Where the World’s Most Prominent Tea Drinkers Are
When you think of a nation of tea drinkers, several places probably come to mind. Certainly the mere mention of tea conjures up images of the Queen of England enjoying a cup, and there’s always a pot on the table at your local Chinese restaurant.
So it might surprise you to learn that Turkey is the country sipping the most, with an annual tea consumption of nearly seven pounds per person. England comes in at number three on the list, with 4.28 pounds per person, while China doesn’t even crack the top ten.
With tea only being introduced in Turkey in the 20th century, what’s with its meteoric rise to the top of the list?
Believe it or not, coffee can take the credit. The price of beans began to go up following World War I, when coffee was more expensive to import from neighboring countries. Turkish citizens found tea to be a cheap and enjoyable alternative, especially as the government had tons of seeds brought in from nearby Georgia. Anywhere from 6% to 10% of the world’s tea is grown in Turkey, half of which is consumed within its borders.
Today, the Turks’ tea culture is alive and well – they start breakfast with it and continue to enjoy it all day long, right through bedtime.
Turkish tea is prepared in a unique way – two teapots stacked, one on top of the other. Water is boiled in the larger lower pot, then added to the upper pot where tea leaves are added. The leftover water from the lower pot can then be added to dilute the tea if needed, giving the option of a light or a dark tea depending on preference.
Tea Consumption in the United Kingdom
Ireland takes the second place on the list of the top consumers of tea, with an average of 4.83 pounds used per person annually. Black tea is the drink of choice for the Irish, where the weather is often cold and foggy. Due to the strength of Irish breakfast tea, and the fact that Ireland is a country replete with dairy farms, it is typically served with milk, though it can also be enjoyed with just sugar or honey.
Traditionally, Irish tea times come at 11 a.m., served with a scone, in the afternoon between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. with a cookie, and high tea comes around 6 p.m. It is viewed as a sign of hospitality and friendship in the Irish culture.
Tea in Ireland rose to popularity in the 19th century, however the quality of the black tea being served was inferior to that of neighboring England, hence the addition of milk to cover up the taste. This required a tea that was more strongly brewed, a custom that still exists today.
Across the Irish Sea in England, an average of 4.28 pounds of tea is consumed every year by its residents. The English are well known for their customary high tea, enjoyed with breads, cheeses, vegetables and sometimes meat. The term ‘high tea’ comes from it being taken at a table, whereas afternoon tea was customarily enjoyed on lower chairs or a sofa. While this started out as a traditional social occasion for the upper class, high tea also became customary for blue collar workers, though it happened at supper time as they were often working during
the day and thus not able to partake in it until they got home.
For the English, afternoon tea is taken with biscuits, scones, finger sandwiches and other pastries. This is a popular tourist activity in the country as well, and many places offer it. Some advertise it as high tea (rather than afternoon tea,) which is what this offering is called in other countries around the world, making it easier for visitors to understand what they’re getting.
Tea in the Middle East
Coming in at number four on the list, we find ourselves leaving Europe and landing in Iran, where its residents drink an average of 3.3 pounds annually. Cha-ee, the Iranian term for tea, is served at breakfast and again at bedtime, as well as during meals and throughout the day. Black tea is preferred and is served without milk.
Much of Iranian tea culture is influenced by Russian and Central Asian traditions, from the leaves used to the brewing methods. It is strong and served in a clear glass, so the color of the popular drink can be enjoyed as well as the taste. Sugar cubes or even rock candy are used to sweeten it, but one is not to stir the sugar into the cup. Instead, the cubes are soaked and then put between the teeth.
At home, Iranians use loose leaf tea, sweetening it in the morning with breakfast. Indian Black Tea or Sri Lankan Black Tea are the two most often found in homes, with water boiled in a kettle called a samovar. The water is poured over the loose leaves that rest inside a decorated porcelain tea pot before being served in the glass, though never filled to the top should someone wish to add hot water to dilute it.
Russian Tea Culture
The Russians land at number five when it comes to the world’s tea drinkers, enjoying just a little over three pounds annually. It is especially popular considering the extremely cold conditions that Russia faces for much of the year.
Tea in Russia rose to prominence in the 17th century, when 75 kilograms of it were gifted to a Tsar from a Mongolian ruler. Russia then set up a treaty with China, importing tea in exchange for furs.
As with other nations, black tea is the most popular, though green tea has been seen more frequently in recent years. The traditional type is referred to as Russian Caravan, a tea with a distinct smoky flavor that was derived from the caravans that transported it. Campfires were built at night along the journey, the smoke wafting over the leaves. While tea is no longer delivered this way, the unique flavor happens after oxidation. Black or oolong teas from China are also enjoyed by the Russians, and they too offer the traditional flavor.
Similar to Iran, the Russians prepare their tea in a samovar and will dip and hold sugar cubes between their teeth, though not everyone drinks it that way; it’s very popular in prisons, where alcohol is prohibited. The higher concentration of a tea called chifir makes for an acceptable alternative.
The Rest of the Top Ten Tea Drinkers
Rounding out the top ten list, we find a rather varied selection of nations:
Morocco – Moroccan Mint Tea is the traditional offering here, served in ornate glasses. It is always served three times, from strongest to weakest as more water is added to the pot, along with sugar and fresh spearmint leaves.
New Zealand – Black tea is the favorite, followed closely by green tea and Earl Grey. At one time in the 19th century, Kiwis were the highest consumer of tea in the world as tearooms sprouted around the country.
Chile – Tea time here is considering the fourth meal of the day, with social class holding little bearing on what’s offered as most households use the same items. The idea of tea time was brought to Chilean shores in the 19th century by the English, and the tradition stayed. Today it is served with bread, accompanied by jam, cheese, butter, scrambled eggs and avocado.
Egypt – It was the 16th century when tea first arrived in Egypt, and it’s a staple of the culture for everyone, regardless of social or economic class. It is considered the national beverage, though it is by no means fancy – tea bags are often used, with sugar and fresh mint added to reduce the bitterness of lower quality teas.
Poland – While tea is just the third-most popular drink among the Polish, they still drink an average of 2.2 pounds per person annually. It’s served in a variety of different ways, from nice old-fashioned glasses to ‘high voltage’ tea, meaning it has alcohol in it. Coffee drinkers are certainly on the rise throughout Poland, and there is no official tea time unlike other countries, but it still has its place in this central European nation.
Other Notable Consumers of Tea
While they don’t crack the top ten, several other countries are worth mentioning here. Japan comes very close, at number 11 on the list, with tea ceremonies that represent purity and tranquility being an important part of Japanese culture. From large cities to small villages throughout Japan, tea is truly an event.
China comes in at number 20 where, informally, loose leaf tea can be seen sitting in the bottom of a jar, hot water poured on top of it, but it is also served at formal occasions in a pot. The Chinese also use tea for medicinal purposes and when cooking.
Finally, the United States ranks 35th on the list, with an average of half a pound consumed annually by Americans. Tea culture isn’t nearly as prominent in the states, with coffee being the popular beverage of choice, though tea is still served in restaurants, hotels, and a soothing cup is often recommended when one is feeling ill. Iced tea is also quite popular, especially in southern states, though with the rise of coffee chains in the last several decades it can now be found just about anywhere.
Whether it’s sucked through the teeth from a saturated sugar cube, used as a substitute when no alcohol is available, or it’s served ceremoniously, every nation around the world is enjoying the many different facets of tea.