15 Top Tea Exporters and Tea Growing Countries
Many of us know China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka are the top tea exporters and producers in the world. But after them…?? Most of the time we cannot remember the names of the other countries that too produce tea in substantial quantities. Here is a list of top 15 tea producing and exporting countries in the world for you. We have prepared this in order of volume of tea production.
China is the only country in the world with a long glorious history of tea. That is why, no other civilization in the world can boast of a tea tradition that is older than 5000 years. Hence it is little wonder that China is the biggest producer of tea in the world. It produced around 2,400 million kg in 2016, which is increasing significantly each year. No surprise that, in Chinese culture, tea is one of the seven basic necessities of life. Others are firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce and vinegar. Tea is inseparably woven into the history and culture of China.
In proportion to a huge population, the tea consumption in China too is the highest in the world. As per record, China consumed 2,000 million kg of its total production in 2016, which is a whopping 1.5 kg per person per year! Hence it can spare only a small fraction of its total production to the export market. Thus China is the third in the list of largest tea exporters in the world. With total export volume of 332 million kg in the year 2016, its share in the world tea export market was 21%. Most of the tea produced in China is green tea. Tea is grown in the provinces of Anhui, Zhejian and Fujian. China produces a sizeable amount black tea also. The Chinese black tea is mild, sweet and smoky. China is also the pioneer in production of tea varieties like Jasmine, Rose and Lychee tea.
It is the second biggest producer of tea in the world with an annual production hovering around 1,279 million kg in 2017. With a billion plus population, India consumes 70% of its total produce. As a result, it has very little amount of surplus tea left for export. Hence India ranks fourth in the list of tea exporters. India exported 241 million kg of tea in 2017. Most of the teas India produces are of the black tea category. Some of the well-known regional brand varieties India produces are the Assam, Darjeeling, Nilgiri, Dooars, Kangra etc. To know more about tea growing places in India, please read Tea growing areas in India.
Kenya produces a total of about 473 million kg of made tea in the year 2016. It is the third largest tea producer in the world. Tea is grown in a total area of 1577 square km in Kenya. The Kenyan tea growing region has a tropical climate with decent rainfall. It gets a precipitation in the range of 1200 mm to 1400 mm per year. Kenya is gifted with a long sunny day. With a scarce population, its domestic consumption of tea is very little. Hence with a huge surplus, Kenya is the largest player among the tea exporters in the world. It exports almost ninety percent of its total production. Kenya exported 416 million kg of tea in 2017
Though Kenya produces mostly black teas, green tea, yellow tea, and white teas are also produced according to demand. A heaven for small tea growers, small tea plantations contributes around ninety percent of the total tea in Kenya. Much of the credits of the tea revolution in Kenya can be attributed to the efforts of Kenya Tea Development Agency Holdings (KTDA). It is doing a commendable job by providing comprehensive services to small tea growers who are more than 565,000 in numbers. KTDA provides necessary support to the growers in agri-extension, marketing, logistics, processing etc.
4. Sri Lanka:
Sri Lanka’s rank among the biggest producers of tea in the world is fourth. But it is the second biggest and a very important player in the list of world tea exporters. Being the most important export commodity, Sri Lanka earns about 15% of its total export revenue from tea. It produced around 340 million kg of tea in 2013, which is an all time record. In the year 2017, Sri Lanka produced 307 million kg.
Known by the old country name, Ceylon black tea is known for its rich, mellow flavor, golden color and pleasant natural aroma. Sri Lanka’s central highlands are most suitable for the production of high-quality teas. These areas have many favorable factors like humidity, temperate climate and a decent precipitation. You can divide Ceylon tea into three categories if you take the elevation of the tea plantations into consideration. They are:
- Low grown (under a height of 650 m),
- Medium grown (between 650 m-1300 m) and
- High grown (above height from 1300 m to 2500 m).
Vietnam produced around 214 million kg of tea in the year 2013. Out of this, 60% is black tea. Green tea constitutes around 35% of its total tea production. The French started the first plantation in Pho Tho in 1880. Its tea industry passed through a stagnation during the Vietnam War. However, it bounced back after the war is over. Vietnam’s tea industry has both large and small scale producers. The large producers use state of the art technology with highly capital intensive production methods. The small scale growers produce mostly specialty artisan teas like lotus, jasmine teas etc.
Turkey produced around 212 million kg of tea in 2013. It is marginally above 6% of total world tea production. Most of the Turkish tea plantation is concentrated on a region near the city of Rize. This area has a humid and mild climate along with a fertile soil. Turkey exports about 40% of its total production. The rest of the tea is used for domestic consumption. The Turkish people consumes tea at an average rate of 2.5 kg per person each year. This is the highest per capita tea consumption rate in the world.
The Iranian tea industry started from 1882. At present tea plantation in Iran covers an area of around 320 square km of mostly hillside locations. Currently Iran produces a respectable 160 million kg of tea per year.
The father of Iranian tea was the first mayor of Tehran – the Prince Mohammad Mirza aka Kashef al Saltaneh. A die hard tea lover, he always dreamt of planting tea in his own country. Under the British rule, he got appointment as the Iranian ambassador to India. At that time, East India Company strictly guarded the secrets of tea plantation and production techniques. But the determined Prince wanted to learn the techniques of tea at any cost. So the Prince took the disguise of a French labor and infiltrated into a tea plantation. There the Prince mastered the art of tea growing. He even managed to outsource some seed samples from India. He planted the seed samples at Gilan in Iran. And thus the glorious era of Iranian tea began overcoming all odds.
