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.
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 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.