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Teas from around the World

There are more than 1500 different teas to choose from, grown in more than 25 listed producer countries all around the world. The countries covered here, all members of the Tea Council except China, produce 79% of world tea and 86% of world exports. Teas can be defined by origin - for example India, Sri Lanka, Africa, China and Indonesia - or by methods of blending.

teas from India | teas from Sri Lanka | teas from Africa | teas from China | teas from Indonesia | some speciality blends

Teas from India

India is one of the main tea growers, exporting more than 14% of the world's tea and with over 400,000 hectares under cultivation. Although indigenous to the Assam region, the first commercially produced teas were raised from seeds brought from China. By the 1840s, India was producing regular shipments for sale at auction in London, and gradually the planting of estates grew throughout the country from Nilgiri in the south to Darjeeling in the north.

The plantations range from low-grown areas (sea level up to 2000ft) to high-grown (more than 4000 ft high). Generally plucked from March to October, each area produces teas of distinctive character. The Tea Board of India has endorsed several speciality blends so that their quality and consistency is assured.

Principal specialities are:

  • India Tea
  • Assam
  • Darjeeling
  • Nilgiri

India Tea
A blend of teas from all parts of India, this is often served as afternoon tea or after a meal. It is full-bodied, refreshing and with delicate hints of its regional origins.

Assam is a major growing area covering the Brahmaputra valley, stretching from the Himalayas down to the Bay of Bengal. There are 655 estates covering some 168,000 hectares. Assam tea has distinctive flecked brown and gold leaves known as "orange" when dried. In flavour it is robust, bright with a smooth malt pungency and is perfect as the first cup of tea of the day.

Regarded as the "Champagne of Teas," Darjeeling is grown on 100 estates on the foothills of the Himalayas, on over 18,000 hectares at about 7000 ft. Light and delicate in flavour and aroma, and with undertones of muscatel, Darjeeling is an ideal complement to dinner or afternoon tea. The first "flushes" (pluckings) are thought to produce the best Darjeeling vintage but all crops are of very high quality.

The Nilgiri region, situated in southern India, forms a high hilly plateau at the conjunction of the Eastern and Western Ghat mountains. More than 20,000 smallholders grow and pluck tea with some 37,000 hectares under cultivation. Most Nilgiri teas are used for blending, but there is a rapidly growing demand for the speciality tea of the area. Nilgiri has a bright amber colour when liquored, with a refreshing, crisp bouquet and taste.

Teas from Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has over 220,0000 hectares under tea cultivation yielding about 240,000 tonnes of "made" tea, and accounting for over 21% of world exports. In 1972, the island then known as Ceylon reverted to the traditional name of Sri Lanka, but retained the name of Ceylon for the marketing of teas.

Tea from Sri Lanka falls into three categories: low-grown (on estates up to 2000 ft high); medium grown (between 2000 and 4000 ft); and high grown (over 4000 ft ). Each level produces teas of unique character. By blending teas from different areas of the island, Sri Lanka can offer a very wide range of flavour and colour. Some are full-bodied, others light and delicate, but all Ceylon blends will have brisk full flavours and bright golden colour.

Because of the geographical location, tea can be plucked in Sri Lanka all year round: the west and east of the island are divided by central mountains so that as each region's season ends, the other begins.

Principal specialities are:

  • Ceylon Blend
  • Dimbula
  • Nuwara Eliya
  • Uva

Probably the most famous of Ceylon teas, Dimbula is cultivated on estates first planted with tea when their coffee crops failed in 1870. Grown 5000 ft above sea level, all Dimbula teas are light and bright in colour with a crisp strong flavour which leaves the mouth feeling fresh and clean.

Uva is a fine flavoured tea from the eastern slopes of the Central Mountains in Sri Lanka. It is bright in colour and has a dry, crisp taste. Uva teas make an ideal morning drink or an after-lunch tea.

Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara teas are light and delicate in character, bright in colour and with a fragrant flavour. Their excellence is particularly heightened when taken with lemon rather than milk.

Teas from Africa

As the most recent of the tea producing countries, African countries have been able to build on the experience of other producers. As a result, Africa is now a major force in world tea, producing teas of high quality and good bright colour which are used for blending all over the world. Four countries in Africa, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, produce a total of about 25% of world exports amounting to some 250,000 tonnes.

One of the oldest of the African producers, Kenya has a history of tea dating back to 1903, when tea seeds from India were first planted on a two acre farm. Today, Kenya has 69000 hectares under cultivation by smallholders (shambas), under the aegis of the Kenya Tea Development Authority, and tea producing companies in the public and private sector, Kenya exports over 180,000 tonnes of tea per year (18% of world exports). Kenya's equatorial climate allows tea growing all year round. The teas are very bright, colourful, with a reddish coppery tint and a pleasant brisk flavour. Kenya speciality tea is ideal as a drink for any time of day: it is also blended into many famous British brands.

Malawi is the pioneer of tea growing in Africa, with production first starting commercially in the 1880s in Mulanje. Now exporting over 35,000 tonnes annually, Malawi has a 4% share of world exports and is mainly responsible for the spread of tea cultivation in Africa. Malawi was the first African country to adopt the cloning method of estate refurbishment. Although Malawi teas are not so well known as speciality teas, their superb colour and brightness lends them admirably to use in the blending of leading British tea brands.  


Tea production in Tanzania is thought to be the legacy of German colonisation under the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II, but its real development took place under British estate ownership between the two World Wars. Tanzania now exports over 18,000 tonnes of tea annually.These different altitudes result in distinct tea characteristics, but all Tanzanian teas are bright in colour with a brisk flavour that makes them ideal for use in blending.

