Ranked with the most popular beverages, tea is believed to be discovered as a beverage around 2700 B.C. by Emperor Shen Nung. While he was sitting by a pot of boiling water, a few leaves from the wild tea bush flew into the kettle, causing such a wonderful aroma that Emperor sampled a cup of this exotic brew.
Tea reached Europe in 1610, enjoying the greatest success in Russia, England, Holland and France. By the 18th century, it was exported to the colonies in America. In spite of large taxes imposed on tea in the 1770s by the British crown, tea has always been and still remains a popular activity. Just as with other beverages, it has plenty of varieties, which are distinct species, each with its distinctive characteristics and specific appearance.
Some of the most important tea growing regions can be found in China, India, Ceylon, Japan, East Africa and Russia. For many centuries China was the only tea exporting country in the world, until Ceylon and India became engaged in tea growing in the early 19th century. Currently China is ranked with the largest suppliers of quality teas, all of them coming from five provinces of the country, namely Yunnan, Anhui, Fujian, Jiangxi and Zhejiang. Produced in China are also semi-fermented teas, which are however of lower quality that those of Formosa.
Despite the fact that most of tea produced is consumed at home, India is recognized currently as the world's biggest tea exporter that offers many varieties of tea. As the country is large, tea growing regions are subject to diverse climatic conditions. Consequently, Indian teas vary considerably in quality, and it's important to know region of origin of Indian tea. The highest quality teas are grown in Assam - a forested region located in the country's northwest, while teas of somewhat lower quality come from Nilgri and Travancore regions.
In Ceylon and Formosa tea growing was introduced by the British during the second half of the 19th century. Known today as Sri Lanka and Taiwan, the countries have established themselves as some of the most important tea exporters in the world.
Produced on Ceylon are mostly black teas, classified in accordance with the altitude at which tea plants are grown. Among Ceylon's major tea producing regions are Dimbula and Uva that include a number of large gardens. Formosa has established its reputation for high quality teas due to fine and delicate semi-fermented oolongs.
Recognized as one of the leading tea exporters worldwide, Japan is known for producing green teas, of which 97% are consumed locally. Some of the tea variations include the powdered Matcha, kept for ceremonies, Gyokuro, Bancha, Sencha and Ocha for everyday use.
Another important aspect of tea growing is tea processing that gives consumers either green or black teas. The leaves of Camellia sinensis, if not dried after picking, begin to oxidize, turning darker as chlorophyll breaks down. The next stage in processing is to stop the process of oxidation by removing water from the tea leaves through heating.