The first tea cultivation in Indonesia started in Java in 1878. The Dutch succeeded in growing tea commercially from seeds imported from Assam gardens. Later they expanded it to Sumatra in the early 1900s. Now tea is grown in 13 provinces in Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi in Indonesia. One can compare Java tea with good-quality Ceylon tea. However Sumatran tea is of plain, medium quality. Indonesia produces around 148 million kg of tea. Most of the tea Indonesia produces comprises of black tea. It exports 65% of its produce. As there is not much awareness in the world about the Indonesian brand of tea, it is generally used for blending and mixed with other teas. It is the fifth largest among the tea exporters in the world.
It is the ninth largest tea producer in the world. Argentina produces around 105 million kg of tea per year.
Argentina’s sub-tropical climate is found suitable for growing hybrid Indian and Assamica tea variants. Major portion of the tea grown here is black tea. Most of tea estates in Argentina are located in the high elevation areas of the north eastern provinces of Misiones and Corrientes. The tropical hot and humid climate of the area is very much suitable for tea plantation. The Argentine tea plantations are situated at lands with a relatively flat topography. Hence it is convenient to use heavy machinery for harvesting and production purposes in these flat soils. The summer is the peak season for Argentine tea harvesting. It starts from November to May.
It is said that a Buddhist monk from China brought tea to Japan. Three out of four of Japan’s major islands have a climate that is favorable for tea. Japan produces 84 million kg of tea per year. Most of the teas produced in Japan are green teas. Japan itself consumes major part of this tea with only little surplus (2%) left for export. Though Japan has a moderately humid climate, it has a weak monsoon rainfall pattern. The northern Japan is cooler and temperate. However the southern part has a more sub-tropical climate. The most important tea growing area in Japan is the Shizuoka. Important varieties of Japanese tea are the “Gyokuro”, “Sencha” and “Bancha”. The darker green teas produce brew of higher quality.
Tea plantation in Thailand had started about 70 years ago mostly in the northern mountainous regions. Thailand produces around 70 million kg of tea each year. The people of Chinese origin mostly owns the tea plantations here. Thailand produces some of the finest oolong teas in the world. With active collaboration from Taiwan in the field of research and development, the Thai tea industry got a major boost in 1995. Then Taiwan introduced new seedlings with superior productivity and techniques in Thailand.
Uganda produced 65.37 million kg of tea in the year 2014. Out of this, it exported 57 million kg. It has a favorable climate, abundant precipitation and plenty of fertile land. Ugandan planters grow tea across the slopes of Rwenzori Mountains, around the Lake Victoria Crescent and the Western Rift Valley. Suitable lands for tea plantation are available in the districts of Kabarole, Bushenyi, Kanungu, Rukungiri, Mityana, Kibaale, Hoima, Kisoro, Wakiso, Mbarara, and Nebbi /Zewuwith. As per a report of UTA, Uganda has a total area of 2000 square km favorable for tea. This estimate projects a brighter prospect of tea in Uganda. So far, tea plantation is limited only to 10 percent of the total suitable area. Uganda produces average quality teas which are mostly used for blending with other teas.
Tea is the second largest agricultural export of Bangladesh. As per the Bangladesh Tea Board report, it produced 63.88 million kg of tea in the year 2014. Bangladesh has a tea plantation area of around 570 square km. It is spread in the districts of Sylhet, Habiganj, Brahmanbaria, Rangamati, Maulvi Bazar, Chittagong and Panchagarh. Tea’s share in the national GDP of Bangladesh is 1%. With the active cooperation from the government, many upcoming small growers have started tea plantations in Bangladesh. The Chittagong Hill Tracts region has the maximum concentration of the tea plantations in Bangladesh.
It is one of the large tea exporters and producers in Africa. The area under tea in Malawi is around 188 square km. It produces around 54 million kg of tea per year. It has a tropical climate with temperature ranging from hot to moderate depending on the elevations. The peak tea season starts in Malawi from October to April. This period gets the most rains of the year. The less productive days of tea industry comes with the dry season. Most of the tea plantations in Malawi are around Thyolo and Mulanje in Southern Malawi. Tea plantation is also found at the Nkhata Bay on the western-shore of Lake Malawi.
It has a total production of around 40 million kg of made tea per year. Burundi enjoys fifteenth position in the list of tea producing countries of the world. It is burdened with large scale socio-political unrest, weak infrastructure, poor access to health and education services, and lots of other adversities. Still the tea industry here is thriving in the face of all adversities. The tea industry is helping the nation to earn the much needed foreign exchange through export.
So far we have discussed about the top 15 producers and exporters in the above paragraphs. However there are some other smaller tea producing nations which have very high potential. They may play a more important role in the world as producer and exporter of tea in the coming days. These countries are: (a) Tanzania (34 million Kg), (b) Myanmar (32 million Kg), (c) Mozambique (24 million Kg), (d) Rwanda (22 million Kg) and (e) Nepal (20 million Kg).
This list of top tea producing countries would never be complete if we do not include Taiwan. It is the country with a tea tradition that is many centuries’ old who has a remarkable contribution to the world of tea. Taiwan has developed new techniques in tea. They have superior tea research projects. That said, Taiwan has created some of the world’s best tea cultivars and varieties through its dedicated team of researchers. This country enjoys a special place in the heart of the tea lovers notwithstanding the fact that in quantity terms its share is insignificant.
The specialty teas it produces are of top-notch quality. Taiwan is the undisputed leader in the field of oolong tea. Some of its prominent brands it makes are Formosa Dongding oolong, Formosa Alishan Oolong, Formosa Wenshan Pouchong, Formosa Oriental Beauty, Formosa Shanlinxi Oolong, Formosa Jade Oolong etc. Taiwan has a natural advantage of a great climate for tea growing. However the Taiwanese have taken their tea production skills to the next level with the use of latest technology and ultimate skills. That is why it is little wonder that many tea connoisseurs consider the Taiwanese oolongs as the finest oolongs in the world.