If you’re a tea lover, you’d never give up your daily fix for all the tea in China. But did you ever sit down with a steaming cup of tea and wonder, where is tea grown anyway? Does it still all come from China?
Tea is grown worldwide, most often in locations with warm, humid climates, plenty of rain, and mild winters. The countries that produce the most tea are:
- Sri Lanka
While there once was a time when tea was only grown in China and India, it is now grown on many continents: Asia, Africa, South America and the area near the Caspian and Black Seas, to name a few.
Below, we’ve included some of the highest tea producing countries, as well as some newcomers to the tea game that might surprise you.
Top Tea Growing Countries Around the World
While tea is produced in over 50 countries, 75% of the world’s tea comes from China, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka.
The following list covers these four tea powerhouses, along with 19 other countries worldwide that currently produce the bulk of the world’s tea, listed from greatest production to least. (Source: Food And Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 2018 data.)
Most tea we’ll be talking about from this list is made from the camellia sinensis plant, but there are two other varieties we’ll be mentioning:
- Camellia assamica: mostly grown in Northern India, specifically Assam
- Camellia sinensis parviflora: grown in Cambodia
Tea variety and flavor can vary from country to country and even from region to region within the same country. Some of this has to do with how it’s processed, but the climate and environment also has a lot to do with the final tea product.
China is known as the birthplace of tea, and the drink was perfected here some 5,000 years ago. China currently vies with India as the top tea producer in the world.
Most of the tea in China is grown in the southern regions, where the climate is moderate and has a stable amount of precipitation throughout the year. Many tea plantations are on the sides of hills or in the mountains, which tend to have higher levels of humidity.
China produces a variety of teas, the most popular of which are:
- Hei Cha
Tea plantations in China are treated with a great deal of respect, as being both important for the economy and symbols of a longstanding tradition; this is especially true in the southwest, which has the oldest tea history in the country.
India gives China a run for its money when it comes to the annual amount of tea produced.
Interestingly, although China is known as the birthplace of tea, the tea plant, camellia sinensis, is actually native to India. It’s thought that it was brought from India to China thousands of years ago for cultivation since it’s not found in the wild anywhere outside India.
Most of the tea produced in India is black tea, but the country also has vast amounts of:
Two popular black teas, Darjeeling and Assam, are produced in regions of those names.
Tea is grown in several regions in India, mostly along the north, northeast, and south. Because India’s climate varies so drastically from region to region, teas grown in different areas will often have completely different characteristics.
Kenya is the greatest tea producer outside of Asia and is known for innovation when it comes to tea blends and hybrids. Kenya has developed hardier tea plants that can better withstand harsh climates, as well as a purple tea plant. They sell mostly black tea, but also:
- White matcha
- Purple tea
- Silver needle
Unlike many other countries, most of the tea in Kenya is grown on small farms, rather than large, centralized enterprises. Although most of Kenya’s climate isn’t conducive to tea growing, areas of a higher altitude in the west have enough precipitation to grow tea successfully.
Sri Lanka’s teas are mostly grown in central and southern Sri Lanka’s mountains and foothills.
Sri Lankan teas are often broken into several categories:
- Low-latitude, which often have a more robust, maltier flavor profile
- High-latitude, which tend to be lighter and more delicate and “grassy” tasting
- Mid-latitude, which are somewhere between the other two categories
Sri Lankan teas aren’t blended, but vary in color, strength, and taste depending on the region they’re from:
- Nuwara Eliya: amber-colored, flowery, jasmine taste
- Uva: copper-colored and mellow
- Dimbula: full bodies, astringent
- Kandy: full-bodied
- Galle: very strong tasting
Most of the teas exported from Sri Lanka are green or black.
Tea is grown throughout Vietnam, but the north and central highlands produce the most tea for export. The tropical south is a strong contender, though, with more precipitation all year round, as opposed to the north’s dry winters.
