Types of tea
- The tea plantation
- Tea growing countries
- History of tea
- Tea grades
- Tea ceremonies
- Our tea classes in NYC
- How to prepare tea
- Tea tasting
- Care of your teapot
- Books and Guides
- Our founder's blog
Tea growing countries
Tea remains the second most consumed drink in the world after water. Until the end of the 19th century, the production was concentrated in Asia, however, rising global demand for tea have led other countries to cultivate their own tea. Now, it’s produced in 40 countries around the world.
Tea is mainly grown in Asia, Africa, South America, and around the Black and Caspian Seas; 75% of the world’s tea production is represented by four biggest tea-producing countries of China, India, Sri Lanka and Kenya.
These countries are also the biggest exporters of tea. Japan is also a major tea producing country, but exports very little due to a high level of domestic consumptions. Sri Lanka exports a greater share of tea than Japan.
Select a country to learn more:
From the story of its accidental discovery by the emperor and father of Chinese medicine Shen Nong, in 2737 BC, to its proven use as a drink during the reign of Emperor Wen, founder of the Zhou Dynasty, China is acknowledged as being the home of tea, with a history extending back almost five thousand years. Four centuries, the Chinese character tu was used to denote tea leaves in written script, the same character that was used for all bitter-tasting plants. It was not until the eighth century that a Tang Dynasty emperor made a distinction by giving it a specific name, by removing the upper stroke from the character tu, creating the new character cha.
China not only offers the widest and richest range of teas in the world but also excels in Grand Crus (harvested in very small batches and are available just for a limited period) teas.
Tea cultivation is concentrated in the southeastern provinces, in particular Fujian, Zhejiang, Yunnan, Szechuan, Hunan, Hubei, and Anhui. More than 20 provinces in all produce tea in areas with widely differing weather conditions – some of them are able to harvest all the year round, while in others harvesting is more seasonal.
The best-quality teas often originate from plantations cultivated at moderate altitudes, but there are plantations at over 6560 ft. In China, these mountains are famous and many have given their names to the teas grown there, as have many of the villages in which they are expertly processed.
Offering the best
Quality standards apply mainly to black teas. Produced on a large scale and mostly kept for exports. This allows us to achieve consistent quality more easily by mixing many batches.
Green teas, particularly the most prestigious green teas, are often produced in much smaller quantities. These teas are sometimes difficult to achieve the same quality from one year to another and the smaller quantities also make them rare teas.
To enjoy these green teas with all the freshness and delicacy, it should be drunk in season from 8 to 10 months after the harvest. This is why Palais des Thés has adopted the same purchasing policy as spring Darjeelings for these green teas. Every year, the experts at Palais des Thés visit Fujian, Anhui, Yunnan, Zhejiang, Sichuan and Jiangsu to select the best teas of the time and ship as quickly as possible to France.
This selection is renewed every year and is usually available from June onwards, with the exception of air freighted teas that are sold from May, just a few weeks after the leaves were plucked
Specialty of the Fujian providence in China, white tea became famous during the Song Dynasty. White teas are some of the most delicate of all the tea families and undergo the least amount of manufacturing process. The leaves do not go through any process and are just allowed to dry for about 3 days. White teas have very low tannin content and can be brewed for a long time.
Green tea is a daily drink in China, with a significant amount of the total production reserved for home consumption. It’s mainly grown in Fujian, Zhejiang, and Anhui province in the mountainous and humid regions. The leaves can be rolled and shaped into rods, balls, twits, or slender bud (needle). Chinese green teas are known for their long lasting flavor, freshness and greenness; general infusion time is between 3-4 minutes.
Palais des Thés offers:
- About 10 exclusively selected very prestigious teas that are produced in small quantities in China. They are replaced from year to year with new recommendations for extreme freshness and delicacy.
- The best-known teas in China year round.
For maximum enjoyment, it should be consumed early in the season within 8 to 10 months of plucking.
Oolong teas are also referred to as “blue-green” by Chinese, because of the color of the infused leaves that are semi-oxidized. The oxidation process is interrupted part way through – unlike green teas and black teas.
There are two main categories of Oolong, lightly oxidized teas (10 to 30%) - the Chinese method and more oxidized (60 to 70%) - made by a method developed in Taiwan.
Oolongs are low caffeine teas that are good for late afternoon or evening. They are highly considered by traditional Chinese medicine for its quenching, calming and digestive qualities. Oolong teas can be prepared using traditional teapot with 10 to 20g of tea/L – 7 to 8 minutes infusion time or using Gong Fu Cha method for 30 to 60 seconds. Very high quality semi fermented teas can be infused several times without spoiling the taste.
