Indian Tea Under Siege?

Harney and Sons Black Currant Tea
Harney and Sons Black Currant Tea

When a well-known coffee retailer chain recently announced that it would open its first location in India, in partnership with an Indian company, numerous media outlets were quick to point out that the firm would be moving into a nation that’s better known for tea than coffee. Never mind that the coffee retailing giant also sells a well-known brand of tea in its own outlets and various other stores. The plan, as it stands now, is to have the first Indian store open by late 2012, with speculation that a total of fifty stores may be in place there before the year is over.

India is actually not the world’s top producer of tea. That honor goes to China, though India is not very far behind. However, India’s Assam region, which turns out mostly black tea, is the world’s largest single tea growing region. Tea is also grown in India in more modest quantities in the Nilgiri region and also in Darjeeling, a mountainous area that’s renowned for its output of an aromatic high-quality black tea.

When it comes to consumption, Indians are not among the world’s top tea drinkers, though they drink a lot more of the stuff than they do coffee. In the latest year for which figures are available India was ranked 53rd in per capita consumption, with about a half kilogram annually, or about 18 ounces. This puts them just below the worldwide average and a few notches above the rabid coffee fans here in the United States, where we only drink about 12 ounces of tea annually and most of it in iced form.

Indians are ranked much lower (at least for now, in the pre-coffee retailer chain era) in the coffee drinking ranks. They’re currently ranked at 134, due to the fact that they drink an average of about 3.5 ounces of coffee per person per year. By comparison, here in the United States, which is ranked only 25th for coffee consumption, we drink about 4.2 kilograms annually. Which leads one to suspect — as someone at the coffee retailer must have also done — that there is plenty of room for growth when it comes to coffee consumption in India. But by the same token it seems that there’s also plenty of room to improve on that tea ranking as well.

For the New York Times’ take on the announcement, look here.

See also a review of Nilgiri Nonsuch Estate tea.

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