Tea is one of the oldest beverages in the world, and has been consumed by humans for thousands of years. In that time it has become even more popular around the world, sparking people’s desire to travel for tea and enjoy it in many forms at home.
Would you take a tea vacation? Imagine visiting the tea plantations, learning about the production of tea from the people who farm it every day. Watching the leaves be prepared and dried.
Tea is a hugely popular beverage in countries such as China, Japan, India, Great Britain, Turkey, and many more. While not all of those countries have tea facilities you can visit, there’s always tea drinking and learning to be done!
If you thought that making a cup of tea was simply a case of throwing a tea bag into a mug and covering it with boiling water, prepare to have your mind blown. On a tea tour, you’ll learn all about how tea is made and how each type of tea differs in how it’s made.
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How is Tea Made?
Did you know that all types of tea are made from the same plant? It’s called the Camellia sinesis plant. No matter what type of tea you’re drinking – whether it’s black, oolong, green, white, or pu-erh – it all comes from this plant, which grows different varieties of leaves in different regions.
It’s the processing of the tea leaves that give it the uniqueness we associate with different teas. Most of the process comes down to oxidization. The more oxidized the leaves, the darker the brew will be. So for black teas, the leaves are heavily oxidized, while green tea is less so.
Almost every type of tea leaf goes through an extensive process of plucking, withering, rolling, oxidation and drying, or firing.
These are the things you would learn from a tour of a tea factory. It’s much like the process for making wine or beer. There are steps that must be followed to make the perfect product.
Where Did Tea Originate?
You probably won’t be too surprised to hear that tea originated in southeast Asia and was introduced to other countries from that one epicenter.
There are medical texts from southwest China dating the drinking of tea for medicinal reasons back to the 3rd century AD. That’s an extremely long history for tea.
5 Fun Facts About Tea
I love fun facts, and there are actually quite a few having to do with tea – so why not!
- It takes around 2,000 tiny leaves to make just one pound of finished tea.
- China is the biggest producer of tea and supplies nearly 29 percent of the world’s total, with India coming in a close second.
- There is an estimated 1,500 different types of tea
- An estimated 85% of tea that is consumed in the United States is iced tea.
- Over 3 million tons of tea is produced every year worldwide.
Here we’ll be looking at the top tea producing countries. These are also the best countries for tea lovers. Let’s begin by travelling to China.
Top Tea Producers Around the World
Tea is synonymous with China, and it is thought that the camellia sinensis plant, also known as the tea plant, actually originated in this very country. It is thought that Emperor Shennong was the first to enjoy tea in the way that we know it.
The story goes that he and his men were camped out in the hills one blustery day, boiling a pot of water. A gust of wind blew the leaves from a tea plant into the water, which went undetected. When emperor Shennong drank his water, he instantly found that it tasted wonderful, and made him feel vibrant and alert (thanks to the caffeine).
Soon after, tea was drank for health reasons and was used in many Chinese rituals. Buddhist monks would often brew tea to help keep them awake during prolonged meditation sessions. Green and black teas were, and still are, very popular in China.
Japan has had a long-standing love affair with tea, primarily green tea. Though tea originated in China, it made its way over to Japan thanks to Buddhism, or rather, the Buddhist monks who had been stationed in China, who were returning back to their home country of Japan.
Buddhist monks returned to Japan with the seeds from the camellia sinensis (tea) plant. The Japanese quickly fell in love with tea and would drink it during special occasions and celebrations. Japanese tea ceremonies became customary, and they still are to this very day.
Having learned from the Chinese, the Japanese began planting tea seeds and cultivating tea plants. Originally cultivation was performed in Uji, and this is where Uji tea, one of the most popular Japanese varieties of tea, originated.
There are many popular tea varieties native to Japan, including Matcha, a vibrant powdered green tea that is renowned for its health benefits. You can visit a tea plantation in Shimada, just 2 hours from Tokyo by train.
A tour of the plantation will give you an insider view into the making of tea. In Japan, tea ceremonies are also a popular activity. You can participate and learn the traditions that surround this time-honored ceremony.
Next up we’ll look at tea in India. Tea is thought to have made its way over to India from China, thanks to the silk caravans. You might be surprised to learn that the British introduced India to tea.
