Chinese tea had been traded for over 150 years. According to its development process, we could split it into 3 stages:
1. The first stage (1840 ~ 1886)
This was the period when production and trades for Chinese tea rose, the area for tea production enlarged, and the amount of production increased. From statistical records, the total amount in production for the whole of China was around 50,000 tons and the total amount of tea exported was 19,000 tons in the 1840s.
By 1886, the total amount of tea produced and exported reached 250,000 tons and 134,000 tons respectively - a 500% and 700% increase since 4 decades ago. At the time the total amount of tea exported accounted for 62% of all of China's exports.
The rise in tea trade was mainly because the demand for tea by foreigners was growing rapidly. The signing of the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842 also forced the Qing government to open 5 ports for trade, which, together with the advent of fast transport boats, prompted tea trade's seaward development. But the rise in tea trade was also because China needed to balance its trade deficit.
By around 1842, China was importing opium in vast amounts. In order to pay for the imports, the Qing government enlarged its export of silk and tea to bring money into China. These actions in turn increased tea selling.
2. The second stage (1887 ~ 1949)
This was the period when Chinese tea trade began to decline.
Since the Dutch and the British began planting tea in their colonies (around 1886), China's leading position in tea trading was eroded - and later even replaced. During that time, places such as Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka became tea markets of the world.
This was partly because these new tea makers were using machines to make tea. They were more efficient and more competitive than China, not just in quantity but also in quality - China was still producing tea with old methods at the time.
Gradually, the British and Americans took away the black tea market from China; Japan took away the green tea market. All these factors minimised Chinese tea's competitiveness in the world and phased China out of the world market.
Apart from that, wars continuously loomed in China, including The War of Resistance against Japan and the Chinese Civil War. These slowed economic development in China. Tea gardens were deserted. In 1949, for example, the amount of tea produced was only around 41,000 tons, whereas for tea exported, 9,000 tons. It was not until after 1950 when Chinese tea selling resumed.
3. The third stage (1950 ~ now)
After the new Chinese Government was established and the political environment stablised, Chinese tea production recovered with the support of the new government.
From 1950 to 1988, China (including Taiwan) expanded its tea plantation fivefold from 3,170,000 acreages to 16,300,000 acreages. The amount of tea produced was increased from 75,000 tons to 569,000 tons - an increase of more than 7 times. The total amount of tea exported rose almost 8 times from 26,000 tons to 206,000 tons. China broke the record in the total amount of tea produced in 1976, with 258,000 tons; and in 1983 it broke the record in the total amount of tea exported with 137,000 tons.
By the time of this writing, China holds around 45% of the total tea production area of the world and remains in a leading position.
As for its share of the tea market, China has increased its share from 11.9% in 1950 to 23% in 1988. China has also increased its total tea export from 6.5%, of all of China's export, to 20%. These have been the result of a stable government and its staunch support for tea development.