The origin of Chinese black tea is unknown and is essentially produced for export. Chinese black teas are usually produced in Yunnan, Anhui, Fujian, Jiangxi and Sichuan regions.
Produced all over Fujian province in China, this tea is generally made from the lower leaves, or “souchong” which contains less theine. Smoked teas have very little caffeine and are suitable for any time of day.
Yellow is the name given to very high-quality green teas that are deemed worthy of being drunk by the emperor. Yellow teas are very similar to green teas and are extremely rare. When Palais des Thés is able to purchase andpresent, it will be under Grands Crus.
These teas come from Yunnan province and have being fermented in heaps under a damp cover, in order to maintain a degree of hygrometry greater than 85%. Pu-Ehr teas are usually put through this process several times. First made in the early 1970s at Kunming, the initial aim was to accelerate the post-fermentation process that occurs in compressed tea cakes. However, it works well when the leaves are loose so that all grades of Pu Er now comes in both compressed and loose. Pu Er has 10 different grades: the finest are graded and the leaves have a very regularappearance.
While there are records of tea having being consumed in Japan since the 8th century, notably during Buddhist ceremonies, the widespread adoption of teas by the Japanese society took almost 400 years. It was only in the 12th century that the tea seeds were brought by Eisai (a Buddhist monk) from China and planted on Kyushu, Honshu, and the Uji region – areas which are now famous for producing the best green teas in Japan.
In the 16th century, the famous Zen priest, Sen No Rikyu (1521-1591) codified the relationship between tea, Buddhism, and the different tea schools, and in so doing gave the Cha No Yu (tea ceremony) its ritualized form.
Japan produce very high quality whole leaf green teas whose preparation demands special cares. Japanese green teas are not prepared according to the traditional Chinese method and undergo steaming. The leaves are steamed for a few minutes, which gives them a shiny appearance. This process preserves flavors, aromas, colors and gives a slightly iodized taste that is immediately recognizable.
The steaming process helps to preserve the vitamin content that the teas are rich in vitamins. Japanese green teas have light caffeine and must be drunk unadulterated with nothing added.
Because of this typical appearance and flavor, Japanese green teas often surprise Westerners. They are high in vitamins and contain a small amount of caffeine. They must be drunk plain, with nothing added.
Harvested once a year in April, Gyokuro (Dew Pearls) is among the best of Japanese teas. 3 weeks before the harvest, the leaves are shielded from the light with straw or with loosely woven cloth. This allows the leaves to develop some very characteristic notes. The shading process filters 80% of the sun’s rays and produces more chlorophyll, which helps to gain softness and delicacy and develop less bitterness.
Sencha tea, meaning infused teas, are green teas that represent about 80% of the country’s production. They are harvested 3 times a year using the best leaves from the tea plants.
The plucking is done mechanically, so they can obtain teas of different grades. Their special characteristics come from the method used to dry them – a period of steaming after which the leaves are formed into very fine needles.
The plucking is done mechanically, a technique that the Japanese have mastered so they can obtain teas of different grades. After steam firing, the leaves are folded to look like small flat needles. Depending on its quality, Sencha tea is prepared with varying amount of tea, differing water volume and temperature as well as the infusion time.
Tamaryokucha accounts for 5% of Japanese tea production and comes mostly from the Miyazaki and Saga prefectures on the island of Kyushu. Tamaryokucha tea leaves are simply rolled, which gives them more color.
Bancha, meaning “common tea”, is made from the last harvest of the year, known as the equalization harvest, as it also serves to level out the plucking surface. This tea enjoys great popularity in Japan and is the variety that is almost always served in restaurants specializing in raw fish, for which I makes a good accompaniment. The caffeine content of Bancha leaves is relatively low.
India is now the foremost tea producer in the world and the tea industry, which is an essential part of the national economy, directly employs more than a million people. Although the history of tea only really began in the 19th century, tea drinking is extremely popular at all levels of Indian society. While some people still prepare tea according to the typical English method, the majority of Indians now drink Chai. On the other hand, the best teas that India produces are Darjeeling (also the finest harvests of Assam) are beyond the means of local people and are exported.
Darjeeling, a relatively large town, is well known for the freshness of its climate and pure air. It is situated at an altitude between 1312 and 8200 ft (400 – 2500m) and contains 87 tea plantations, 61 of which are subdivided into 3 different categories, according to altitude.
There are 4 annual harvests: Spring (March to April), summer (May to June), monsoon (July to August), and autumn (October to November) – with each offering its own typical flavor characteristics. The most sought after crops are those of spring and summer.