The tea grown in Vietnam is mostly green, but they also produce:
A country newer to commercial tea growing, Vietnam mostly exports teas to the rest of Asia. Their specialty blends are slowly gaining popularity throughout the rest of the world, though, as worldwide interest in tea continues to grow.
Tea in Turkey is grown in a small region called Rize, along the Black Sea. Most of the Turkish tea is black and is meant to be drunk with sugar but no milk.
Although Turkey is the fifth largest tea producer globally, the country’s strong tea culture means that most of the tea produced stays in the country for domestic use, rather than being exported.
The warm weather and fertile soils of Indonesia make it a perfect country for growing tea. Although there are tea plantations dotted throughout the country, most exported tea is from west or central Java, and north Sumatra.
Tea is an important crop in Indonesia, most of it being exported. The most common tea types from Indonesia are:
The country also produces a good deal of rooibos, which is made from the red bush plant, rather than the camellia sinensis plant that “true teas” come from.
Most people will be surprised to learn that Iran is one of the world’s top 10 tea producers.
Although most of the country is far too dry to grow tea plants in, a small area in the north along the Caspian Sea is conducive to tea growing. Interestingly, the area gets so cold a couple of times a year that the plants go into hibernation, which is unusual for most tea plantations.
These cold snaps work to the farmers’ benefit, though, as any pests living on the plants are killed off twice a year without the use of chemicals.
Almost all the tea grown in Iran is black tea. The country tends to keep the higher quality teas for domestic sales and exports the rest.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, grows tea in the Northeastern part of the country, although its production is overshadowed by its near neighbors China and India.
Most of the tea here is sold domestically, and is:
Myanmar is one of the few countries in which tea is eaten as well as drunk. Burmese cuisine features a dish called laphet, which is pickled tea leaves.
Tea is grown in much of southern Japan, where cold snaps are rare, and the soil is adequately well-draining.
It’s not surprising that Japan grows tea since it’s an integral part of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Japan produces almost exclusively green and powdered matcha tea. However, as we’ve discovered in the previous countries, the environment in which tea is grown, including weather, humidity, and amount of sunlight, can drastically alter the flavor of finished tea.
The main types of Japanese tea are:
The first South American country on our list, Argentina has a strong tea culture of its own and a healthy tea export business.
Most of the tea grown in Argentina is grown in the subtropical northeast of the country. Although most of the country isn’t suitable for tea growing, the small area that does grow it produces about 1% of the world’s tea.
Argentinian tea is known for its mild flavor and is mass-produced to be used in blends, rather than having a variety to choose from like in other countries. Argentina also produces a fair amount of yerba mate, which, like rooibos, is not a “true tea,” as it’s made from the yerba mate plant rather than from the tea plant.
Japanese green tea is processed differently than Chinese green tea, with the leaves being steamed after being picked, rather than pan-roasted.
Bangladesh sits between India and Myanmar and has a very similar warm, humid climate that’s just right for growing tea.
This small country produces:
Bangladesh has a strong tea culture, with tea being one of the cheapest drinks in the country. Therefore, it has an excellent domestic market for the tea produced there, although a good portion of it is exported as well.
Uganda’s tropical climate and rich soil make it an ideal place to grow tea. The country has a long history of tea cultivation, but unfortunately, due to political upheaval and warfare, tea processing operations were all but wiped out nearly 40 years ago.
The good news is that Uganda is slowly but surely getting its tea industry back on its feet. However, it’s currently only available to be used in blends rather than single-origin varieties.
Tea was introduced to this East African country in 1931.
Tea is the second-largest agricultural export of this country behind coffee. Nearly all tea production is exported.
Most of Thailand’s tea is grown in the north, in and near Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The tropical climate produces high-quality teas, which are often still picked and processed by hand.
Most of the tea out of Thailand is:
Black tea from Thailand is combined with spices to make the popular Thai iced tea.
Although Thailand is a top tea producer globally, most of its exported teas don’t make it out of Asia, so it’s not well-known in other parts of the world.
The south of the country is where most tea from Malawi is grown. The area has been growing tea since the late 1800s.
