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Is Tea Really Number Two?

The consensus seems to be that tea is the second most commonly consumed beverage in the world, after water. It’s a fascinating fact that’s often repeated and I’ve done so myself on a few occasions. Of course, there are a number of other “facts” about tea that are of dubious origin, including the one about rinsing tea leaves for 30 seconds to decaffeinate them or the one about tea being discovered 5,000-odd years ago when leaves blew into a kettle of water being boiled by a Chinese emperor.

Given that these and other myths and legends about tea are so often presented as truth, I couldn’t help wondering if tea really was the second most popular beverage in the world. Or has this nugget of wisdom somehow become the truth simply due to the fact that it’s been repeated so many times?

A cursory spot of research reveals that Wikipedia also makes the claim that water and tea are number one and two (and beer is allegedly the top alcoholic beverage worldwide). But while Wikipedia might be a good starting point for a research venture, I thought it might be useful to seek out something more authoritative. Which is no small feat, as it turns out.

Though you can find this assertion repeated over and again, finding the evidence to support it is kind of a tricky business. While organizations like the Tea Association of the USA and Tea Association of Canada both repeat this claim, I was not able to locate a citation at their web sites to support the notion. In addition, I tried a large assortment of search strings and pored through numerous pages of related results only to find this “fact” repeated again and again, with no evidence to back the claim. And though it seems that such a conclusion could only be made by an agency that has access to beverage consumption stats worldwide, I was not able to locate any supporting evidence from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), among others

On the other hand, I’ve never claimed to be the be all and end all when it comes to research, and so I wouldn’t discount the notion that tea may very well be the second most popular beverage in the world, after water. What I will say is that the evidence for this claim (if there ever was any) has apparently become obscured over the course of time and the jury is out on the matter, at least for now.

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4 responses to “Is Tea Really Number Two?”

  1. […] the second most popular beverage in the world, after good old water. I’ve never been able to find definitive evidence to support this claim but on the other hand I haven’t found any […]

  2. Evidence based on data + analysis difficult to find, I agree. Yet even FAO is stating the fact in some of their articles: http://www.journal.au.edu/au_techno/2001/oct2001/article4.pdf (for example)

    1. Um, if evidence is hard to find, it is hardly a fact. 🙂

  3. So do you think that it may be the number one mostly consumed drink, or has it been relegated below Coke Cola? (just kidding – though it is safely in the top ten I suspect)

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