Darjeeling produces orthodox black teas and a marginal amount of Oolong and green teas; the quality and price varies greatly. The finest tea can be a hundred times greater than that for the lowest of the standard teas.
On account of their high prices, most Darjeeling teas are sent for export and is sold in two ways:
- as a "blend": all labeled under the generic name of Darjeeling, is a mixture from different plantations.
- in original tea chests for the rarest and finest teas. They are labeled with plantation name, grade and batch number.
Darjeeling is one of the most prestigious teas in the world. Its scent and flavor can be very different from one crop to another and from one plantation to another. The time of plucking (spring, summer, autumn, monsoon), plucking method, climate conditions, the altitude, and the direction the plantation is facing the sun. Also, the distribution of tea plants in the plantation (Assam, China, etc.) as well as the soil (like the grape varieties for wine) affects the tea.
The spring flush (first flush) in Darjeeling, is eagerly awaited by tea lovers all over the world. The first of the year, it takes place between the end of February and the end of April. Produced in very small quantities, the rare Darjeeling spring teas possess great aromatic qualities and a delicacy that has earned them thename “the Champagne of tea.”
Throughout the winter, while the tea bushes are left to rest, their shoots store up essential oils. The first plucks of the year contain a large proportion of these high-quality young shoots, known as “golden tips.” The spring Darjeeling teas are easily recognizable by the green color their leaves turn during infusion.
The quality and the flavor of first flush teas depend on essential factor of the climate conditions, so that the same plantation can produce very different teas from one year to another. Every year, a team of experts from Palais des Thés visits each plantation to select the best teas to send to France. The selection is often available from March onwards for air freighted teas and from May to June for teas that is shipped by sea.
The freshness and fineness of spring Darjeelings are very fragile and do not age well. Therefore, it is recommended to drink them as “in season” (during the 9 to 12 months following the harvest) to be able to enjoy them at the peak of their quality. Recommended method of preparation is steeping the tea in gentle simmering spring water (185°F or 85°C) for 2 to 3 minutes.
Plucked in early May, between the two flush periods, this is a fairly rare harvest. In-between flush combines the freshness of the first flush and the roundness of the summer, second flush.
Taking place in May and June during the hot season that precedes the monsson, the summer harvest happens at the time of the year when production reaches its highest level. The leaves are small and brown, darker than the spring crops. The liqueur is coppery and shiny and is more full bodied than the first flush. Very aromatic and has slight astringency that gives a good presence in the mouth.
Tea produced during the monsoon season, from July to September, is of a lower quality than the other harvests. In fact, it is lacking sun. Tea harvested during the monsoon season, between the second flush and autumnal from July to September. This harvest is less withered and more oxidized and is of a lower quality than other harvests.
Harvested from September to mid-November after the monsoon is over. The color of its liquor is copper tending towards orange.
A specialty of Taiwan and the Fujian region of China. It’s rarely produced in other countries.
A tradition of China and Japan, unfermented teas remains a rarity in northern India.
The Assam teas found great favor with the British when they first appeared in the London market in the mid-19thcentury. They are typical of what is known in the industry as the “British taste” – they are vigorous, spicy, tannic, and astringent, and well able to support the addition of milk. They are traditionally included in the blends that were created to suit tea drinking at different times of day, adding both body and structure. If not blended, they must be identified and sold under the name of the plantation.
Situated in south of India, Nilgiri is the second biggest tea producing region in India after Assam. The plateau of Nilgiri region is the same height as Sri Lanka and produce teas whose regular leaves are round and full bodied. The liquor or Nilgiri teas are similar to that of Sri Lankan teas.
A region situated to the west of Assam, whose teas are especially aromatic and highly coloured. They are not without a hint of certain summer Darjeeling, which they marry with the roundness and the strength of Assam.
A region in the west of Assam, Dooars teas are particularly aromatic and highly colored. They are reminiscent of summer Darjeeling with the roundness and the strength of Assam.
Kangra is situdated in the south of Kashmir. Kangra teas are known for rich aroma and strong color and taste.
Plantations are located in south of Darjeeling, Terai’s infusion has good color, powerful and constant flavor.
Sri Lanka, known as Ceylon until 1972, and as the “Island of Tea” today, are still commonly referred to as “Ceylon” teas. Sri Lanka is the 3rd largest tea producer in the world and supplies more than half of the black tea consumed in France. The English introduced and developed tea as a substitute product for coffee. With Britain’s long experience in India, tea soon became the most important crop in the country, turning Ceylon into the second largest tea producer in the world after just a few decades.
Sri Lankan teas are grown in six principal regions: Galle, Ratnapura, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula, and Uva, thatare located in the south of the island. There is a surprising difference in climate across the regions of Sri Lankan and it is noted for experiencing two monsoons a year. Since the seasons vary greatly across the different regions, the harvest periods vary also.
