The Asian region produces a varied range of tea and this, together with a reputation in the international markets for high quality, has resulted in Asia enjoying a share of every importing market in the world. China is credited with introducing tea to the world, though the evergreen tea plant is in fact native to Southern China, North India, Myanmar and Cambodia. India is one of the largest producers of tea in the world, second only to China. Commercial tea plantations in India were first established under the British Rule.
Because of the European demand for tea, the British economic control in the east grew through the autonomous power that was the East India Trading Company. Brick tea was also used as a form of currency in China because of its lightweight and its value. Tea also improved worker output and health during the Industrial Revolution by keeping them awake and preventing disease.
Numerous types of tea are produced. Traditionally, tea is prepared from its dried young leaves and leaf buds, made into a beverage by steeping the leaves in boiling water. In China, for example, the country with the largest planting of tea and second in output, green tea is around 50% of the total export, black tea around 30% and other tea 20%. Depending on the manufacturing technique it may be described as green, black, oolong, white, yellow and even compressed tea. Many other tea and tea products continue to be developed by those active tea producing and consuming countries.
Although there are a growing number of countries that produce tea in a variety of blends, there are essentially three main types of Camellia tea, which are Green, Oolong and Black. The difference lies in the ‘fermentation’, which actually refers to oxidative and enzymatic changes within the tea leaves, during processing. Green tea is essentially unfermented, Oolong tea is partially fermented and Black tea is fully fermented. Black tea, which represents the majority of international trade, yields an amber coloured, full-flavour liquid without bitterness
Production and exports generate foreign exchange and employment and provide a material base for national economic growth. Today, it is the economic and social importance of tea production that is so significant. It is the most commonly drunk beverage in the world. Tea production is labour intensive and the industry provides jobs in remote, economically depressed rural areas. It plays a significant role in rural development, poverty reduction and food security in developing countries and is one of the most important cash crops in the world. The economic importance of the genus Camellia is primarily due to use as tea.
However, low prices are affecting the sustainability of the tea sector, with working conditions and the livelihoods of plantation workers and small scale farmers in tea producing countries put under pressure. Working conditions for pluckers are often poor, with low wages, low job and income security, discrimination along ethnic and gender lines, lack of protective gear and inadequate basic facilities such as housing and sometimes even drinking water and food. While tea production by smallholders is growing worldwide, their situation is often difficult because the prices they are paid for fresh tea leaves tend to be below the cost of production, among other factors.
Tea is often exported in bulk, but the downstream stages such as blending, packing and marketing are the most profitable. This part of the value chain is controlled by a handful of multinational tea packers and brokers, which as a result can considerably influence world prices. Although real prices for tea on the shop shelves have not increased over time, they have done so in nominal terms.
The tea market is expected to witness stable growth owing to rising demand for hot beverages in daily life. Further, the economic benefits such as high revenue earning and huge employment opportunity are also expected to boost the demand for tea globally. One positive impact of demographic changes is the growth of domestic tea consumption in producer countries, such as India and China. Instead of exporting, many countries are now drinking their own tea. Countries that were suppliers are now becoming users. The situation is further stimulated due to increasing consumer awareness about tea consumption and its health benefits.
Tea is sold through a variety of channels. Distribution of products is another area of significant value addition. Major distribution channels such as hypermarkets/supermarkets, retailers, general merchandisers, convenience stores, and food and drinks specialists are among the most preferred channels for the sale of tea. Supermarkets and convenience stores have become popular channels for the purchase of goods due to improvement in the living standards of people in different developed countries. Supermarkets and hypermarkets are likely to dominate the distribution channels by 2020.
Due to increasing demand for tea, producers are focusing on producing different flavor of tea to meet the consumers need. They are upgrading their production to attract more consumers.