The noble beverage of tea has existed for over 5,000 years and whether you prefer green tea, earl grey or a good old-fashioned cup of regular black tea, a tour around a tea plantation and factory is a great experience. See for yourself how tea is actually grown, harvested and consumed; from the lush green tea plantations to elaborate tea drinking ceremonies that are as ancient as the drink itself.
Tea was discovered around 5,000 years ago in China completely by accident. Tea plants are native to South and East Asia and the drink was introduced to Europe during the 16th century via Portuguese colonial rule. Today China is the biggest producer of tea in the world, producing 1.5 million tonnes last year. After China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Vietnam, Iran, Indonesia, Argentina and Japan are the largest producers.
For over 5,000 years the Chinese have been devout fans of tea, even the emperors had special tea cups and it was said that they always had them in hand. Travellers can experience amazing teas samples from all over the ancient tea producing regions such as Anhui, Zhejiang and Fujian which specialise in Oolong tea, a particular favourite of the Chinese. Black tea is cultivated in Yunnan, Hunan, and Sichuan provinces and has a distinctive mild smoky taste, although the Chinese do not actually drink black tea, preferring Oolong instead. Specialist teas from China include the jasmine, rose and lychee beverages that are made by steaming the blossoms.
Combine a China tea plantation tour with a visit to one of China’s many famous tourist sites such as the Great Wall of China, the Temple of Heaven and Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the ancient Terracotta Warriors of Xian and the Bund and Oriental Pearl TV Tower of Shanghai.
Some of the best tasting teas in the world are said to come from India and certainly the names trip of the tongue; Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiri. Take a mesmerizing tour that takes travellers on a fascinating journey through the tea history and how important it is in Indian culture. Watch the locals, with baskets strapped to their backs, working the tea fields and picking the perfect leaves for the most fragrant cup. Visit the famous Mancotta Tea Estate that has gained recognition for its orthodox variety of teas. Those participating in a tour can opt to spend a night in a tea bungalow within the plantation grounds.
Assam tea is grown upon a high plateau within northern India which sits on the Brahmaputra River and is the biggest tea growing area on earth. The first harvest each year in February is fresh fragrant and flowery. The most prized harvest is the second which is a more spiced and malty affair.
Darjeeling tea is grown in northeast India on the southern slopes of the Himalayas amidst the stunning landscape. The best Darjeeling blends come from the plantations that are highest up and are cultivated at altitudes of some 800–2000 meters.
Nilgiri and Southern India are also tea producers utilising the hilly uplands within the Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu provinces. Here tea is cultivated at altitudes of 800 to 2000 meters.Other tea growing regions in India include Dooars, Kangra, Terai, Goa and Sikkim.
Whilst here combine your trip with a visit to some of the historically significant sites in India’s culture. The ground where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated is a holy area and tourists get to visit this place. Learn how Indians use the Crush, Tear and Curl method to harvest and process their teas. Take a peaceful horseback ride through beautiful tea gardens and see the beauty that captivates this region. In a land of great diversity, see some of the world’s most beautiful sites and sip some of the finest teas ever made. This tour is a tour of a lifetime and should not be missed.
One of the world’s largest exports of tea is Sri Lanka, which is a great destination to participate in a fascinating tea tour. The main tea growing regions within Ceylon, aka Sri Lanka, are concentrated in the southern highlands regions of Galle, Ratnapura, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula and Uva. The growing of tea leaves can be traced back to the country’s history, actually as far back as the 19th century and was a favourite amongst the British and Dutch colonial rulers of the past. A tour allows the unique opportunity to visit a tea factory and watch as tea is created from the leaves. Visit lavish tea gardens in full bloom and experience a refreshing cup of your favourite blend while overlooking the lush plantations. Tea actually accounts for some 60% of Sri Lanka’s net export profits and is classed in 3 categories; low grown tea (under 650m), medium grown tea (650-1300m) and high grown tea (1300-2500m).
Combine your stay in Sri Lanka with a visit to one of the many cultural and historical sites such as the Temple of the Tooth, which contains Buddha’s tooth and a visit to the first tea garden ever created in Sri Lanka. Don’t miss the Old Dutch Fort at Galle, the ancient city of Anuradhapura and the Golden Temple of Dambulla.