They were aiming to takeover the tea monopoly from China and converted large swaths of land in India to tea production. Now India is the second-largest producer of tea – though they consume most of what they grow in country.
Assam makes up 50% of the total tea production in India, making it one of the largest growing areas in the world. It’s named after the region of India where it’s grown, Assam, India. You’ve likely had assam before in your breakfast and black tea blends. However, it is also being made into high-quality loose leaf tea with its own growing reputation.
You can visit tea plantations in Darjeeling. Around 25% of India’s total tea output comes from Darjeeling. You can stay at the boutique Glenburn Tea Estate for an unforgettable experience.
A good time to visit is March to November for tea plucking. Assam and Kerala are two other popular destinations for tea lovers.
Have you ever had Ceylon tea? It comes from the major tea-producing country of Sri Lanka, which used to be called Ceylon. Sri Lanka is the world’s fourth-largest producer of tea – making mostly ceylon black, green and white varieties.
The humidity, cool temperatures, and rainfall of the country’s central highlands makes for the perfect climate for producing high-quality tea. As in other close-by regions, tea production was brought to Sri Lanka in the 1800s by a British planter.
You can visit some tea factories in Sri Lanka, like the Handunugoda Tea Estate, where you will learn about the process, the tea leaves, and have a tea tasting to see for yourself why the tea from Sri Lanka is so special.
Although South Africa does produce some black teas, it’s not a mass producer of it, by any means. That doesn’t mean that South Africa is eliminated as one of the top places in the world for tea, though. A different type of tea is grown there.
Rooibos tea, also known as red tea, is an herbal “tea” that is made from the Aspalathus linearis bush, which grows in the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa. In case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced roy-buhs.
Unlike teas that are made from the leaves of a tea plant, Rooibos is instead made from the leaves or shoots of a tall bush. Because of this difference, rooibos looks very different from, say, black tea.
You can visit some of the tea producers in South Africa, and I’d highly recommend it for the chance to see the Rooibus and Honeybush teas being made.
When people think of the Brits, tea is one of the first images that comes to mind. Tea was introduced to the Brits, back in the 17th century by King Charles II and his wife. It made its way over thanks to traders from Portugal and Holland.
Ironically it was coffee houses in the UK that got the Brits hooked on tea. They fell in love with it. By 1750 it was the drink of choice for the lower classes of Britain, and soon to be the countries favorite drink, as well.
Popular varieties of tea in England include English Breakfast (the likes of PG Tips and Yorkshire Gold) as well as Earl Grey. You can, of course, order either of those choices to accompany your afternoon tea or cream tea in England.
The tradition of afternoon tea, perhaps surprisingly, didn’t come around until the mid-1800s, when Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, had a fantastic idea. She managed to make tea with bread and cake in the afternoon a fashionable thing to do.
Now, you can find afternoon tea and cream tea (which consists of just tea and scones) all over England.
We generally don’t think of Ireland when it comes to tea consumption, but actually, per capita, Ireland consumes more tea than England. It made its way to Ireland thanks to the upper classes. Sadly, by the time it reached Ireland, as incomes were so low, people could only afford weak, poor-quality tea leaves.
To help enhance the taste, the tea was brewed slowly for hours at a time, often the whole day. Cream and milk was also added to counter the strong taste. Assam was the tea often used by the Irish, as others such as Darjeeling, were simply too weak.
Turkish tea, though it was in the country thanks to the Silk Road trade during the 1500s, was not actually adopted as a part of everyday life until the late 1800s.
The governor of Adana published documents mentioning the health benefits of tea, and people began sampling it, and falling in love with it.
Turkish tea has a rich and strong flavor, and is often drank from small glasses in the shape of a tulip. Traditionally, it is served with two individual sugar cubes. Milk is never added.
Don’t Wait to Discover the Best Tea in the World
So, what do you think? Is a tea vacation something you’d be interested in? I personally love traveling to learn about things like this, and since I love tea so much, it’s the perfect way to see a new country and learn about tea at the same time.
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Laura is the founder and editor of the travel blogs Savored Sips and Savored Journeys. She is dedicated to sharing the best information about drinks found around the world.