The taste of Sri Lankan teas vary from one region to another, however, higher altitude teas are often considered the best. Sri Lankan teas are recognized by its copper color and lively, piquant scent.
Unlike the common practice, the teas are not named aftertheir place of origin, but more often classified according to the altitude at which they are grown.
The Nuwara Eliya District
The highest of the regions, Nuwara Eliya is rarely affected by the monsoon. The teas are harvested from February to April for the best quality and it is recognized by the bronze liquor and flowery (evokes Jasmine) taste.
The Uva District
A region of intermediate altitude, notable for its season of dry winds (June to September). Uva region teas are mellow and aromatic with round taste, have copper color infusion, and are less full bodied than other Sri Lankan teas.
The Dimbula District
Dimbula district teas are harvested from January to mid-March and is heavily affected by the monsoon rain from June to September. Dimbula district teas are full-bodied and astringent and produce a dark color liquor.
The Kandy District
Kandy district teas are low grown but produce good quality teas that are full-bodied and astringent.
The Galle District
Galle is located in the south of the island. Teas in Galle region are known for its Orange Pekoes, very regular leaves, and powerful and long lasting aroma.
See our selection of teas from Sri Lanka
Taiwan still bears its name, Formosa (the beautiful), given by the Portuguese when it comes to tea. The first tea to be cultivated in Taiwan came from plants brought in from Fujian, China in 1796. However, it wasn’t until 1860s, with the ratification of the Treaty of Tientsin between China and Great Britain that tea growing became a commercial proposition and a regular export trade began. Situated on the Tropic of Cancer, the conditions on the island are ideal for the cultivation of tea. More than half of the island is over 650ft (200m) in elevation and the many mountain ranges offer cool, damp conditions that favor the production of high-quality teas.
Oolong or semi-fermented teas
Taiwan is well known for its semi fermented teas called "Wu Long (Oolong)", also called "Black Dragon" in Chinese. The tea being affected by the location of the plantation, the variety of bush and type of leaves used, the time of year of the pluck, variations in the rate of oxidation, the length of firing, the way the leaves are folded, etc., so there are many different types of Oolong.
The teas can go through various levels of fermentation depending on the plantation. Taiwanese Oolong teas are therefore classified according to their degree of fermentation and not to their method of production.
Taiwan also produces green and black teas and the smoking process is carried out in the traditional manner: Once the leaves have been harvested and processed into black tea, they are lightly toasted on a flat iron griddle, then spread out on a bamboo rack and left over a spruce wood fire for many hours.
The teas from Nepal are among the finest in the world. Mainly cultivated on the Terai plain close to the Himalayas, their delicateness and aromatic richness are exceptional. Palais des Thés offers you the best of these teas, chosen directly at the plantations.
Teas from Nepal: historical background
Nepal is a young tea-producing country. The first Nepali tea plantations were planted in 1920. At the time, they covered an approximately 100-hectare area. It was not until 1960 that Nepal set up its first factories. During the decades that followed, the cultivation of tea plants spread slowly and, in the mid-1980s, the government declared Nepal's 5 eastern districts "tea growing zones".
Since then, many plantations equipped with factories have been created. The tea sector was given a new boost in 1997 following its privatization.
Today, Nepal has 85 plantations and tea provides sustenance for some 7,500 small farmers who sell their leaves to the factories.
Black teas similar to Darjeeling
Nearly all the teas produced by Nepal are black teas. Nepal's black teas are similar to Darjeelings. Their characteristic bouquet is woody, flowery and fruity. They are grown primarily in the Terai, Illam and Dhankura regions.
Palais des Thés invites you to discover the finest teas from Nepal
Our Nepali teas, purchased directly from planters, are carefully selected by our experts. These purchases allow us to offer you high-quality, extremely fresh teas and help you discover rare teas from small plantations. One of these plantations is Jun Chiyabari, located in the Dhankura district in eastern Nepal, which we discovered in 2007.
Tea from Asia
Sin the 19th century, Indonesia’s Sumatra and Java have produced teas using Assam plants. Indonesia teas (especially for broken leaves) are round, full-bodied, and fairly well-suited, with the addition of milk. Indonesia is world’s 5th largest tea producer.
Before the war, Vietnam was an important tea producer. Since after the war, Vietnam has begun to grow teas again, mainly in their highlands, and now stands as the 18th largest tea producing country in the world.
Malaysia produces small amount of black teas that are not very full-bodied.
