Tea vs Coffee Imports – Who are the superpowers?

About a year and a half ago we devoted some time to looking at the major tea producing countries around the world. As of 2011 data we saw, no surprise really, that China, India, Kenya, and Sri Lanka topped the charts as tea producing superpowers. Since doing this post I’ve had this nagging vision in my head that Germany reigned supreme on the tea importer side, being well known for their blending. Like last time I looked to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Statistics Database for numbers on imports and this is where we return to look at import leaders.

Overall Tea Imports

The first thing to note right off is that the Russian Federation is actually the single largest importer, with nearly 400 million pounds of tea imported in 2012.  This is followed by the United Kingdom at 319 million pounds and, shockingly Afghanistan at 299 Million pounds. By sheer volume the United States came in fourth with 277 million pounds.  However, sheer volume of imports alone really doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story.  If you look at pounds of tea imported per capita you start to see a slightly different picture. By this measure Afghanistan (yes, really) imported over 10 lbs per person in 2012 followed by the UAE (8.75 lbs), Libya (7.76 lbs), and Mauritania (6.85 lbs).  The United Kingdom, which supposedly revolves around tea, came in at #7 with just over 5 lbs per capita, or half that of Afghanistan! And the United States…. well that would be #72 with 0.87 lbs per capita.

From the graphic below, which equates the imported tea per person to the number of cups it would brew you can see the United States sitting at 132 cups equivalent imported in 2012 while the top four countries have well over 1,000 each.

Tea vs Coffee: Equivalent Cups of Tea Imported per Person

Tea Importers:  Cups Per Capita (by cups brewed) – Visualization Care of Tableau Public


What about Tea vs Coffee Imports?

The comparison of tea vs coffee begins to highlight the east vs west nature of coffee and tea. Whereas the more prominent tea importers appear in the Middle East and Africa, this is very different with coffee where the dominant importers are Europe, Canada, and The United States of America.  Indeed on a cup equivalent of imports per capita America comes in 24th with 651 cups per capita imported.  Here too, however, we are far behind.  On a per capita basis, with over 4,300 cups per person, Luxembourg leads the pack followed by Belgium (4,110), Switzerland (2,530), and Germany (2,083).  Just so that we can re-affirm our dominance somewhere in the coffee vs tea imports area, let it be said that on sheer volume we win, hands down with nearly 3.2 billion pounds of coffee imported with Germany in distant second with 2.67 billion pounds imported.

Tea vs Coffee: Equivalent Cups of Coffee Imported per Person

Coffee Importers: Cups Per Capita (by cups brewed) – Visualization Care of Tableau Public


Tea Imports – The Whole Story?

While it might be satisfying to think that imports is a solid measure of popularity or consumption, that really isn’t the case.  In the world of tea and coffee imports and exports the numbers appear to be a bit cloudy. While we import a huge amount of coffee and tea, there are many countries, not known for growing either coffee or tea, which also export both products.  This is no different with the USA. While we import over 3 billion pounds of coffee we also export 320 million. Hawaii (which produces some great coffee and tea by the way) aside, the US isn’t exactly known as a coffee or tea producing superpower. Like coffee, while we import 277 million pounds of tea, we also export another 32 million pounds. And this, of course, doesn’t even scratch the surface on the various other products made from tea.

So in the end my assumptions about Germany being a tea importing juggernaut were very much busted. This quick look at import stats indeed revealed many surprises in both the large tea importing nations by volume and per capital as well as the dichotomy between tea vs coffee importing nations.

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Matcha Smoothies – A Summer Treat

With summer already appearing here in the DC region, well before its due date, finding cool ways to consume your morning tea, makes it high on my priority list. While usually a purist when it comes to consuming my tea, I will make an exception for matcha smoothies. When cooking with tea, matcha is truly versatile as we’ve illustrated in previous blogs with matcha recipes for ice cream, cookies, and more.

Matcha Organic Cooking Grade

Cooking Grade Matcha Poweder

What is Matcha?

