THE R15billion Indian tea industry is brewing a plan to get South Africans drinking their tea.

This follows a visit last week to Durban and Johannesburg by a delegation of the Indian tea industry, including Tea Board of India Basudeb Banerjee chairperson and leading manufacturers or exporters of tea.

Banerjee said they aimed to tap into the South African market, which consumes about 20million kilograms of tea annually.

"At present we don't have much presence here. Last year less than a million kilograms was exported to South Africa," he said.

"Given the import duty structure it would be useful to import high value teas since import duty is on weight rather than quality.

"We want to get more people in the industry excited about importing. We are also trying to diversify our market and therefore move into new countries," Banerjee said.

"One of the areas Indian teas could come into is in speciality teas. We are open to become part of the existing blend or part of a new blend."

Tea plantations in India are mainly located in the rural hills and backward areas of the north-eastern and southern states. The three main regions are Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiri.

In 2006 the Indian tea industry had 1655 manufacturers, 2008 exporters, 5148 buyers and nine auction centres.

Banerjee said India and China were the major producers of tea, followed by Sri Lanka and Kenya.

"Though India is the second largest producer of tea after China, it is the largest producer of black tea," he said.

eThekwini deputy mayor Logie Naidoo said the business sector should look at boosting the sales and imports of Indian tea to the country.