Essential information on the nations in question and types of tea produced
Numerous regions grow the crop, including Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh; OXALIS sells examples of tea from Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiri and Sikkim (north of Darjeeling).
A municipality in the Himalayan part of north-east India on the northern side of West Bengal, it is home to about 88 tea estates and 72 processing facilities. Tea produced by the this revered “Champagne of Teas” bears a trademark and cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world.
Grown in mountainous terrain, harvesting of the crop is carried out by hand. A local speciality is to oxidise the leaves to a varied extent, sometimes for just 30 minutes or even less, so the leaves stay green to an extent and do not turn completely black; however, they may still be classified as of a black type. Darjeeling is considered an exotic, expensive and delicious tea, and each example is as unique as the personality traits that define a person - sophisticated, complex, subtle, calm, mysterious...
A small state buried away in the Himalayas north of Darjeeling, it shares snow-capped mountain peaks on the border with Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. Only one major tea plantation exists, this being the Temi Tea Estate, established in the early 1970s. Set amongst gentle slopes and wooded valleys below the high Himalayan peaks, the crop is harvested by hand from the end of March to October. The resultant tea is in the style of Darjeeling and orthodox black varieties.
Located in the northeast of India, Assam is the second largest producer of tea after China. About 2,000 sizeable plantations are situated in three distinct areas, with the largest estate spreading out along both sides of the River Brahmaputra at altitudes of just 90 to 150 m.a.s.l.
The varietal cultivated there is assamica, a large-leaved variety which flourishes in low-lying, hot and humid places with abundant rainfall. Harvesting takes place from March to late November/early December, and two seasons dominate - a dryish first flush is produced during March to April, while the superior second flush is harvested in May and June. Summer is a time of monsoon rainfall and high temperatures, speeding up the growth of the tea plants; the lesser quality leaves from that period are used in blends.
Mechanized harvesting is necessary due to the sheer amount produced, so innovative procedures for processing the leaves have been developed, though normal orthodox methods are also followed. Tea is sold in loose-leaf form (FOP and superior varieties), though most commonly rolled into small granules for CTC products or as fractions (BOP). Some plantations also turn out unfermented green teas.
The most famous tea-producing region in South India, Nilgiri translates as "Blue Mountains". Plantations are found at altitudes of 600-2750 m.a.s.l., with harvesting by hand occurring in January through to October. Alongside the main crop intended for use in English-style blends in teabags, some plantations have introduced orthodox production techniques and make high quality tea, even experimenting with novel types such as Nilgiri Lung Ching (available from OXALIS).
This territory is responsible for Nilgiri Frost, a tea from the very first harvest of the new year in January or early February. Rainfall is moderate during this period, and freezing temperatures can drop to -7°C. Since frost could damage the delicate leaves, plants considered at risk are covered with hay or grass to prevent this from happening, giving rise to this rare type of tea.
Tea and its related culture are deeply rooted in Japan, symbolising simplicity, nature and harmony. It came to the country from China in the 12th century, introduced by Japanese Buddhist monks.
Favourable climatic conditions for the crop bless almost the entire nation, although it is primarily grown in areas capable of producing large amounts: Shizuoka, Kagoshima (where most examples sold by OXALIS come from), Mie, Kyoto (e.g. Bancha Arashiyama), Fukuoka, Miyazaki (e.g. Sencha Miyazaki), Nagasaki (organic Tamaryokucha) and elsewhere.
Green tea accounts for almost all production, while only a few small farmers turn out black tea for consumption locally. Harvesting is usually by mechanical means, and cultivation and processing are both highly advanced, too, giving rise to very clean, hygienic, superior product. The most expensive teas (Matcha, i.e. Tencha, Gyokuro and Shincha) are harvested by hand, limited to plucking just a bud and the two uppermost leaves. Indeed, Shincha is a very special example originating from the very start of the spring harvest (end of April - beginning of May). Meaning literally "new tea" and made from solely the youngest, finest leaves, we have it flown in once a year and stocks of it are limited.