Matcha is typically ground gyokuro though it can be made from other Japanese teas. It generally has the taste of fresh cut grass. Not necessarily my favorite flavor, but it compliments other fruits and vegetables well. Below are a handful of smoothie recipes that allow you to get your morning tea and maybe venture into appreciating Matcha.

Spinach and Matcha Smoothies (Makes 1 16oz glass)

These bright green matcha smoothies are going to taste more like a salad than matcha.

  • 1 cup of loose Spinach leaves
  • 2 oz Silken Tofu
  • 1 Stalk of Celery, trim off the ends
  • ½ cup of water
  • 1 tsp of Matcha
  • 1 tsp of Agave Nectar (or more if you like sweet smoothies)

Blend together until the celery pieces are to a size you like.  Can be poured over ice if you prefer.

Blueberry Matcha Smoothies (Makes 1 16oz glass)

Ingredients for Blueberry Matcha Smoothies

Blueberry Matcha Smoothie Ingredients

This recipe makes great smoothies if you do not like the color green in the morning but still like the flavor of matcha.

  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2oz Silken Tofu
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp Matcha
  • 1 tsp Agave Nectar

Blend together until slushy and blueberry pieces are small.  This will taste more like Matcha than Blueberry.

Banana Mango Matcha Smoothies (Makes 12-16oz glass)

The matcha smoothies from this recipe makes turns this drink green. However, the banana and mango will dominate the flavor of this smoothie.

  • 1 small banana
  • 3 medium mango slices (If you cut your own Mango, figure about a quarter of the Mango)
  • ½ cup water or your favorite milk or nondairy milk if you would like it a little creamier
  • 1 tsp Matcha
  • ½ tsp of Agave Nectar

Blend together until smooth.  Add more water if it is too thick for you.

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Ceylon Tea and Sri Lanka History

Sri Lanka, Kandy, and Colombo - Home to Ceylon Tea

Map of Sri Lanka. Home of Ceylon Tea.

Sri Lanka is one of the worlds largest tea producers behind only India, Kenya, and China. While today tea is a widely consumed and offered to visitors, this custom has developed only over the past century. Indeed, it was colonization by the Dutch and British which led to this small island nation becoming a powerhouse in tea and ultimately the infusion of tea into its culture.

History of Sri Lanka and The Beginnings of Ceylon Tea

The island nation of Sri Lanka is roughly the same size as the state of West Virginia located only about 35 miles to the southeast of India. Its populations date back to the 5th century B.C.E. and are made up of Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors, and Malays with Buddhist and Hindu religions playing a significant role in the culture over time. Though it has developed largely separate from India there has been a close relationship with its neighbor and likely inherited its first taste of Buddhism from there.

The country itself is split into two major parts; a dry side and a wet side and early populations may well have been separate from each other for centuries. Over time, however, the island nation became a significant trading hub with visitors from all over. Rulers rose and fell over the years in Sri Lanka and finally Portugal became the first of the European colonizers at a time when cinnamon was a major product of the island. The rule of Portugal didn’t last long however and local powers worked with the Dutch to kick Portugal out in the mid 1600′s. Unlike Portugal, the Dutch were only focused on trading spices, not on ruling the island itself which they did until an 1801 peace treaty with England which ceded control of Dutch territories, including Sri Lanka.

With British colonization brought British influence into the lives of those of Sri Lanka (at the time called Ceylon). They began adopting British ways, customs, and even education. However, it wasn’t until the 1870′s that tea as a major agricultural product came to Sri Lanka. Prior to this time coffee production was the largest cash crop. However, an influx of coffee rust led to the demise of the crop. Many alternatives were tried but ultimately tea became a major crop for the country. It was at this juncture that a young Thomas Lipton, a grocer from Scotland, arrived on scene at the right time to purchase several estates and establish his tea plantations.

The colonization by Britain had brought tea but also brought with with it British ideals. Many in the local Sri Lanka population began to see tea consumed every day and began to consume it as well. Now in addition to growing tea for export it was also widely consumed.

In 1948 the British handed over control and Ceylon became an independent nation. More recently in 1972 it changed its name to Sri Lanka.

