The tea industry is made up of the businesses that produce tea as well as those who bring it to market. Tea is the most commonly consumed beverage in the world after water and is grown in many different countries. In each of these countries, the tea industry operates differently, but in many cases much of the tea grown in these countries is exported. Tea wholesalers often buy large quantities of tea that are then sold to retail merchants. Some retailers, however, do work directly with tea farmers and producers in order to provide their customers with particularly choice teas.
Camellia sinensis, the scientific name for the tea plant, can produce a delicious and refreshing beverage when infused in water. It is grown under varying conditions in tea plantations and farms around the world. While much of world tea supply originates in Asia and Africa, tea plantations also operate in Australia, New Zealand, and both North and South America. There is even a small tea farm in Cornwall. Once the tea leaves are plucked, it is processed to produce a particular style of tea, such as black, green, or oolong. Tea can be plucked and processed by hand or by machine, though skilled hand processing typically results in a much better tea.
Major tea companies often buy huge quantities of tea to be packed into teabags and sold to consumers in grocery stores. This tea often varies in quality, and some tea companies blend different teas together year after year in order to ensure consistency and flavor over time. Many tea companies also flavor their teas with fruits, spices. and other flavorings in order to create beverages with mass appeal. Some tea companies focus more on the quality of tea than others, though truly excellent tea is generally sold through specialty tea merchants to a select clientele.
In some countries, such as the United States, tea aficionados are a select and picky group of people who often have an ambivalent relationship with the tea industry. Many eschew grocery store tea offerings and may choose to brew and drink only loose leaf teas. As such, tiny specialty shops and mail order retailers that are often direct importers of rare and high-quality tea play an important role in the tea industry. Even though their sales numbers may only be a fraction of those enjoyed by major tea companies, these specialty shops serve those who truly appreciate good tea and are willing to pay for it.