Tea: a Global Commodity Tea production has spread to relatively temperate region throughout the world; tea consumption has spread farther, to touch consumers on every continent. Chinese, tea’s place of origin, has the richest history of tea production and consumption, but a vast many cultures have developed their own niche tea practices. Japan, for instance, has a deep history with tea; it is tied to Buddhism, helps define the role of the woman as noble, hostess and courtesan, and developed into the chanoyu tea ceremony and sencha tea practice. Tea spread from China and Japan to Portugal, the Dutch, and soon the rest of Europe, becoming part of an imperial and social tradition. With British colonization, India’s tea production potential was realized; all the while, tea became a part of American, African and Middle Eastern culture as well. Regions of Growth Tea is native to the Sichuan region in China, the location of the Shu and Ba kingdoms. Even today, Shu is still one of the world’s largest producers of quality tea.The plant soon spread along the Yangzi River to the east and south. Around 200 BCE, During the Han Dynasty in China, the best tea was grown in the Chaling region to the south, near the lower Yangzi, but less fine tea also grew farther north. Soon tea also appeared in Japan.
A second variety of tea, assamica, is native to India. Indian tea cultivation grew rapidly under British colonization, and Indian tea exports overtook Chinese. Up until 2005, India was the leading world producer of tea; today, China leads the world significantly in exports and outstrips India’s total production by a narrow margin. Assam, a tea-growing region established by British colonization, remains one of the most significant producers in the world. Europeans also introduced tea to Africa, especially Nyasaland (modern-day Malawi), Tanzania and Kenya, mainly to grow medium-quality black tea for blending in tea bags. Today, most of the world’s tea comes from China, Sri Lanka, India and Kenya. Asian markets produce a variety of specialty, organic, and conventional teas; Oothu Singampatti Estates in India is the largest grower of organic tea in the world. Rooibos and herbal infusions are grown in South Africa and Egypt, respectively. However, tea is not confined to these regions, and by 1920 Brazil also exported some tea.