Unlike elsewhere, tea bushes are planted side by side in long rows, giving the impression of smooth waves which adorn the landscape. The upper part of a row is rounded, and it constitutes the part where the buds and leaves are plucked. Tea bushes are often shaded in Japan. As soon as the buds begin to sprout, a covering of bamboo, reed mats or tarpaulins is applied. This restricts the amount of sunlight, causing an increase in the chlorophyll in the young leaves and darkening them, also diminishing the tannin present. The tea tastes sweeter and weaker as a consequence. Shade-grown teas include Tencha (the basis of Matcha), Gyokuro (i.e. "Tears of Jade"), and Kabusecha (i.e. "shaded"). Sencha is not shielded from the elements in this way ("sen" means easy to prepare), and constitutes Japan's most popular tea. Other examples include Tamaryokucha ("rolled green tea"), Bancha (relating to a term that means coarse and common), Genmaicha (Sencha + roasted popped rice), Hojicha (roasted Bancha), Kukicha (tea stems) and Mecha (tea buds).
Freshly picked tea leaves are subjected to steam for 20 to 120 minutes, which stops oxidation and preserves their lovely green colour and shiny appearance. Afterwards, the leaves are rolled and stages for drying occur, whereby they take on the appearance of thin, shiny needles, brighter in shade and more uniform than teas from China, which are processed differently. Prior to sorting according to size, colour and delicateness, the leaves are sieved and all twigs and scraps are removed.
Like Japan, tea goes way back in the history of Korea, introduced during the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century, and traditionally associated with Buddhism and meditation. An attempt in the 14th century to quash the rich and influential Buddhist monasteries by the then ruler of Korea led to tea being more widely consumed. Having seen several ups and downs since then, monks took care to preserve the nation's tea culture over the years. Production is limited and largely intended for the domestic market, marking them out as unusual and highly valued abroad.
Green tea predominates, grown in the south of Korea in places such as Hadong, Boseong, Jeju Island and the slopes of Jirisan mountain (2000 metres). Hadong was where the first tea trees were planted, some of which still grow today, so has a rich history and is home to the Green Tea Culture Centre. Jeonnam Province contains two areas known for tea production – Jangseong, an inland locality, and Boseong, an area along the coast famous for beautiful views of plantations and culinary tea-based specialities. Boseong is now the leading producer of green tea in Korea. The organic examples OXALIS sells come from the volcanic island of Jeju, known as the "Island of the Gods". Since it is the only national territory located in the subtropical zone, the landscape and countryside is completely different from that of the mainland. The specific climatic conditions have resulted in the creation of exceptional teas with a unique taste.
The tea-growing areas are situated northerly of their equivalents in China, hence it is colder and late frosts complicate the collection of fresh leaves in the spring, though they are well-worth seeking out as they benefit from a relatively intense aroma and taste. Harvesting gets underway in early April and continues throughout the summer, but those picked in April to May are considered the finest in aroma and taste.
South Korean teas are classified according to when they are harvested, designated as Woojeon, Daejak, Jeoncha and Korean Matcha (Garucha). The first of these is the best and stems from the first harvest in April. Processing combines the Japanese manner of steaming and Chinese-style roasting (drying); the finest leaves are steamed, then rolled under heat, dried, rolled again and dried again, resulting in attractive, irregularly shaped dark green leaves. Sejak is similar to Woojeon, but is produced from lesser grade leaves harvested at the end of April and beginning of May and is paler in shade. Joongjak is the second harvest of Woojeon, and is rougher in appearance. The olive green leaves brew to make a cup fuller and darker than Woojeon, with a less delicate, sweet taste. Joongjak is produced in late June, whereas Daejak originates in September. A cruder tea, browner and with a slightly bitter edge, it is cheaper and less refined. Jeoncha is the equivalent of Japanese Sencha, and is produced during the first and second harvests. If the crop proves successful and the leaves are dark green in colour, then the resultant tea is referred to as Jeoncha Plus. It is very similar to the Japanese offering. Oolong and black tea (Dong cheon) are rare, the former of the two being harvested late and heavily roasted.
The island was first chronicled in 1505, when the Portuguese arrived, followed by the Dutch in the 17th century and the British at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1802, the island became a British colony and was called Ceylon until 1972.
