China, Birthplace of Tea
Ever since its lucky "discovery" by Emperor Chen Nung in 2737 B.C. (a leaf from a wild tea plant reportedly fell into his bowl of hot water), the first three thousand years in the history of tea were a purely and intensely Chinese affair.
India - Nilgiri:
The high-grown black teas from the Nilgiri ("Blue Mountains" in Tamil) of southern India are among the finest produced anywhere. Just as the British officials of Calcutta took to the hills of Darjeeling for summer coolness, Raj officials in Madras retreated to Ootacamund, or "Ooty," the hill station in the Nilgiri district, which remains today a picture-postcard bit of England set amidst mountain mist and tea garden green. Experimental plantings of China jat had been thriving since 1835 in the elephant-infested Nilgiri Mountain jungles when the first tea plantation, today's Coonoor Tea Estate, was opened up in 1854 by a certain Mr. Mann, who planted Robert Fortune's China seeds.
India - Darjeeling:
The main problem with Darjeeling tea is quantity: there will never be enough to satisfy demand. The region is small and produces much less per acre than Assam, for instance. It is colder and higher, growth is slow, and the crop devilishly difficult to harvest. Even in a good year production amounts to only twenty two million pounds or so, less than one percent of all the tea India produces.
India - Assam:
Assam is the single largest tea-growing region on earth, a rainy tropical plain adjacent to Bangladesh and Burma bordering the Brahmaputra River. Assam produces only black tea and proves that great tea does not always need to be high-grown. Like Keemun or Taiwan oolong, this is low-grown tea and it deserves its reputation as one of the world's strongest.
Small, green and fertile, Sri Lanka is about the size of the Republic of Ireland and over half a million of its acres grow tea, which is the very juice and sap of its economy. This acreage makes Sri Lanka the world's third largest tea producer and some years its foremost tea exporter. Colombo is the largest of the world's tea auctions. When Sri Lanka reverted to its original Sinhalese name in 1972, it was decided to retain Ceylon as the name of its most famous product. Almost all the tea produced is black, and much of this is superb.
Many theories exist as how tea was introduced into Japan. The most widely accepted theory fixes the beginning of Japan's tea industry in the year 1191 when EISAI, a Buddhist monk, is thought to have planted seeds he brought from China and then to have encouraged cultivation in other areas by extolling the benefits of the beverage. For 500 years after its introduction to Japan, tea was used in the powdered (matcha) form. Prior to the Endo period (1600-1868), the consumption of tea was limited to the ruling class.
China offers no glimpse of its sacred gardens, nor does it like to show its large estates to foreigners. Moreover, these plantations often remain veiled in mists or, as in Fujian province, hidden behind screens of smoke from the spruce pine that yields its fragrance to Lapsang Souchong before wafting from the factory chimney. The smoke only clears sixty miles to the east, in the sky over the strait of Formosa, off the coast of Taiwan.