Flag of Sri Lanka - Incorporated in Ceylon Tea brand.

Flag (and Lion) of Sri Lanka

Ceylon Tea Today…

Though British colonialism is long gone and the country has changed its name, tea continues to be a major part of the economy for Sri Lanka. It claims to be the third or fourth largest exporter of tea worldwide and the largest orthodox tea exporter. Most plants are a relative of the c. sinensis assamica originating in India instead of the c. sinensis sinensis variety originating in China. The name Ceylon Tea is well known around the world, despite the country changing its name and the Sri Lanka Tea Board promotes Ceylon as a brand in its own right seeking to ensure its reputation as a high quality producer of tea consumed around the world. Accoding to the Sri Lanka Tea Board:

To qualify for the special, legal distinction denoted by the words ‘Ceylon Tea’, and for the famous Lion logo that goes with it, the tea must not only be grown and manufactured entirely in Sri Lanka; it must also conform to strict quality standards laid down and administered by the Sri Lanka Tea Board. It cannot, moreover, be mixed or blended with tea from any other part of the world. Even a blend that is 95% Sri Lankan cannot be described as Ceylon Tea.

Tea continues to be a major part of the culture of Sri Lanka. It is consumed in most households and offered to guests who visit. The industry employs as many as 1 million people directly as well as a large number indirectly employed in Tea Tourism which allows visitors to come and stay on many of the countries plantations.

Tea from Sri Lanka, like that from any number of other countries, brings with it many great stories and tastes and shouldn’t be missed along the path of your own tea exploration.



Culture of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Travel and Tourism, http://www.srilankatravelandtourism.com/srilanka/culture/culture.php

Ceylon Tea Museum – History, http://ceylonteamuseum.com/history.html

Sri Lanka Tea Board, 2011 Annual Report – http://www.pureceylontea.com/index.php/2014-02-26-10-02-57/downloads/category/3-annual-reports

Tea, by Kendra Wilhelm, http://www.panix.com/~kendra/tea/index.html


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Jasmine Tea – The First Nighttime Tea

Jasmine teas have been made in China since the fifth century and only began being exported to Europe in the 1600′s. They include teas like the classic Jasmine Green as well as Jasmine Dragon Tears (aka Jasmine Pearls). This hugely popular variety of tea gets its scent from Jasmine flowers, which only open at night.

Jasmine Plant

Jasmine flower for producing scented tea.

Scented tea is often produced using jasmine petals.

The two main species of Jasmine used in Jasmine tea are native to Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, as well as the eastern Himalayan region and have spread into China and across the globe because of humans. Jasmine is actually a member of the olive family. It is a vine that looses its leaves every fall. Jasmine typically blooms in the summer, not early spring when most of the best teas are picked. The flowers are white and open only in the evening when they release the oil that contains their famous scent. This beautiful plant is pollinated by moths, not bees, which are nocturnal insects. Plants that have evolved to have nocturnal pollinators are very fragrant as they use the fragrance to guide in their pollinators. It is believed that the Jasmine plant was introduced to China sometime during the Han Dynasty (200 BCE to 200 CE).

Making Jasmine Tea

Jasmine tea is traditionally made with green tea but you will also find it made with white or black tea. As mentioned earlier, Jasmine does not bloom when tea does. So the tea is picked, manufactured into its green state and then stored for 3-4 months, pending location, before being scented with jasmine. The jasmine blossoms are picked in the morning while closed and kept in a cool shaded place until evening, when it will be applied to the tea. The scenting process is rather laborious regardless of whether the tea is ultimately turned into a pearl or left in its original state of being twisted.