Just 100 km distant from India by sea, it boasts beautiful beaches and countryside has a rich history. The city of Kandy used to be the seat of Sinhalese royalty, and is home to the Temple of the Golden Tooth (said to be that of Buddha). Sri Lanka differs widely in terrain, as vast plains lie alongside the coast and mountain peaks rise up inland to a height of 2,524 m a.s.l. Lush rainforests are found in humid parts, in stark contrast to dry monsoon forests. The weather is changeable and climate tropical, so tornadoes and tropical cyclones occur.
Tea is grown in seven main regions (Nuwara Eliya, Uva, Dimbula, Kandy, Uda Pussellawa, Sabaragamuwa and Ruhuna), which differ in altitude. The specific locality and the amount of sun and rain a plantation receives give rise to a microclimate that not only affects how the leaves grow, but also their chemical composition. All this is reflected in the taste of a tea, so it is interesting to compare and contrast examples from different regions.
Variation in tea according to altitude:
A land of tall snow-capped peaks, mist-shrouded valleys, vast lakes, terraced green slopes and home to the world's highest mountain, Mount Everest. Most of the plantations are located in the low-lying Terai region or the high altitudes of Ilam in the east, bordering those in Darjeeling and Sikkim (so the tea is comparable to Darjeeling).
Tea was initially cultivated in 1863, when Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana received seeds as a gift from the Chinese emperor, leading to establishment of the first plantation (The Ilam Tea Estate) the same year by his son-in-law. The associated trade remained rather stagnant until the 1960s, when the British addressed issues in Nepalese society and sought to develop rural areas, and tea was incorporated in the measures implemented. Seven gardens had been set up by then in and around Ilam and Jhapa. In 1983, King Birenda Bir Vikram designated five provinces of Nepal (Ilam, Jhapa, Panchtar, Tehrathum and Dhankuta) as tea-growing areas. Today, more than a hundred tea estates and 41 processing plants exist in Nepal. Ilam is one of the largest and turns out the most output, approximately 2 million kg per year.
Tea in Nepal has been experiencing a renaissance the past few years. Better teas are available, even similar in quality to the finest from Darjeeling. Unusual production methods have been tried out, and examples of local oolong and green tea can be surprisingly good. Harvests take place in four main seasons, coinciding with those of Darjeeling.
The so-called "gateway to South America" is a country of contrasts. It is ethnically and linguistically diverse, with a rich cultural heritage of Indian, European and African influences, reflected in art, dance, music and cuisine. The territory is split into four geographic regions: the Andean highlands with snow-capped volcanoes, the Caribbean lowlands, the Pacific lowlands and the Amazon, with rainforest across most of the southern part of the country. Although Columbia occupies less than 1% of the world's land mass, it is home to roughly 10% of all animal species.
Unique exquisite tea from high altitudes is grown at 1,800 to 2,050 m.a.s.l. in the exotic, beautiful and tranquil Andes mountains. Located in Chocó Department, south of the town of Bitaco, the plantations are characterised by high levels of rainfall, where the plants flourish in rich, deep volcanic soil. The proximity to the equator allows sunlight to impact the surface of the tea leaves almost perpendicularly, contributing to the process of photosynthesis and enhancing growth. The conditions result in large-scale production of tasty, tender tea buds throughout the year. A notable estate is run by Agricola Himalaya, adjacent to a protected rainforest, the Reserva Forestal Portectora Regional de Bitaco. Tea trees there are grown in an ecological manner, ensuring their organic status. OXALIS sells varieties of white, green and black tea from the estate under the "Wiry" name, as the dry leaves are wiry in appearance.
After four years of research and development, this major producer of tea in Colombia founded its own organic tea brand "Bitaco Unique Colombian Tea", emphasising sustainability and implementing efficient water, energy and waste management practices. The company also supports activities to improve the standard of living of its employees and their families and has established the Agricola Himalaya Foundantion to this end, which provides education for children.
