India accounted for 27.4 per cent of world output, closely followed by China with 24.6 percent, and then Sri Lanka and Kenya with 9.75 per cent and 9.4 per cent respectively.
Despite the record production levels, tea prices stood firm in 2003. According to the report from the Food and Agriculture (FAO), composite price averaged US$1.48 (€1.10) per kg from January to June 2003, rising to an average of US$1.55 (€1.15) per kg from July to December 2003 as a result of seasonal variation.
Growth in green tea use by food and beverage manufacturers, spiked by growing evidence of the potential health benefits of the leaf, gave output a boost in China, that saw overall tea production rising on the year before by 3 per cent to an estimated 791 000 tonnes of tea in 2003. Green tea accounted for a 73 per cent slice of the output.
"Larger production in China is attributed to higher prices witnessed throughout 2003 as a result of continued expansion in the ready-to-drink, and organic segments," said the Rome-based FAO.
But tough food and drink material rules in the European Union and Japan, saw a lower uptake from the European Union and Japan for China's tea products, 'allegedly due to non-compliance of MRLs requirements'.
Beverages remain the biggest application area for green tea extracts. In Europe, tea makers have seen a shift in sales in recent years as consumers increasingly opt for flavoursome or healthy alternatives, such as fruit and herbal teas, consumption of which increased by almost 50 per cent between 1997 and 2002, according to market analysts Datamonitor.
Green tea consumption in 2002 was more than 20 times the 1997 figure.
Research demonstrating the tea's health benefits is also driving sales to nutritional products. In the US green tea catechins are booming in weight loss products as the removal of ephedra from the market leaves a gap for thermogenic products.
Polyphenol-rich black tea has also been enjoying some decent growth on the back of increasing evidence that it could improve cholesterol levels and may possess cancer-fighting properties.
And beverage makers are increasingly positioning the tea in premium, 'value-added' lines. According to new product tracker Mintel, Thurella recently launched a 'Sweet cannabis iced tea' , a black tea with Swiss hemp bloom syrup (5%), sugar, lemon juice, antioxidant (ascorbic acid), flavouring, hemp bloom extract (0.0015%).
New under the Pickwick brand from Douwe Egberts, a unit of consumer giant Sara Lee, is Afternoon Spirit, a herbal tea 'energising' mint, chamomile and liquorice root that the manufacturer claims is good for 'resisting dips in energy during the afternoon.'