There are typically two methods of infusing the tea with the jasmine scent. The first method is to alternately layer the tea and the jasmine blossoms. These layers are built typically with a fine mesh cloth, almost like cheese cloth in between the layers to allow for the removal and replacement of the jasmine petals. Given the type and grade of tea that the scent is being applied to, the blossoms may be replaced multiple times before the tea is considered complete. On average, it takes about four hours for the jasmine scent to permeate the tea. However, some of the highest grade jasmines may take as long as 12 hours for the scenting application process. The tea is then sent back through the drying process to remove the moisture it absorbed from the jasmine flowers. The second method involves blending together the jasmine petals with the tea and allowing it to sit overnight in a cloth bag to allow the scent to apply. The petals are then removed by hand and the tea is generally rolled into tiny balls, or pearls. Some of those pearls may still have a jasmine petal in them that you will not see until it is brewed and the pearl opens into a full leaf.

Jasmine Tea - Scented Green Tea and Liquor

Jasmine Dragon Tears – Scented Green Tea

Enjoying Jasmine Tea

Like all green teas, Jasmine Green Tea or Jasmine Dragon Tears are best brewed at water temperatures between 170-185° Fahrenheit for 3-5 minutes. A high quality jasmine tea can be steeped at least twice before losing its fragrant nose. If you haven’t had a Jasmine tea before, it is a light refreshing tea made with considerable care.

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Puerh – Raw ‘Sheng Cha’ vs Cooked ‘Shu Cha’

Puerh Tea Cake

Raw Puerh Cake from CNNP

We’ve written before about puerh and dark teas. This style of teas are the only ones which are truly fermented instead of being oxidized like all others. In our earlier post however we just barely scratched the surface so in this post we revisit the topic in a bit more depth. Puerh emerged via a happy accident from the transport of tea along the tea horse road from Yunnan Province to Mongolia where it fermented along the journey and was traded for war horses. Over time demand overwhelmed supply and a method of speeding along production was needed. Thus production shifted to one of two methods; raw or cooked. Both provide a distinct, mellow and earthy taste though they are certainly not the same in taste or cost.

Sheng (Raw) Puerh Cake

2008 Raw Tea Cake (7 years old)

Raw ‘Sheng Cha’ Puerh

Raw puerh is also referred to as sheng or green is produced naturally, allowing the tea to ferment as it ages over many years. Some of the best raw puerh is actually decades old, like a fine wine, getting better with age. Good quality raw puerh, stored well, will steadily increase in value with some fetching tens of thousands of dollars. For some, though very risky, it’s even seen as an investment.

It is produced in slightly different ways depending on the factory producing it and their own closely guarded method. However, the general process is to air dry fresh leaves, process and knead the leaves and sun dry the leaves. Finally, the loose puerh leaf is steamed and placed in a mold for final shaping before going into storage, ideally for 15 to 20 years of aging and fermentation.

Raw puerh cakes generally look a bit more green and the liquor color tends to be quite a bit lighter than that of cooked puerh. As it ages the flavor will develop and mellow.

Cooked ‘Shu Cha’ Puerh

The far more modern development is cooked puerh. Also called shu or ripe, this version is artificially aged in order to produce products in a short period of time and satisfy some of the demand for puerh. Like its raw cousin the factories which produce it each have their own variations, though the process originated in 1973 at Kunming Tea Factory.

Production of cooked puerh is substantially different than for raw. In this case leaves are piled on the factory floor and watered down in a process akin to composting. The specific steps here vary as does the length of time depending on the desired speed of this artificial aging. As a last step, like raw puerh, it is finally steamed and compressed.

Cooked puerh cakes are much darker, with leaf tips having darkened considerably to a golden or brown color. Similarly, the liquor of cooked puerh is a deep red or brown color.

Puerh in All Shapes & Sizes

Just one of the shapes of puerh.

Mini Puerh Bricks – Easy Single Serving

Puerh is available in loose leaf form, though more often it is found compressed into various forms.  Puerh cakes can be quite large, almost the size of a dinner plate or even a discus. While this is a very typical form, it can be compressed into any number of shapes and sizes. For example some puerh is compressed into small squares, enough for one serving and sold in boxes of many squares. Other options include rectangles similar in size to a large candy bar, balls, small birds nest shapes, large balls, coins, and more.

A great place to start is with a small package of cooked puerh. This allows you to dip a toe in the water without waiting years to enjoy your tea and experimenting at a reasonable starting price.

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