Teas from China, India, Japan and Taiwan
The U.S. has always been thought of as an agricultural mecca. But when it comes to tea, they leave a lot to be desired. Although the U.S. doesn’t grow much tea, tea consumption has doubled since the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Even though the popularity of tea in the U.S. is increasing, many consumers know little about its origins, production or varieties.
Temperature, humidity and sunlight play a critical role in the growth, yield and quality of tea. Camellia sinensis likes to grow in warm, wet climates with temperatures of 70 to 85° F and 150 inches of rain/month. High-humidity environments of 70 to 90 percent accelerate the growth rate of the tea leaves. Tea can tolerate some dense foggy conditions but requires at least five hours of sunlight per day. Countries such as China, India, Japan, and Taiwan have good environmental conditions for tea growing. And they happen to produce some of the best teas.
China- Tea was discovered over 4,000 years ago in The Yunnan province of China. Since then China has become the number one producer of tea in the world. China was the first country to cultivate tea and has developed many processing techniques that are copied by other tea-producing countries. Tea is embedded in Chinese culture and has produced hundreds of tea types ranging from white, yellow, green, oolong and red. Some of the most popular Chinese teas are LongJing, TieKwanYin and YinZhen.
India- Camellia sinensis assamica was first discovered natively growing in the Assam region circa 1830. Interestingly, in 1850 the sinensis varietal from China was planted in the Darjeeling region of North India. Although some of the teas produced in India are from the same variety as Chinese tea plants, they have different terroir and production methods that create unique flavor profiles not found in China. One of these flavors, “muscatel”, is a spicy, musky, aromatic characteristic. Although India is well known for its black teas, other teas such as Chai, Assam and Darjeeling are gaining popularity in the West.
Taiwan- Tea production started in 1700 with plants brought from China. The Nantau region of Taiwan produces the most tea. Although the plants and production are similar to those in China, the steep, high mountains of Taiwan make its teas unique. The steep and rocky cliffs are rich in nutrients and minerals. These minerals are taken into the roots of the plant and add a unique flavor profile to the leaves. Also, the high-altitude mountains have more fog, but less air and sunlight. This changes the growth rate and quality of tea by slightly stressing the plant. Most teas from Taiwan are prepared in the ”oolong” style, with medium to heavy oxidation. Common Taiwanese tea names include Dong Ding, Alishan and Eastern Beauty.
Japan- Tea was first cultivated in the Kyoto region of Japan in the 8th century. Most of the tea produced in Japan is in the “green” style. Although other countries produce green teas, the types of teas produced in Japan are completely unique. Most tea producers use a special steam-processing technique that yields a umami flavor. Furthermore, a select portion of tea farmers will put shades over their teas for the last four weeks of growth. This changes the photosynthesis characteristics of the tea plants and causes unique flavors to be released in the leaves. Some popular Japanese teas are Sencha, Gyokuro and Genmaicha.
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