The Japanese have been drinking tea for over 1300 years and an amazing tour throughout this fascinating land will enchant and inspire. Tea was introduced to Japan via a Buddhist monk from China. Travellers love hearing about the colorful stories and how tea has changed Japanese culture. Top tea producing sites include Shizuoka at the foot of verdant Mount Fuji, Kagoshima on Kyushu Island and the Uji district in Kyoto.
Visit stunning sites like Tokyo’s Imperial Palace and many working tea factories. Create a unique and decadent blend personalized for an individual’s tastes. Visiting the World Tea Museum is one of the most fascinating stops. Here, visitors will get to see how the Gyokuro tea is made. There are plenty of sites to see like the Ginza shopping strip, a visit to a pottery making facility and a post-tour extension to Korea for tea facts. Learn how the Mat Cha tea is made and what the best Japanese blends are. This amazing trip will educate and inspire fellow tea drinkers worldwide
Africa as a continent is pretty new to tea growing but already accounts for 15% of tea produced. Prepared in the CTC manner (crush, tear, curl) the majority of the tea produced in Kenya and Africa is destined for the British market. South Africa produces the slightly sweet Rooibush tea, which is also called Redbush tea and is delicious hot and cold, especially in the summer with a dash of sugar. South Africa also produces the Honeybush tea or Cape tea which is gently sweet and naturally caffeine free.
The Cameron Islands are well known for their tea plantations and cultivation in Malaysia. Tea tours here are magnificent and are well worth the trip. The weather is a lot cooler here, thus this area of Malaysia is responsible for most of the growth of vegetables and of course, tea. Take a tour of an operational tea factory packed with information on the countries tea harvesting. Those touring will stop by the famous Market Square where they can trade with the locals and purchase teas. Visit a tea plantation that is tucked in the foothills of beautiful mountains. The views here are incredible and every minute of the tour provides ample photo opportunities. Tourists especially enjoy the famous Boh tea plantations. Because this area is an island, the tour seems like a rich island getaway and a historical journey all at once.
It was during the French rule of Vietnam that tea was introduced with 3 tea research institutes founded in in Phu Ho, Bao Loc and Pleiku. A tea plantation was also established at Phu Ho with a nursery growing 27 different tea varieties. Indeed by 1945 Vietnam was producing 6,000 tons of tea including black, green and scented teas. Take a Vietnamese tea tour amongst the modern plantations. Today there are several main tea regions within Vietnam including; Son La, Lai Chau and Dien Bien in the northwest which grows oolong; Ha Giang, Yen Bai and Tuyen Quang in the Vietbac province and the highlands of Lam Dong, Gia Lai, Kon Tum which specialises in oolong tea leaves.
Taiwan was previously called Formosa, which is Portuguese for ‘Beautiful Island’ and since 1870, the island has been a key producer of fine green and black teas. The tea is grown in the rural mountain regions of north and north east Taiwan between just 100 small tea companies.
The very first tea that the Europeans consumed back in the 17th century arrived via junk from Bantam on the Indonesian island of Java. From there it was transported on the East India Company’s tea ships. Today tea is harvested from the gardens on the islands of Java and Sumatra.
Top Tea Facts
- Earl Grey tea is Darjeeling blended with aromatic bergamot oils
- Assam tea comes from Assam in North east India and is a low growing tea which makes it more mild and smooth, and perfect as a breakfast tea
- Tea has been consumed in the UK for the last 370 years
- Tea should be prepared with hot water at 96 degrees (not boiling water), leave to steep for at least 4 minutes
- Green tea should be prepared at 70 degrees so as not to bruise the leaves
- Fresh tea leaves are readily available and are much preferred to teabags (if you visit the factory you’ll soon see why!)
- Tea is so highly prized that certain blends can command prices in 4 figures for just a small amount
- Green tea and white tea (which is less bitter than green) contains beneficial antioxidants and very little caffeine making it a much more natural pick-me-up
By Julie Bowman