How Tea Is Grown
Most of the top tea-producing countries are located close to the equator. China, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, and Indonesia grow 85 to 90 percent of the world's tea supply.
While the climate in the United States isn't particularly well suited to commercial tea growing, two states -- Hawaii and South Carolina -- are home to tea plantations. Black tea is grown on a Wadmalow Island plantation near Charleston, South Carolina. Tea growing in Hawaii began as an experiment in 2000, with the cooperation of the United States Department of Agriculture, to help diversify Hawaii's agricultural economy. Hawaiian tea growers are hoping to develop a specialty niche market for their artisan tea, much like there is for the popular gourmet Kona coffee.
Tea is one of the only crops worldwide that is still picked primarily by hand, and the harvesters descend on the plantation when the first leaves begin to peek out from the stem. Harvesting machines can be used to pick tea on level fields, but handpicking is preferred. Good tea is based on the quality of the leaves, and many growers believe that machine picking allows too many older, inferior leaves and stems to accidentally get into the mix, resulting in a lower-quality tea.
It's painstaking work to harvest tea because only the top two youngest leaves on the tip of the stem and the unopened leaf bud are picked. Harvesters return every 7 to 10 days during the growing season to remove the youngest leaves.
On the next page, you will learn about the various types of tea.