bolivia and Guatemala. Almost all tea the tea produced is black, although tea author/authority Jane Pettigrew said Bolivia does produce some green tea during an interview I conducted with her.
Sri Lankan Tea Production Regions
Formerly known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka became a major player in tea production shortly after its coffee crops failed in 1869. The island continues to produce mostly orthodox teas today. The tea production regions of Sri Lanka include:
- Nuwara Eliya
- Uda Pussellawa
The most noted of the regions are Dimbulla, Nuwara Eliya and Uva.
Taiwanese Tea Production Regions
Formerly known as Formosa, Taiwan is primarily known for its superb oolongs, including pouchongs, which some classify as green teas because they are so lightly oxidized. Tea regions within Taiwan are associated with mountains. In fact, "shan," which appears in many of the regions' names, means "mountain" or "mountain range." Each region is known for different teas.
- Ali Shan (a.k.a. 'Alishan' or 'A Li Shan')
- Li Shan (a.k.a. Lishan)
- Shan Lin Xi (a.k.a. Shanlinxi)
- Taipei (and nearby Muzha and Maokong)
- Wen Shan / Ping Lin
United States Tea Production Regions
Tea is produced on a small scale in Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, South Carolina and Alabama.
Hawaii is becoming known for its hand-produces teas. South Carolina is known for its Bigelow-owned plantation.
Roy Fong of Imperial Tea Court has purchased land outside the San Francisco area with the intention of growing tea there. Given that San Francisco is to tea what Seattle was to coffee in the 1990s, this could be a major event in the specialty tea industry.
Other Asian Tea Production Regions
- Bangladesh (These are mostly black teas. There is a movement toward Fair Trade and organic production.)
- Indonesia (Java and Sumatra mostly produce green teas, but also make some black CTC teas and oolongs.)
- Iran (Most Iranian black tea is consumed within Iran.)
- Malaysia (In addition to producing some teas, Malaysia is known for its collections of Chinese yan cha and aged pu-erh.)
- Nepal (Nepal has recently begun to produce some excellent less-than-fully-oxidized black teas that are similar in flavor to those from its neighbor, Darjeeling.)
- Russia and some other countries that were in the former USSR
- South Korea (Artisanal green teas from South Korea are currently gaining a following in the U.S. specialty market. The best ones are usually made by monks in remote mountains.)
- Thailand (Some Taiwanese oolong producers are relocating to Thailand for lower land and labor costs. A few are beginning to produce good oolongs there.)
- Vietnam (After producing mostly low-grade teas for many years, some producers are now making quality teas.)
Other Tea Production Regions
- Azores (part of Portugal; has grown tea plants outdoors to produce green and black teas since 1878)
- Georgia (This Eurasian country produces small batches of handmade black teas that are being popularized within the specialty tea community by tea consultant/wholesaler Nigel Mellican.)
- New Zealand (which has produced a new line of oolongs known as "Zealong")
- Papua New Guinea
- United Kingdom (Tea is grown in greenhouses and sold for large sums.)