There are few things more fantastic than a mug of hot tea. As soon as you read that, your brain flicked over the image of a glossy white mug, filled with that familiar golden brown hue. Simple. Glorious. Aching to be introduced to your biscuit of choice.
Here in Britain, we’ve enjoyed traditional tea breaks for well over 200 years, it’s become a hero for Anglophiles around the world, and in true hero style, soon after it arrived on our foggy shores it achieved something quite extraordinary: it bumped ale, and then gin, into the sidelines, and became Britain’s best-loved beverage.
Three cheers for tea!
Is there anything more lovely, than this? | Image by KnitStorm
But where on earth can such an elegant drink come from? Although tea originated in China over 5000 years ago (I’ll spare you the war-torn history lesson), the modern truth is that it now comes from all over the place.
These places all have one thing in common: they are all beautiful places to visit. So in ode to this remarkable drink, we’ve rounded up no less than thirteen of the world’s best tea plantations for you to peruse.
The World’s Best Tea Plantations
As you’ll soon discover, not everything is as it seems in the land of tea, and aside from the behemoths of the industry, there are small, unsung estates around the world that deliver the perfect blend of travel and culture for today’s discerning travellers. Let’s dunk you into a few of our favourites…
1. Darjeeling Tea Estates, West Bengal, India
Apart from tourism, tea is the biggest industrial activity in India, and among India’s most famous regions, is the self-styled king of the tea country’s, Darjeeling. Trapped in the gaze of the noble Himalayas, in India’s far north east, this is one of the sub-continent’s most vibrant regions, and the perfect spot for a refreshing break. Look out for the loveable Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, or Toy Train, that chugs its way between Darjeeling and Ghum.
Darjeeling is a photographers paradise | Image by Cooper's Moon
2. Doi Mae Salong Tea Estates, Northern Thailand
Northern Thailand’s premier tea estate produces over 200 tonnes of oolong tea each year, making it one of the region’s major employers. Head to Santikhiri for easy access to the rolling garden estates, where Taiwanese workers rub shoulders with local Akha tea pickers to produce one of Southeast Asia’s finest teas.
3. Pedro Tea Estate, Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka boasts a fantastic number of breathtaking tea estates, and Nuwara Eliya’s Pedro Estate ranks highly among them. Visit throughout the day for a guided tour of the entire process, from seed to saucer. Sri Lanka’s population is famously made up of people from across the sub-continent, and much of this is owed to tea. Explore the hill stations, and dip into the fascinating history of the Tamil tea pickers who migrated to the country at the height of the British Empire.
4. Munnar, Kerala, India
Rise into Kerala’s Western Ghats, and slowly unwind among the tea estates that adorn the friendly town of Munnar. This is surely one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, where beautiful pickers bob among the verdant tea plants, under the bright morning sunshine. Kerala produces some of the world’s best Assam teas, and spending just a few days in region will provide you with enough blissful moments for a lifetime to come.
Immerse yourself in the rolling hills around Munnar | Image by aphotoshooter (busy..)
5. Kericho, Kenya
Travellers have been visiting Kenya’s tea plantations for years, and Kericho has long ranked as one of the country’s best-loved estates. Located among the wet highlands of Kenya’s western Rift Valley, you’ll be met by the bright smiles of the Kipsigis pickers, and the sight of mooching cattle making their way through the vibrant green hills.
6. Long Jing Tea Plantation, Hangzhou, China
100 miles southwest of electric Shanghai, lies the mysterious folds of Hangzhou’s tea district: Long Jing, Dragon Well. This beautiful enclave of Chinese history got its name from a legend about a disguised emperor who supposedly stayed there overnight. During the night he dreamed that the local hills and valleys concealed a giant sleeping dragon, who revealed itself to the dreaming emperor, foretelling much glory ahead. Upon awakening, the excitable emperor duly named the region Long Jing, Dragon Well.
Tea's up, but how do you take yours? | Image by basheertome
7. Jiuhua Mountain Tea Plantation, Henan, China
Draped along a provincial border in eastern China, among hillsides covered in pine and bamboo, lie the glorious Jiuhua Mountain organic tea estates, producers of one of China’s most celebrated teas. What’s perhaps more surprising, is the interview process. One of the tea varieties must be picked by the mouths of virgins, ergo all workers must be virgins, and — equally as important — boast a bra size of at least a C cup!
8. Rize, Turkey
While Turkey might be best known for its coffee consumption, it’s the famous tea plantations of Rize, in western Turkey, that should really take the biscuit(s). Uniquely, the Rize tea plantations are located along the coastline of the Black Sea, where more than 200,000 tea growers pick green tea three times a year. Look out for the Rize International Tea Festival, which takes place every year in June.
9. Yunnan, China
Yunnan is made up of a merry gang of famous tea plantations, including Xishuangbanna in the south, and Dali in the north, each cultivating the soft pu-erh tea. The region’s subtropical plateau make the perfect environment for the delicacies of tea. What’s more, Yunnan is the all-encompassing destination, attracting thousands of travellers from across the globe for its exciting mix of traditional cultures and extraordinary rice and tea landscapes, which are best enjoyed alongside one of the province’s trickling sunsets.
Be inspired by the varied landscapes of southern Yunnan | Image by preetamrai
10. Uji, Japan
Some of the world’s oldest tea estates are located in Uji, near Kyoto in central Japan. The region is relatively small compared to others in this round-up, but don’t be put off, this is the location for some of Japan’s most sought-after teas. Uji is famous for gyokuro and matcha, as well as its excellent sencha. Head here for a little background, before doing your research and immersing yourself in one of the country’s most coveted traditions, the Japanese tea ceremony. Warning: this is not an event to simply rock up and ask for the sugar to be passed your way!
11. Mparo Tea Estates, Western Uganda
Hidden among the gentle slopes of the Rwenzori Mountains in the west of Uganda, is one of the country’s most productive tea estates. The Mparo tea estates contribute towards the Fairtrade certified organisation, the Mabale Growers’ Tea Factory. Established in the 1960s, abandoned during the 1980s, and re-established in the 1990s, this is a tea estate with history at its roots and the future at its tips.
12. Moc Chau Plateau, Vietnam
Just 125 miles west of the famous halls of Hanoi, lies one of Vietnam’s premier tea gardens, on the Moc Chau plateau. As well as 1000s of hectares of tea plantations, producing some of the world’s greatest black teas, you’ll also find grazing cows from the Netherlands, which quench the thirst for milk products among local districts.
13. Zealong, Waikato, New Zealand
New Zealand might be the last place you’d expect to find a world beating tea plantation, but nestled in the North Island’s upper quarter is a fascinating estate that boasts the world’s purest oolong tea. Zealong was established in 1996 by Mr Chen and his son Vincent, who imported 1500 tea seedlings from Taiwan to their estates on the outskirts of Hamilton. You’re welcome to visit from Tuesday to Sunday, throughout the year, for a run down on their pioneering approach to the perfect tea.