Ah, tea; the universally acceptable beverage. It is the world’s second most popular drink so it’s quite likely you’re enjoying a cup of your favourite brand while reading this. When someone is upset, you offer them tea. When it’s cold outside, you make a cup of tea. If you’re sitting down to do some work, you make yourself some tea to see you through. Basically, tea works in almost any situation. It comes in a variety of forms; iced, hot or cold, bagged or loose – the list is endless. Well, maybe not endless but we would need a lot of time to list every variation of tea in the world.
Though tea is grown mainly in tropical or subtropical climates, it’s been paraded around the world since the sixteenth century. What is it about those magical leaves that bring us so much joy? It could be their universality and diversity. For colder countries, tea can be served piping hot after a hard day commuting in the frosty weather. In warmer climates, tea fans can chill iced tea in the fridge as a refreshing cooler. Tea’s not just a beverage; it’s got strong social and cultural connotations, and is a sign of hospitality worldwide. There’s a huge culture of tea that’s laden with history. This begs the question; who are the biggest tea-drinkers in the world? In which country does the social activity of tea-drinking dominate? And does your country make the top ten?
10. Kazakhstan 1.54 kg (54 oz) per capita
Most of the tea consumed in Kazakhstan is served hot. Like many places, it is a social convention to offer a guest a cup of tea and it is often considered impolite to refuse. Then again, who could refuse a piping hot cup of tea?
9 Qatar 1.60 kg (56 oz) per capita
The Qatari people are renowned, just like their neighbours, for their impeccable Arabic manners. It comes as no surprise then that, should you visit the Middle Eastern country, you will almost certainly be offered a cup of karak on your travels. Karak is a speciality tea in Qatar where the leaves are boiled before serving to release a stronger flavour and it is served with milk.
Qatar is also home to a chain of tea shops (not quite as common as coffee shops chains!) called ‘Tea Time’ which has branches all over the country. Here, you can sample the many teas popular in Qatari culture.
8. Kuwait 1.61 kg (57 oz) per capita
Like its neighbour Qatar, Kuwait is well known for its Arab culture of hospitality so it comes as no surprise that they Kuwaitis make our top ten. After all, tea and hospitality go hand in hand! In Kuwait culture, if you refuse a cup of tea from your host (be it in a house, office or even a store) it is viewed as insulting to the host. Tea is Kuwait is generally served hot; with an accompanying serving of nuts or sweets.
Kuwaiti tea is generally black but flavours are occasionally added. Peppermint and lemon are some of the most popular additives. This may be a problem for you – if you are not a fan of lemon but happen to be in a Kuwaiti household, you will not want to offend your host by refusing the tea. When life gives you lemons, eh?
7. United Arab Emirates 1.89 kg (67 oz) per capita
We’re taking a jump of ten ounces per capita this time, as we move towards the United Arab Emirates. Again, it is traditional Arab hospitality to serve tea to guests and it’s generally seen as impolite to refuse tea from your host. The UAE is made up of Dubai and Abu Dhabi (fun fact – Qatar, our number 9, declined an invitation to join the UAE when the union was formed in 1971).
As the world became more health aware, herbal teas like green tea became more popular. Green tea is one of the many variants of the beverage that’s reputed to have health benefits and medicinal functions. Growth in tea consumption is set to continue for the foreseeable future, so UAE might be higher up on our list in a couple of years – watch this space.
6. Seychelles 2.08 kg (73 oz) per capita
Seychelles is a beautiful country made up of 150 islands off of the south-eastern coast of Africa. While Seychelles has the smallest population of any African state (it currently stands at just over 90,000) the people are Seychelles are a tea-loving bunch. Seychelles has a hot climate which aids its efforts to grow its own tea.
One of the Seychellois islands, Mahé, houses the country’s Tea Factory which was established in 1962. The Tea Factory is not only the home of the country’s main tea harvesting facilities; it is also set in one of the most scenic places in Seychelles and is a popular eco-tourism site. Seychelles tea comes in five main flavours: vanilla, mint, orange, cinnamon and lemon. It is served hot, with optional milk. Delicious!
