Sunday, December 4, 2011

Top 5 Tea-Producing Regions for Single-Region Teas, by Number of Teas on RateTea

For today's Sunday Top 5 post, I'm focusing on the top tea-producing regions, but I am not ranking the regions by volume, but rather, by the number of teas listed on RateTea. If you are interested in the volume of bulk production, you can visit the Production section of Wikipedia's article on tea, which has a very interesting table of this ranking. The top 5 countries of this ranking are, in most common order, China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Turkey, although the order changes subtly from year to year. The ranking of teas on RateTea shares only three of these countries in common, and the ordering is different:

Counting the number of teas on RateTea is by no means scientific, as there are a lot of arbitrary factors that have gone into influencing which teas have gotten listed, but I do think that this listing is actually a very good coarse indicator of which countries are more important or influential in the Western market for specialty teas, specifically, single-region teas, as blended teas will not be counted in this list.

After this top five, the count falls off precipitously. Kenya comes in with 39 and Nepal with 29, and there are no other countries with more than a handful of teas. Of the well-over 5000 teas listed, the overwhelming majority (1424) are still blends or teas of unlisted origin (1016) which are probably mostly blends.

Some thoughts on this list:

I find several things interesting about this list. For one, even though China and India are roughly equal in terms of volume of tea production, China almost doubles India in terms of representation among single-region teas. Another interesting factor is the absence of countries such as Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Indonesia in this list...all of which produce substantially more tea than Japan. Taiwan isn't even in the top-10 of producers by volume, but it muscles its way onto the top 5 list as a clear leader among single-region specialty teas. Taiwan and Japan clearly focus on the specialty market.

Do you have any interesting observations about this list? Do you think it's a good coarse indicator of these countries representation in the Western market for single-region teas? Are there any factors here that I may have overlooked?


  1. Interesting list! I think, in part at least, it's influenced by the size of the country -- not in terms of volume, but in terms of the number of individual teas that the country can actually produce. If you re-did the list in terms of proportion of overall types of tea per country I'm sure it would look quite different! It would be a lot of work though, of course.

    Treating each tea producing region of China as a separate area might also show more insight. Saying "China" is a bit like saying "Europe", in terms of size and cultural diversity.

  2. I think these are really insightful comments. I agree with you about it being a bit problematic to compare big countries China side-by-side to smaller ones, I had some of these same thoughts. For example, Taiwan is about as big as many Chinese provinces, so it would make sense to me to treat Taiwan alongside Chinese provinces.

    How to treat mid-sized countries like Japan though? It's a lot bigger than a Chinese province but a lot smaller than China.

    And how to treat the fact that different regions sub-divide their governments differently? Japan's prefectures are a lot smaller in area (and population) than Chinese provinces, but larger than most Chinese counties. It's hard to find even coarse one-to-one correspondences, so any analysis like this will end up being arbitrary to some degree.

    No matter how you do it, you end up with some sort of problem!

  3. I also want to reply to what you said about looking at the different types of tea produced in each region (on we classify these as styles of tea to distinguish between "type" being used to refer to region). Because is already classified this way, it actually wouldn't be quite as much work as you'd think.

    Perhaps I can do this for next Sunday's top 5 post, or some future post! I have already noticed some major trends.

    And actually, going into more depth, the statistician/mathematician in me actually wants to do something more sophisticated, a diversity count, like entropy (i.e. weighting the diversity of teas in a country more heavily when the country actually produces substantial volumes of these teas, vs. just producing 99% black tea and then a few specialty teas).

  4. Thanks! It's true, there are always problem when you're doing any kind of demographic analysis (whether it's people or tea!) I think comparing the whole of Japan to a single Chinese region wouldn't be far off the mark though; Japan might have a far bigger population, but it's also very culturally homogeneous, and I think its tea production reflects that up to a point.

    A more in depth analysis would be interesting, I guess it just depends how far you want to go! Plus what depth of analysis the sample size will support, of course...