Green tea makes global share gains

The global green tea market continues to trend in a positive direction, with signs of further development. Consumers have become more keenly aware of green tea’s benefits. Major green tea-producing nations are also responding through expanding or upgrading their capabilities. The evidence supporting green tea’s improved status can be seen in areas of production, exports, and consumption in major domestic markets. By Jason Walker

Black tea still leads in terms of global production volume, but green tea has seen a slight but gradual gain in share over the last 10 years. According to the London-based International Tea Committee (ITC), the share of green tea production has increased from about 30 percent to 33 percent. Estimates put the world’s total green tea production at 2.1 million metric tonnes (mmt) in 2021.

China drives green tea production, contributing over 1.8 mmt. This makes the Middle Kingdom the provider of over 85 percent of the world’s green tea. In relation to its own production, however, green tea comprises about 60 percent of its total annual production. Green tea holds the largest share in terms of China’s output, with black tea being the next closest at about 14 percent of annual China production. It is worth noting, however, that China’s classification system for teas distinguishes between green tea and flower tea. Because of this, all forms of jasmine green tea – from specialty jasmine green pearl teas to jasmine green tea fannings – are not counted towards the green tea totals but are designated as flower teas. Depending on interpretation, this can serve to under-report the actual amount of green tea produced.

Japan is the next best-known home of green tea production, contributing about 0.8 mmt of green tea per year. The majority of Japan’s green tea comes in two forms. Sencha accounts for a little over one half, and bancha makes up more than a third. Matcha (tencha) and gyokuro each contribute less than 4 percent of the total volume but their average value in USD per kg is more than double that of sencha.

Other well-known tea-producing countries, including India, Argentina, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Vietnam either do not parse out green tea production from black, or mainly focus on reporting green tea exports.

China leads in exports

As may be expected, China also dominates in green tea exports. China’s 2021 green tea exports totaled 0.31 MMT, or nearly 85 percent of China’s total exports. Value-wise, however, green tea exports represent roughly 60 percent of China’s exports. China’s average annual export rates reached USD $5.55/kg, with green tea averaging $4.44/kg compared to black tea at $10.25/kg. China’s main export partner has remained Morocco for several years now, as the country has relatively high per-capita tea consumption and a longstanding tradition of drinking green tea (eg Moroccan mint tea).

Vietnam appears to be one of the next largest green tea exporters, though nowhere close to China’s volume. In 2021, Vietnam exported 62,000 mt of green tea, or just shy of half of the nation’s total exports. Vietnam’s top tea export destinations include Pakistan, The Republic of China (ROC), and Russia. It is unclear as to the share of green tea exports among these countries, especially when Pakistan and Russia are known for purchasing significantly more black tea than green.

Japan, on the other hand, exported over 6,000 mt of predominantly green tea. As mentioned above, Japan’s production is largely divided between sencha and bancha. About one-third of Japan’s green tea exports went to the US.

Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India each exported between 5,500 and 3,000 mt of green tea. Indonesia’s major tea export partners include Malaysia, Russia, and the US. Sri Lanka’s top export destinations include Iraq, Turkey, and Russia. India’s three largest tea export countries include Russia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

US imports of green tea grows

Of the world’s top three tea-importing countries (Pakistan, Russia, and the US), the US provides the clearest picture of green tea imports. Of Russia’s 135,000 mt of imported tea, at least 85 percent of it is black tea. Similarly, tea imports into the US in 2022 showed about 14 percent, or 16,618 mt was green tea. Of that total, nearly 7,000 mt originated from China. A further dissection of US green tea imports reveals that 1,800 mt was organic green tea, of which about 1,000 mt came from China.

Producing countries consume the most tea

Considering that the world’s top two producing countries (China and India) generally keep about 85 percent of their produced tea within their borders, these countries hold sway over global green tea consumption. China’s domestic sales of green tea reached 1.3 mmt. During that period, China only imported about 4,300 mt of green tea.

India’s green tea volumes also remained available for the domestic market. As with China, at least 85 percent of India’s total tea production volume didn’t leave the country. This proportion held true for green tea as well. About 15 percent of India’s green production was exported, leaving about 85 percent within its borders.

The US also held relatively steady in an 85/15 split of black-to-green tea consumption, with more emphasis placed on iced tea.

In relation to per capita consumption of tea, some of the major countries increased their consumption over the past ten years. Most notably was Morocco, a major green tea consumer, which increased an estimated 15 percent per head. China’s per capita also saw a significant rise from just shy of 1 kg per head to roughly 1.75 kg.

The outlook for green tea is positive

Compared to black tea, green tea consumption still appears modest but with positive signs for the future. The UK has seen declines in black tea consumption, while green tea has remained relatively steady. Green tea in the US also holds promise, as consumers are attracted to the reported health benefits of green tea.

The Japanese tea industry still sees potential for the further expansion of matcha exports, with matcha being viewed by international markets as a more premium and health-forward tea option. The nation has seen decreases in production of leaf tea and increases in powdered teas and teas used for RTD. The Japanese government has established initiatives to upgrade tea farms, modernize tea harvesting and processing, and promote Japanese teas in the US, Europe, and Asia Pacific.

China’s expansion of new tea fields also indicates a continued trend toward steady production of green teas. China’s internal estimates classify about one third of the nation’s current tea plants as over 30 years old and recommend removing or replacing these less-productive bushes. A gradual phasing out of old fields and the advent of new fields coming online will help keep China on top as a green tea powerhouse.

  • Jason Walker is marketing director of Firsd Tea North America. Prior to his work with Firsd Tea, Walker served in a variety of roles in tea and beverage business capacities. His experience includes business services for small tea companies, a top-ranked online destination for tea consumer education and co-founding a coffee business. His insights draw upon his diverse range of experience in sales, operations and management in the tea world. He may be reached at: [email protected].

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