Tea is the second-most popular drink in the world after water and the “tea economy” is valued at $10 billion dollars.
That’s a lot of tea being grown, processed, sold, and consumed! So which regions are best known for producing black tea?
The most famous and prolific tea growing regions are in India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and China.
But to become a true tea buff, it is important to know where the different varieties of black tea are grown, and what the different flavor profiles of the teas grown in each region are.
The 8 regions most famous for producing black tea
- Assam, India
- Darjeeling, India
- Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
- Uva, Sri Lanka
- Kericho, Kenya
- Anhui, China
- Fujian province, China
- Yunnan province, China
1. Assam, India
Assam is a state in Northeastern India. It is bordered by Bhutan to the north and Bangladesh to the south. The province stretches from the Northern Himalayas to the Northern Plains, and on to the Deccan Plateau.
Assam has a lush, tropical monsoon climate. During the monsoon season, the area experiences between 10 to 12 inches of rainfall per day. This highly humid climate is what gives Assam black tea its distinct malty flavor.
The Camellia sinensis plant, from whose leaves and buds all tea is made, comes in two varieties, namely Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, and Camellia sinensis var. assamica.
The latter variety is native to the Assam region of India, while the former, smaller-leaved tea plant originally hails from China.
Camellia sinensis var. assamica was first discovered by Europeans in Assam in 1823, though of course it was known to and used by the local Singhpho and Khamti populations long before this.
Soon after they discovered it, the British began drinking Assam tea as a breakfast drink.
Today, over half of India’s tea is grown in Assam.
Assam tea is known for its brisk, malty, and full-bodied flavor, and is often served as a breakfast tea. English breakfast tea is made using a blend of Assam, Darjeeling, and Ceylon tea.
Irish breakfast tea, which is stronger than its English counterpart, contains a greater proportion of Assam tea than English tea, and is made of smaller Assam leaves.
Indian masala chai, a spiced and sweet milky tea that is the nation’s most popular hot beverage, is also made using Assam tea leaves.
2. Darjeeling, India
Darjeeling is a region in West Bengal, located in the foothills of the Himalayas. Extensive tea plantations were established in the region in the early 19th century during the British Raj.
During the 19th century, tea growers in Darjeeling began to develop unique black tea hybrids and to experiment with fermentation. The outcome of this was a unique black tea variety that is now commonly known as Darjeeling tea.
Darjeeling tea has a musky undertone and a delicate vegetal, fruity, and citrus flavor.
Despite being grown in India, it is made using the small-leaved Camellia sinensis var. sinensis plant, which originally hails from China.
Darjeeling is less oxidized than other varieties of black tea and is therefore less astringent.
Darjeeling is harvested in flushes. It ranges from delicately arboreal in flavor when picked in its first flush at start of the growing season, to robust and full-bodied when picked toward the end of the growing season.
3. Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
The tropical island nation of Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, is home to extensive tea plantations. Tea plantations cover four percent of the country’s area, and most produce a variety of black tea that is commonly called Ceylon.
Ceylon black tea has a honey gold color. It is a bold, full, and brisk tea, with medium to high levels of tannin, and notes of chocolate and citrus fruit.
Ceylon is the base of Earl Grey tea, as well as of many black tea fruit infusions. Ceylon is also frequently used as the base for Thai Iced Tea and Hong Kong Milk Tea.
Nuwara Eliya is located in central Sri Lanka. It is the tea-growing area with the highest elevation in the country. The tea grown in Nuwara Eliya is known for its delicate, floral taste and light flavor.
4. Uva, Sri Lanka
Uva is likely the most famous region for tea growing in Sri Lanka. The Ceylon black tea that is grown and produced in Uva has a sweet, woody flavor.
Uva is located east of Nuwara Eliya. It is the second-least populated province in Sri Lanka and is home to the Gal Oya hills and Central mountains, and the Menik and Mahawali rivers.
Because of its light, moderate and smooth taste, Uva-grown Ceylon is a frequently used as the base for black bubble tea, which is one of the most popular bubble tea flavors.
5. Kericho, Kenya
Despite its late start in tea horticulture, Kenya is the third-largest producer of black tea in the world today, after India and China.
Kenyan black tea makes a rich, full-bodied brew that has notes of citrus, anise, cardamom, and chocolate.
Tea production began to emerge in Kenya in the early 1990s. One of the country’s best-known regions for tea production is the district of Kericho.
Kericho is located in the highlands west of the Kenyan Rift Valley and has a warm, temperate climate.
6. Anhui, China
The home of the much sought-after Keemun black tea, Anhui China should not be overlooked when considering the most important tea-growing regions in the world.
Keemun tea was first produced in the late 19th century using tea processing techniques adapted from those used by tea growers in the Fujian province.
Keemun is a slightly smoky tea with notes of stone fruit and unsweetened cacao. It has a higher proportion of geraniol than other black teas, which gives it an aromatic, floral flavor.
The Anhui region is located between the Yellow Mountains and the Yangtze river.
7. Fujian province, China
Lapsang Souchong is a black tea variety whose leaves are smoke-dried over a pinewood fire. As a result, this highly coveted black tea has notes of pine resin and paprika.
It is not a bitter tea, and is beloved among tea connoisseurs for it sweet, smoky taste. It was originally produced in the Wuyi mountains of China’s Fujian province and is still grown there today.
Lapsang souchong is often mixed with Ceylon tea leaves in Earl Grey blends. It is combined with Keemun black tea and roasted oolong in a tea blend known as Russian Caravan.
8. Yunnan province, China
The Yunnan province in China is famous for producing Yunnan Red (Dian Hong Cha). This fully oxidized black brew is grown at high elevations in the mountains of the Lincang region.
The mild climate in Yunnan, even at between 1680 and 1900 meters, is ideal for growing tea that is ready for picking between March and November.
Yunnan Red has a delicious smoky flavor and features notes of caramel and cacao. It is often enjoyed straight, with no milk added.
However, for those who want to drink Yunnan Red as a breakfast tea and add in a few drops of milk, there is no reason you shouldn’t. The richness of Yunnan black tea also blends deliciously with milk and a sweetener.