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 particular boost in China, where overall tea production rose by three percent on the previous year to an estimated 791 000 tonnes of tea in 2003.
Green tea accounted for a 73 percent 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 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Beverages remained the biggest application area for green tea extracts though 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.
World Tea production in general was up, according to the report, reaching 3.15 million tonnes, but prices remained firm reflecting seasonal variability.
India accounted for 27.4 percent of world output, closely followed by China with 24.6 percent, and then Sri Lanka and Kenya with 9.75 percent and 9.4 per cent respectively.
Despite the record production levels, tea prices stood firm in 2003. According to the FAO, composite price averaged $1.48 (€1.10) per kg from January to June 2003, rising to an average of $1.55 (€1.15) per kg from July to December 2003 as a result of seasonal variation.
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.
Research published by the University of Newcastle, England last month found that green and black teas may inhibit certain brain enzymes linked to Alzheimer's disease, (Phytotherapy Research, 10/04).
Nashai Biotech is now using this study to market its TeaFlavin product, a natural, caffeine-free supplement made from enriched green tea extracts.
Japanese functional food ingredients firm Taiyo Kagaku has also benefitted this year from the boom in green tea drinking. In October, it acquired Chinese green tea extract manufacturer Wuxi Green Power Bio-Product, which had opened a new facility with annual capacity of 2,500 metric tons in April.
The merged businesses, operating under the name of Taiyo Green Power, has become the world's largest green tea extract manufacturer.
"The green tea extracts market is extremely competitive with a huge supply of raw material and numerous suppliers," said Scott Smith, vice president of Taiyo International, the firm responsible for marketing the Taiyo products in the US.
"We were the first company to introduce green tea extracts for fortification of foods but we fell behind in sales because of the cost competitiveness of products coming out of China - the material has almost become a commodity," he said.
"But this acquisition allows us to combine a large volume with the low cost of production in China, giving us cost competitiveness in addition to the leading technology."
Smith added: "Sales [of green tea] have more than quadrupled in the last two years".