5. United Kingdom 2.74 kg (97 oz) per capita
Kicking off our top five is the UK. You might have thought Britain would be further up the list, considering English tea is one of the most well known of all and ‘tea time’ is seen as quintessentially British. Britons drink tea throughout the day, with breakfast tea being one of the more popular options. British brands like Earl Grey are internationally renowned for their breakfast blends.
Tea in the UK is generally taken black, sometimes with lemon, and served with milk and/or sugar. It was first introduced to the country as an upper class drink in the 18th century when the British Empire was at its peak. Today, it is a widely consumed beverage across all classes and generations. Cream tea and afternoon tea retain some of that imperial elitism in tea shops across the country – but thankfully everyone in England can indulge in a ‘cuppa’ nowadays.
4. Mauritania 3.22 kg (114 oz) per capita
The second African country on our list is Mauritania. This lovely nation sits pretty on the western coast of Africa and for the Mauritanian people, tea is a ceremonial event. The Mauritanians take part in tea consumption once, if not more, daily. The tea is served thrice (consisting of green tea, sugar and mint leaves) and is the first tea on our list to undergo a process called “ragwa”. This is a process by which the tea is poured from a height to create a foamy froth on top of the drink.
What is thrice served tea, you ask? Well, you drink three teas! The first tea will be bitter and they get sweeter as they go along. For those who find the tea too bitter, there is the option to add zrig, sweetened milk. Tea is served after meals in Mauritania and always when a guest is around.
3. Ireland 3.22 kg (114 oz) per capita
The Emerald Isle has a long love affair with tea. The majority of tea blends in Ireland are black teas, with roots in Assam tea. Lyon’s and Barry’s are the two biggest competitors on the Irish tea market and are referenced regularly in popular culture. The pinnacle of this is in the hugely popular 1990s sitcom, Father Ted, in which the housekeeper, Mrs Doyle’s best known quote was “Tea, Fathers?”
Tea was only introduced to Ireland in the nineteenth century, by Anglo-Irish aristocracy who imported it from India. Initially, tea was far too expensive for most of the then-poverty stricken Irish to afford but once it became commonplace, the prices dropped and the nation was hooked. The Irish word for tea is “tae”, pronounced “tay”. Though Irish is spoken by a minority of the population, tea is more commonly referred to as “tae” even among Irish Anglophones.
2. Morocco 4.34 kg (153 oz) per capita
Morocco and tea go hand in hand. There are so many variants of tea in Morocco that it’s hard to generalise the population’s tea consuming habits. Like so many others on our list, tea is a sign of hospitality in Morocco and is commonly served to guests. One of the most popular teas in this North African nation is mint tea. This Maghrebi-style tea is served hot, with fresh mint leaves and tobacco in the water to add flavour. It’s commonly served with meals and the beverage is traditionally prepared by the male head of the family.
Teas in the north of the country tend to be sweeter than those in the south – owing to the fact that tourism hotspots in on the northern coast. Green tea is also quite popular in parts of Morocco, served with sugar to sweeten and optional mint leaves for an extra kick. Moroccans, mike the Mauritanians, use the ragwa method of pouring, to create that delightful foam on top of the tea.
1. Turkey 6.87 kg (242 oz) per capita
Topping off our list is Turkey. Turkish tea is massively popular both in Turkey and among the neighbouring nations – and is a cornerstone of Turkish culture. It is the most popular hot drink in the country, after all. Tea is only a popular Turkish drink since the 20th century though. It was offered as an alternative to coffee, which had become expensive and comparatively rare. Soon, tea overtook coffee as the staple beverage of Turkish life.
Tea is not only a delight to taste in Turkey; it’s also typically aesthetically delightful. The Turks serve their teas in quaint little glasses which allow you to see the colour of your tea as you drink it. Herbal teas are popular with tourists here, though the natives view herbal teas as largely medicinal. The normal, run-of-the-mill Turkish black tea is the traditional tea for natives. This is served in one of those lovely little tulip glasses, with no milk. Delectable!