Water is life for all humans. Whatever form it may take it is a necessary beverage that all living things need to survive. Coming out of that necessity and humanity's intrinsic desire for improvement and innovation, humans have come up with a variety of different ways of taking in water, from flavored sodas to coffee. While they all operate off a base of liquid, they can vary wildly in their taste and content and nowhere is this variation more prevalent than in the world of tea. Tea originated from Southeast Asia and is a major player in social functions and in terms of economic value. Many countries are known for their distinctive tea flavors and high production rates of the beverage, with the following countries coming in as some of the world's largest tea-producing nations.
China produces over 2 million tons of tea, making it the world's largest producer of tea. Tea is a key part of the social fabric of the country and has always played a role in economic development and daily life. Tea was supposedly created in this civilization in 2737 BCE when Emperor Shennong drank boiled water that by chance leaves had fallen into. The emperor had an interest in science and had passed an edict that all drinking water had to be boiled for hygienic reasons, and so when he saw the hot water turning a brownish colour from the leaves, it is said he was fascinated and drank the water out of his passion for scientific discovery.
China is known for its multitude of tea types, with popular strains ranging from green to black to Oolong tea. There is also a vibrant culture around tea-drinking with careful attention paid to the taste and the environment in which it is consumed. Tea lore even mixes in the concepts of philosophy, ethics, and morality.
India comes in second on this list at a tea production rate of 1.2 million tons. India was first introduced to tea by the silk caravans that traveled from China to Europe in the years long past. Despite this early connection, it wouldn't be until the British formally introduced the beverage to the culture that it would begin to boom. The country's climate is perfect for cultivating the plants and boasts tea quality on par with China's, and the British had the intent of overthrowing China's monopoly over tea production by cultivating it in their prized colony, India.
Also, like in China, tea is a crucial part of daily life in this country. The tea market in India is huge with tens of thousands of tea gardens spread around the nation, including such popular varieties as Darjeeling and Assam. More than half of the tea produced in India remains in the country for consumption, effectively making this a country of a billion tea drinkers.
Kenya is the next country to grace this list, with a tea production total of 432,400 tons. Though most people don't think of Kenya immediately when it comes to the topic of tea, it is, in fact, the world's largest exporter of black tea, and there are over 500,000 small-scale Kenyan farmers growing tea in the country. Its location near the equator makes for ample sunlight and optimal conditions to grow the plants. The first Kenyan tea bush was seeded in the early 1900s and it's been a staple ever since.
4. Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is the fourth largest tea producing country, making its mark with the 340,230 tons of the plant its citizens grow. It is one of the world's largest exporters of orthodox teas and is particularly well known for its Ceylon teas, named as such because the country was called Ceylon by colonizers in the past. While the country originally produced much more coffee, it switched over to tea after a blight wiped out their crops. Now, tea is the country's main foreign exchange with other countries, and tea production accounts for 2% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).
Rounding out the top five is Vietnam, with a total of 214,300 tons of tea produced. Tea is deeply engrained in the culture and has been for thousands of years. It typically plays out in informal ways with few of the rituals that other nations may have around the activity. Vietnamese people also see tea as a contemplative activity, and as something to be drunk while pursuing scholarly activities.
Though tea has been part of Vietnam for many years, the country only began producing its own in the 1880s when French colonists created tea plantations northwest of Hanoi. Vietnamese tea drinkers typically prefer simple teas with minimal flavors, with green tea coming in as the most popular variety. Lotus tea is also a Vietnamese specialty, made by sealing green tea leaves into a lotus flower and leaving it to sit overnight so the leaves take on the fragrance of the flower.
Beyond just a drink: a set of traditions
Tea and the cultures around it can be complex and multifaceted, as these top five tea-producing countries show. Where one nation might integrate it heavily into daily life and form rituals around its consumption, another might simply export most of theirs or drink it much more casually. And its popularity does not show any indication of declining any time soon, so tea drinkers can rest easy knowing that they'll continue to have access to the many delicious varieties of the world.