The World of Tea

January 14, 2015

Each year, over three million tons of tea are produced and exported/imported all over the world. Nobody knows the exact number of varieties around the world, but it is estimated that around 3,500 different “types” of tea exist, and all varieties of plants have been proven to have originally come from one plant species. That’s right! It is a common misconception that there are thousands of species of tea plants. There are six main types of tea, but even these come from a relative of the original ancestor plant. What makes the variety in teas is actually determined by what point in its growth that the leaf is picked, as well as the processing that it goes through after having been harvested. This will determine whether the leaf will end up as black, oolong, green, white, herbal, or flavored tea.

Most countries that produce large amounts of tea are near the equator. Around 90% of the world’s entire supply comes from a collection of five countries: China, India, Sri Lanka, Japan and Indonesia. There are two main species varieties of the Camellia Sinensis plant. One variety, which is called Thea Sinensis, is mainly native to China. The second, Thea Assamica, is mainly native to India. There are many crossbreeds, and these are found in the other main tea-producing countries, as well as China and India. While these tea leaves vary very little in taste, there are thousands of flavors and types of tea. It’s the way the tea leaves are processed that gives us the different teas, as well as their different tastes, colors and scents.

Another factor that may determine taste and quality is the place that the tea is grown. Tea is a lot like wine. The climate in which the plant is grown can dramatically change the flavor of the tea. The more acidic the soil, and rainfall a tea plant receives, the better the tea plant will do, and the better quality the final tea product will be. While tea can be grown in altitudes up to 1 ½ miles above sea level, there are still climates in which it is very difficult or impossible to grow tea within.

In order to assure the best quality possible, many tea farms hand-pick the tea leaves. This is because machines can not pick the leaves carefully enough without destroying, damaging, or losing the leaves. There are two times a year that harvesters go out, into the fields, and hand-pick the tea leaves. The first harvest is usually in early spring and is called the “first flush.” The second harvest comes during the summer, and it is called the “second flush.” Before both of these harvests, workers keep a close eye on each and every plant, going great lengths to ensure the plants are well-pruned and kept. Once it is time to harvest, only the top two leaves and leaf bud are picked. Once the tea leaves are picked, they are then prepped for processing.