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While little is known about the exact origin of tea, for centuries China was the only tea exporting country in the world until it faced stiff competition from India in the early 19th century. Today tea is grown in over forty countries, but the greatest teas of the world are still grown and skillfully produced by just five traditional tea growing countries, China, India, Japan, Sri Lanka and Taiwan.
China along with India is one of the two largest producers of tea in the world. It produces greatest variety of teas including green, black, white, yellow, oolong and pu-erh. China produces large amount of green tea, but exports only around 20-25% as the rest of it is consumed domestically. Majority of Chinese tea export include black tea. In China tea is produced over a large part of the country from Hainan Island down in the extreme south to Shandong Province in the north and from Tibet in the southwest to Taiwan across the Straits. The tea growing areas in China can be divided into four main regions- Jiangbei, Jiangnan, Linglan and the Southwest.
India is one of the leading tea producers and is known for some of the best tea in the world. Over 70% of the tea produced in India is consumed within the country itself while the rest is exported. Majority of the tea produced in India is black, although there is an increasing quantity of green, white and oolong coming from the Indian tea estates now. There are three main tea growing regions in India – Darjeeling, Assam and the Nilgiris. Since there is a wide variation in their location, elevation, climatic conditions and even the tea plant used in each of these regions varying from original Chinese stock to indigenous and hybrid tea plants, it is important to know the origin of Indian teas.
Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon is one of the largest exporters of high quality black tea into the world tea market. Tea grown in Sri Lanka is classified into three main varieties depending on the altitude in which the plant grows. The low-grown varieties are cultivated up to 600 meters and yield a strong, dark infusion used mostly in blends; the mid-grown from 600 to 1200 meters and the high-grown, between 1200 to 2300 meters, give the best quality.
Japan is the only major tea producing country in the world to almost exclusively process only green tea, around 97% of which is consumed internally. Its three major tea-growing regions are Shizuoka, Kagoshima, and Uji. Japanese teas are prepared in three styles – pan-fired, basket-fired and natural leaf. Within these styles there are several quality levels: Bancha, Sencha and Gyokuro. The vast majority of production is the middle quality grade Sencha. In addition, there are other teas like the Matcha which is a powdered green tea used in the Japanese tea ceremonies.
Taiwan was formerly known as Formosa and so Taiwanese tea is still referred to as Formosa tea. Taiwan is famous for its Oolong although it produces green and black teas too. Tea is grown in many areas in Taiwan but the best variety comes from the higher altitudes. Some of the better known Oolongs include Dongding Oolong, Alishan Oolong, Pouchong, Shanlinxi Oolong, Jade Mountain Oolong, Dong Fang Mei Ren, Da Yu Ling Oolong, Li Shan Oolong, etc.