Cultivation of tea is one of the most sophisticated methods of agriculture. Over the years, the agro-techniques in tea cultivation have been continuously developed and refined in different countries to suit their local situations.
The history of tea cultivation is long and complex, spreading across multiple cultures over the span of thousands of years. Although the different types of tea processing have been described from the beginning of use of tea, yet little is known regarding the cultivation of tea plant. The first exclusive book on tea, Ch'a Ching meaning 'Tea classic' by the Chinese tea expert Lu Yu was published in AD 780 in which he has described various kinds of tea, their cultivation and manufacturing in China. Fengqing county in the Lincang city Prefecture of Yunnan Province in China is said to be home to the world's oldest cultivated tea tree, some 3,200 years old.
Tea production in China, historically, was a laborious process, conducted in distant and often poorly accessible regions. This led to the rise of many apocryphal stories and legends surrounding the harvesting process. For example, one story that has been told for many years is that of a village where monkeys pick tea leaves. According to this legend, the villagers stand below the monkeys and taunt them. The monkeys, in turn, become angry, and grab handfuls of tea leaves and throw them at the villagers.
Illustration of the Legend of Monkeys Harvesting Tea
From this stage, tea is being cultivated in different parts of the world. Commercial cultivation of tea expanded to India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka in the middle of the 19th century. The first record of cultivation of tea in Africa was in 1850. Commercial production in Africa started in former British colonies such as Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi. However, the tea industry developed in the middle of the 20th century. Now, tea is distributed worldwide and grown commercially in tropical, subtropical and temperate climatic regions of Asia, Africa and South America, and in limited areas in Europe and Australia.
In fact, tea plant attained the status of a plantation crop after its introduction to India. Today, tea is grown in many countries commercially in large scale. In many countries it is a peasant crop grown by small growers. The tea research institutes of different countries have been working to develop new technologies for tea production as per their requirements.
Tea Cultivation Technology
The tea plant under natural conditions is an evergreen tree or a shrub. Under cultivation, it is pruned down and trained as low spreading bush to ensure that maximum young shoots, which are the economic harvest of tea crop, can be harvested. Being a perennial crop, tea bushes are kept productive to yield shoots by adopting various agronomic practices. Throughout history, there have been various methods of tea cultivation and harvesting. Nowadays, in light of modern scientific evidences and the complexities of tea, its cultivation and harvesting have more or less been standardized across the world.
In the following Lessons, you will learn regarding the cultivation and harvesting techniques of tea followed in different countries.