Sikkim is a small Himalayan state that is located near Darjeeling. This region produces fine and aromatic teas that are close to the best Darjeelings.
Bangladesh tea grows in the northern part of the country. The region borders with India and is close to Assam. Bangladesh teas are aromatic, highly colored, and can be taken with some milk.
From the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea
Tea arrived in this region through various routes and was at first a commodity imported from far away, long before it began to be grown at home. It was the Mongols and merchants along the Silk Road that introduced tea to the Russians, Turks and Persians, as well as the people of Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, among others. Around the turn of the 20th century and after numerous attempts, tea began to be grown in the mountains between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea.
Iran, Turkey and the Commonwealth of Independent States, specialists in the preparation of black tea in a samovar, produce tea primarily for their own consumption. The former Soviet Union was once the world's fifth largest producer. We should be careful not to confuse teas from this country, sometimes described as "Russian style" teas because of their use in a samovar, with "Russian taste" teas, a label given to some blends of Chinese scented or unscented black teas made popular by the Russian court in the late 19th century.
It was the 16th century that tea was first introduced to the Ottoman court. Like many countries around this area, tea consumption precedes its cultivation. Tea plantation, often small in size, began in the 1920 with seeds from Soviet Union. The plantation extend along the south shore of the Black Sea between Trabzon and Rize and are home to a more cooperative style of tea-growing.
Cultivation began in the 1920s using seeds from the Soviet Union. The plantations, often small in size, extend along the south shore of the Black Sea between Rize and Trabzon and practice more collective style of farming. Turkey is the 6th largest tea producer in the world and produce enough to cover its own consumption and small scale export. Turkish style tea, prepared in a samovar, is most commonly served with nothing added, but can also have the addition of pine nuts or cardamom seeds. It is a delicious accompaniment to Turkish delight, gazelle’s horn and other eastern pastries.
Georgia is one of the smaller tea producing countries and one of the few countries to have mechanized tea plucking. Georgian plantations some of the most northerly located plantations and face harsher winter than other plantations. Therefore, tea plants that are grown along the banks of Black sea are particularly cold resistant. Although Georgian teas cannot be compared to the great classic teas, Georgia produces good black teas that are good for any time of day.
Tea drinking started at the end of the 15th century in Iran. Although coffee was very popular in the country at the time, the difficulty in importing coffee led to a development in tea. Tea and customs of the Mongols were transported through the Silk Road, and the preference for coffee was gradually replaced with tea. It was in the late 19th century that the first attempt was made to cultivate tea plants and by the early 20th century Iranian teas were able to be soled at the local market. Then, plantation in Gilan Province, located between the Alborz Mountians and the south shore of the Caspian Sea, rapidly developed. Starting in 1920s, the production surged and now Iran is the world’s 8th largest tea producer in the world consuming most of their total output of tea.
Tea from Africa
The tea was introduced in Africa at the end of the 19th century. It was the English who started the cultivation in South Africa to secure new sources of supply. Later, German settlers experimented with the cultivation that is on the slopes of Mt. Cameroon and Tanzania. During the 20th century, numerous countries began to grow tea and with African continent playing a major role in the world tea market.
Teas are produced in a traditional method that yields to whole leaf or broken teas, or the CTC (crushing-tearing-curling) method that mechanically changes the tea leaf into tiny beads used for teabags. Nowadays, about a dozen of countries in Africa produce black tea. Quality varies depending on its origin so Palais des Thés tea experts have opted to buy only the high quality tea from chosen countries.
Kenya is currently the world's 4th largest tea producer, accounting for approximately 8% of total production. Nearly all teas from this country are CTC (crushing-tearing-curling) teas, with the exception of the Marynin garden, which has maintained its traditional production method.
Rwanda's production is very minor compared to worldwide production; however, this country offers several teas with very interesting quality.
Mauritius is close to Reunion. Mauritius produces various teas including the most famous tea that is valued for its vanilla taste.
The Aspalathus linearis, or Rooibos bush is native to South Africa. Rooibos is a different plant from the tea plant that provides a pleasant beverage with no caffeine and almost no tannin.
Tea from South America
Although teas from South America are similar to Indian or Sri Lankan teas in terms of characteristics, one cannot compare the great teas of India and Sri Lanka with South American teas. The teas of South America are completely unknown to European consumers, and are still much to be discovered.
Argentina has been growing tea for the about 60 years. Argentina is a 11th tea producer in the world and almost all plantations are located in the Misiones region along the borders of Brazil.
Mate, also called “Jesuits’ tea”, comes from a plant native to South America. It’s very high in caffeine.
Brazil is a minor tea producer and offers few broken leaf teas.
See our selection of teas from these tea-producing countries