Because of Malawi’s somewhat harsh climate, hardier strains of the tea plant are used here, along with irrigation rather than relying on natural precipitation.
Almost all the tea produced in Malawi is from large-scale commercial operations making black teas. However, there are a handful of smaller farms that produce specialty teas along with:
Because the tea plants in Malawi are mature, the black tea produced here is incredibly rich and full-flavored.
Other Tea Growing Countries
These next few countries don’t grow a lot of tea. Some are up and coming players in the tea game that may just surprise us in the future. Others have long tea traditions but have been hampered by political or civil unrest.
What was once a delicacy that could only be gotten by traveling the historic Tea Horse Road (or Southern Silk Road) to Asia is now grown in more than 50 countries.
The wide variety of these countries shows just how popular tea is around the globe.
Cameroon has been growing tea for about a hundred years. The primary tea is processed as black, but the characteristics depend on where in the country it’s grown:
- High Altitude: classic full-flavored black tea
- Mid Altitude: high quality, bright flavored black tea
- Low Altitude: medium strength black tea
Taiwan’s tea growing regions extend the island’s length and are mostly in the central mountain ranges. The tropical and subtropical climates provide the warmth needed for healthy tea plants, and the regular mountain fog offers moisture.
The tea produced in Taiwan varies depending on the region, but it’s almost all:
Tea in Taiwan is harvested and processed using both human labor and machines, depending on the region, terrain, and size of the operation.
South Korea’s tea growing regions are mostly in the south of the country, where production ranges from large-scale operations to small, family-run farms.
The tea processing in South Korea doesn’t follow one style but incorporates both Chinese-style pan-frying and Japanese-style steaming of the leaves. This allows the country to produce many varieties of teas, all with unique characteristics.
Green tea is by far the most popular tea produced here, but there are also:
- Balhyocha (semi-oxidized black, similar to oolong)
As you can see, the varieties of teas that come from South Korea mean that there’s something for everyone, whether you prefer something light and sweet, or rich and full.
Most of the tea produced in Nepal is grown in the east, although much of the small country is suitable for tea growing.
The eastern region is very near to Darjeeling in India, and the tea is very similar, due to the growing conditions being nearly identical. The high elevation contributes to the unique flavor, causing the leaves to mature more slowly before being plucked.
Like many countries that have gone through periods of political turmoil and civil unrest, Nepal’s tea production isn’t what it once was, though it’s recovering more each year.
Most tea from Nepal that is produced is black.
The subtropical climate near the Black Sea is perfect for growing tea, and is, in fact, very near Turkey’s successful tea growing region.
The teas most produced in Georgia are:
Georgia has been growing tea since the 1800s and used to be the fourth largest tea producer in the world. However, its leading buyer was the USSR, so when the USSR collapsed, so did Georgia’s tea industry.
Fortunately, the country is in the midst of what many call a “tea renaissance” and is back up to a ranking of 28 as one of the world’s top tea producers at the moment.
New Zealand, not historically known for producing tea, has lately begun to produce tea. It makes sense if you think about it, with New Zealand’s fertile soil and warm climate.
New Zealand produces:
Although they don’t rank very high on overall tea production, New Zealand makes high quality, small-batch teas.
The United States
The USA isn’t on this list due to being a massive tea producer, but because it shows how far tea has come around the world.
There are only a handful of small tea plantations in the United States, mostly in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast. One of the countries newest to growing tea, it will be interesting to see how the US’s own tea history develops over the next few decades and centuries.
Where Is Your Favorite Tea Grown?
Tea’s appeal hasn’t lessened over the centuries. In fact, interest in tea has grown drastically as travel and trade between countries has improved.
From a delicacy among Chinese nobility to a staple in many people’s kitchens, tea has come a long way. This is also demonstrated by the number of countries currently producing tea, from Asia to Africa, to South and even North America.
Next time you’re choosing a new tea to try, why not try one from a country you haven’t tasted before? You might be pleasantly surprised!