The largest, most sparsely populated country in the Caucasus, it is disputed as to whether it is Asian or European, since it lies on the border between the two. Oil-rich, and the wealthiest of the three Transcaucasian countries, tea ("çay") is a traditional national drink. The primary tea-producing regions are Lenkoran, Masallin, Lerik and Astara, the crop having been introduced by M. Novoselov in 1880. It was observed in 1912 that the subtropical conditions that prevailed were suitable for growing it. Production peaked during the era of the Soviet Union, with 13,400 hectares given over to it, but this shrunk to about half this once the Iron Curtain fell. Trade is on the rise again, though, with the aid of foreign partners.
Tea symbolises hospitality and is served at home and teahouses (çayxan) by means of accessories like samovars and wrought iron teapots, lending the proceedings an oriental touch. Sugar cubes are served with the tea, but they are not dissolved as per the usual custom, instead the cube is placed in their mouth, held between the teeth and the tea drunk through it.
Tea has been grown in Georgia for over 100 years, spreading to neighbouring Turkey in that period. Part of the Russian Empire for a long time, the tea industry was closely connected with Russia, and for many years Georgia was the largest tea producer in the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the communist regime, the majority of tea estates closed, becoming overgrown, leaving only 17 still standing out of the original 150. The west of the country felt this economic impact keenly. For example, in the 1980s, Georgia produced 120,000 tons of tea annually, but this had dropped by 95% just twenty years later.
Although most of the tea is exported, a few farms sell their output domestically and initiatives exist to develop the trade once again. Tea is grown primarily in the western part of the country near the Black Sea, i.e. in Guria, Adjara, Imereti, Samegrelo and Abkhazia.
Originally a country where coffee ruled, the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923 meant that suppliers stopped selling coffee to Turkey, so black tea became the drink of choice instead. Initial attempts to grow tea bushes in 1888 were not successful, but in 1937 the Ministry of Agriculture imported 20 tons of Chinese seeds from Georgia, which were planted in Riga. The first factory was built nearby in 1941, and the 1950s saw cultivation quickly spread to Giresun and other areas along the coast of the Black Sea. Turkey now ranks amongst the top five nations to consume and produce tea, boasting more than 300 tea factories. Almost everything is sold in Turkey, with only a small percentage going abroad.
Tea has become so popular in Turkey that some cities have incorporated the word tea in their names ("çay" in Turkish). For example, the city of Kadahor became Ҫaykara and Mapavri became Ҫayeli. Consumption per capita averages 2 kg per year. The drink is traditionally prepared in a double teapot called a "çaydanlık", and is usually sweetened with caramel or sugar.
The northern regions of Vietnam lie adjacent to Yunnan Province in China, so it is likely that tea has been drunk here for just as long. Similar to its neighbour, tea has become an important part of the culture, but without the complex rituals found in countries like Japan. Trade in it did not take off until the arrival of French colonists in 1825, who established the first plantations in Phu Tho Province, which still remains the primary region for it. The crop is usually grown in the subtropical north, but also can be found in the tropical south. Vietnam is now the world's seventh largest producer of tea, with much of it coming from independent, small farmers, who sell a contracted percentage of their harvest to state-owned farms or large processing plants.
In addition to black and green tea, oolong has gained in popularity along with teas scented with lotus, jasmine or grapefruit. Lotus tea is considered the pride of Vietnamese tea culture, and nearly a thousand lotus blossoms are utilized to produce just 1 kilogram of it. A part of the country located in the Hoàng Liên Sơn and Tây Côn Lĩnh mountains has some of the oldest tea trees in the world, which is inhabited by the Hmong ethnic group who believe tea is a panacea. They call the tea tree Sua Zie - Sua is a medicinal plant and Zie is tea.
The only tea estate in the country was set up as recently as 1996. Some experimentation has been taking place, resulting in the production of black, green and oolong tea, amongst others. Great emphasis is placed on the quality of the tea, and the company has won numerous awards.
The first tea tree seeds were imported to Kenya in 1903 from India. Although trade only began in 1924, it is now the third largest producer of tea in the world. Green tea is a relatively new product for the country, commencing in Kericho County and then the Nandi Hills (since 2015).