Teatime for the Globe

Tea has long been one of the world’s most important commodities and has been traded globally for centuries. We wonder: Which country consumes the most tea per capita?

A. India
B. United Kingdom
C. Turkey
D. China

A. India is not correct

While India has historically been an important player in the tea trade, it does not currently rank in the top 25 in terms of tea consumption per capita. According to data collected by Euromonitor International, a London-based market intelligence firm, and the World Bank, India ranks behind countries such as Russia, South Africa, Chile and Germany in terms of tea consumption per person.

The cultivation of tea — as both a crop to be produced and a beverage to be consumed — was introduced into India by the British in the 17th century. The British hoped that India would challenge the Chinese monopoly on tea production.

India is the world’s second-largest producer of tea, supplying 21% of the world’s entire output, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. However, its per capita consumption — at 0.70 pounds of tea per year — is only around one-tenth of the level of the world’s largest tea drinkers.

B. United Kingdom is not correct

Like India, the United Kingdom is another nation that boasts a rich tea drinking culture. The island nation currently ranks third in the world in terms of tea consumption.

At 4.28 pounds per person per year, the British consume about a half-pound less tea than the citizens of neighboring Ireland, where the average person consumes 4.83 pounds of tea per year.

While the United Kingdom now imports all of the tea it consumes, three of today’s five leading producers — India, Kenya and Sri Lanka — were at one time colonies of the British Empire. The British were thus assured of ample supplies of tea — and of procuring it on very favorable terms.

Tea is believed to have originated in China. Before the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), however, tea was regarded as a medicine rather than a daily drink. Tea was introduced to Westerns when European merchants began visiting China in the 1500s.

C. Turkey is correct

Turkey consumes 6.96 pounds of tea per person per year, two pounds more than the next highest per capita consumer, Ireland.

With a population of about 75 million, this means Turkey consumes over 230,000 tonnes of tea per year. Put another way, Turkey — which accounts for about 1% of the world population — consumes about 5% of the world’s tea supply.

While tea is an important aspect of contemporary Turkish hospitality, the drink was popularized only after World War I, when coffee became an expensive import. The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, encouraged the domestic production of tea as a less expensive alternative to coffee.

In 2011, Turkey was the world’s fifth-leading producer of tea, at 222,000 tonnes — just about enough to meet its domestic demand.

D. China is not correct.

In absolute terms, China consumes more tea per year than any other nation — a total of about 725,000 tonnes. However, in terms of consumption on a per capita basis, China — at 1.25 pounds of tea per person — China ranks only 19th.

By comparison, the average Russian (3.05 pounds per person), Moroccan (2.68 pounds) and New Zealander (2.63 pounds) all consume more than twice as much tea per year than the average Chinese.

Modern tea production was dominated by India throughout the 20th century. However, India was overtaken by China as the world’s leading grower of tea in 2005. In 2011, China produced a little over 1.6 million tonnes of tea — or about 35% of the world’s supply.

Along with many other aspects of life in China, the country’s tea drinking culture is undergoing significant changes. Traditionally associated with leisure in Chinese culture, tea is losing ground in China’s fast-paced contemporary culture to beverages such as coffee and Western-style soft drinks.

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