Where does your tea come from? That depends. There are many tea-growing countries around the world, including the United States and England, which grow relatively marginal amounts of the stuff. But in all likelihood the tea you’re consuming right now comes from one of the world’s top five producers. In order of output they are China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Turkey.
China was the first of these to produce tea on a large-scale basis, and it was Chinese tea that first became popular in Europe. Acceptance was slow at first, but it eventually caught on, particularly in England, whose citizens took to it with a passion. By the time of the early nineteenth century tea had become a way of life for the British and was being imported from China in sizable quantities.
Which left the British at the mercy of Chinese suppliers and found them casting around for a place to grow tea. They decided on India, where they had already established a presence, and began to make it a center of tea production. The story of how this came about is one that contains no small amount of intrigue, as the British actually sent spies to China to attempt to wrest from them their very closely guarded secrets of tea cultivation.
India became a powerhouse of tea production and still is to this day, primarily in three main regions. Of these, the state of Assam, in the northeastern corner of the country, is the most notable and is one of the largest tea-growing regions in the world. Most tea produced here is black tea for the mass market mostly of middling quality. But tea connoisseurs will find a number of gardens turning out high-quality single-estate teas that are the equal of any others.
India’s Darjeeling region is arguably one of the best-known tea growing regions in the world. In terms of quantity, there’s not really much tea grown there. What there is is most often a lighter grade of high-quality black tea that’s among the most coveted varieties among true tea lovers. Because so little tea is grown in Darjeeling and because it’s considered to be so desirable, counterfeiting has been a significant problem. Buyers are advised to beware and to frequent trusted tea merchants.
Last and probably destined to be least, for the near future anyway, is India’s Nilgiri region, which is a mountainous area in the southern part of the country. Like the tea produced in Assam and Darjeeling, Nilgiri’s tea is also primarily of the black variety and varies widely in quality.
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