Tea is said to have originated in Southwest China as a medicinal drink. The earliest credible record of tea drinking in China dates to around 3rd century AD. Undoubtedly, tea has for centuries played a significant cultural, social, even religious role in the region and has become China’s national drink.
China is the world’s largest tea producer, followed by India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. Tea plantation acreage in China has been consistently growing, with the most prolific tea-cultivation areas laying around and south of the Yangtze river valley in Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan, and Hubei provinces.
When it comes to international trade, China exports more tea than any other country in the world. Green tea accounts for the largest proportion of China’s total tea exports and the majority of it goes to Morocco, Uzbekistan, Hong Kong, and some West African countries. According to China Customs data, the value of exports of nearly all types of Chinese teas (green, black, oolong, pu'er tea) have grown by eight to 85 percent in 2019. Nevertheless, China’s tea imports have also been rising. In 2019, China imported around 36,000 metric tons of black tea, around 30 percent more than in the previous year. Most of it came from Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, Indonesia, and Taiwan.
Domestically, Chinese consumed approximately 626 thousand metric tons of tea in 2015, around nine times more than coffee. However, annual per capita tea consumption in China reached only 1.25 pounds as of 2016, more than in Indonesia, India, Taiwan and several other large global tea producers, yet less than Japan and some European countries such as Ireland and the United Kingdom.
As people become increasingly aware of tea benefits to health and are willing to pay more for a better quality tea, Chinese tea retail sales value, production, and consumption are forecasted to grow in the next few years.