Tea production in Zimbabwe could begin commercially only after the successful establishment of irrigated tea estates. With an average annual rainfall of not more than 26 inches per annum (as opposed to the 50 plus inches per annum usually required), irrigation is essential to continuous cultivation: and Zimbabwe now exports over 8000 tonnes of tea per year. Today, tea is a "controlled" commodity in Zimbabwe so that its quality and industry growth are protected.

Teas from China

Known as the birthplace of tea, for hundreds of years China produced the only teas known to the western world. Although consuming much of her own production, China still accounts for over 18% of world exports. With some exceptions - such as Lapsang Souchong, Gunpowder and Keemun - most teas from China are not easily found in the general marketplace.

Principal specialties are:

  • Black teas
  • Green teas
  • Oolong teas
  • White teas
  • Flavoured and Scented teas
  • Compressed teas

Black Teas
Lapsang Souchong is perhaps the most famous, the best coming from the hills in north Fujian. Its unique smokey and tarry taste is acquired through drying over pine wood fires. Keemun and Yunnan are lesser known teas from Anhui and Yunnan with strong malty flavours.

Green Teas
These are unfermented teas, highly favoured by the Chinese themselves, the most well-known being; Longjing (Dragonwell) from Zheijiang; Gunpowder (its name deriving from a similarity in appearance to early powder and shot); Taiping Hon Kui (Monkey King) from Anhui; and Youngxi Huo Qing (Firegreen). 

Oolong Teas
Grown in the Fuijan province, these are semi-fermented or "semi-green" teas with flavours varying from light and delicate to very strong. Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) and Se Zhong are both thick strong teas with colour: more light flavoured Oolongs are Huan jin qui (Yellow golden flower), Shu Xian (Water Fairy), Da Hong Pao (Great red robe), Loui gui (Meat flower) and Wuyi yan (Bohea Rock).

White Teas
Esteemed by the Scholar Emperor Hui Zong in 1107 above all others, white teas are the rarest in the world. Traditionally picked only at daybreak in four provinces of north east Fuijan, it has a mellow sweet taste and delicate flavour. Types of blend now exported include: China white, Fujian white, Flowery Pekoe and Bai Mu Dan (White Peony).

Flavoured or Scented Teas
China produces many kinds of teas delightfully flavoured with flowers. The most famous is Jasmine tea from Fuzhou, dried with the blossoms in green teas: others include Rose Congou (scented with rose petals): Osmanthus, Magnolia, Orchid, Chloranthus, Lichee and Earl Grey. 

Compressed Teas
Before the 14th Century, all tea was made into compressed tea, after which time it was dried by hand into many shapes such as eyebrow curves, flat bamboo leaves or round pearls. Compressed tea is now made in the Yunnan and Hunan provinces as rectangular, brick, square or flat round shapes

Teas from Indonesia

Tea has been part of the way of life in Indonesia for more than 200 years. Situated in the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Indonesia forms an island chain stretching from Malaysia to Papua New Guinea. Java and Sumatra, two of the largest islands, are the main growing areas.

The Dutch founded the tea trade in Indonesia in the 1700s. Tea from Indonesia, India and Ceylon dominated the black market in Britain and Europe until World War II.

After the war, the Indonesian tea estates were in very poor condition. Wrecked factories and tea bushes that had reverted to their wild state were just two of the problems which faced the country.

By 1984, after a lot of hard work and investment, tea exports from Indonesia began to make their mark on the tea market. Since that time, improvement in tea production and replanting of old estates has continued, with the factories investing in new machinery. By the end of 1994, Indonesia had some 128,000 hectares under tea cultivation, with 57,000 of these being on Java. In 1994, Indonesia exported over 80,000 tonnes of tea, accounting for over 8% of world exports.

Teas from Indonesia are light and flavoursome. Most are sold for blending purposes as this produces good financial rewards through foreign exchange for the country. In recent years, however, it has become possible to buy Indonesian tea as a speciality.

It is extremely refreshing taken without milk: garnished with lemon, it makes an ideal drink for the figure-conscious.

Some Speciality Blends

Speciality teas not only take their name from their country of origin, but also from times of day or people's names: or from the way in which natural substances are added as flavours.

Examples are:

  • English Breakfast
  • Afternoon Tea
  • Earl Grey
  • Flavoured Teas

English Breakfast
This is traditionally a pungent blend of Assam and Ceylon teas that help to digest a full English breakfast and get the day off to a good brisk start. The essence of early morning tea, or as the Indians call it "bed" tea, is its strength and ability to wake and stimulate the metabolism. Many English Breakfast blends also include tea from Africa to give a coppery brightness to the colour. 

Afternoon Tea
A blend of delicate Darjeeling tea and high-grown Ceylon tea to produce a refreshing and light tea, Afternoon Tea also makes a ideal companion to cucumber sandwiches, cream pastries and fruit cake. The essence of Afternoon Tea blends is not their strength but their flavour.

Earl Grey
Said to have been blended for the second Earl Grey by a mandarin after a successful diplomatic mission with China, the blend was originally made from black China tea and treated with the natural oil of the citrus bergamot fruit. Earl Grey is renowned for its perfumed aroma and flavour. Nowadays the teas used in Earl Grey vary, and there are as many perceptions of Earl Grey as there are Earl Grey drinkers on account of the interaction between bergamot oil and different teas. 

Flavoured Teas
These are real teas (Camellia Sinensis), blended with fruit, spices or herbs. Fruit flavoured tea such as apple or blackcurrant, is real tea blended with fruit peel or treated with the natural fruit juice or oil known as zest. Spiced and herb teas, such as cinnamon, nutmeg or mint, are also real teas blended with spice or herb. Tisanes such as Camomile, Peppermint or Nettle, or the misnamed "fruit teas", do not contain one leaf of real tea.

source: The Tea Council

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