Tea by the Numbers

Oolong Tea (stock image)
Oolong Tea (stock image)

You don’t have to know much about tea in order to drink it, although it wouldn’t hurt to know how to select it and prepare it properly. But if you’re interested in a few facts on the topic, read on.


There is only one plant from which tea is derived. It’s called Camellia sinensis. Someone will surely point out that there are a few different varieties of this plant so let me be the first to do so.


Tea is said (and quite often, actually) to be 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 information that would cause me to dispute it.

The industry standard for preparing a 6-ounce cup is 2.25 grams of loose-leaf tea. But if you prefer to use more or less, you go right ahead.

A large percentage of the world’s tea is produced in three tea-growing regions – China, India, and Africa.

It’s unclear how many varieties of tea exist but it’s a very large number. The consensus seems to be that these can be lumped into one of six major types. Black and green need no introduction, even to the most casual tea drinker. The next best known is probably oolong, though white tea has been getting more attention in recent years. Then there’s puerh and yellow tea, which tend to be favored by those connoisseur types.

You can probably find more than one version of which country’s citizens drink the most tea. According to this chart, based on figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the UK takes the cake, with an average of fifteen pounds per person per year. That’s about twenty times as much as we Americans drink.

Did you know that you can decaffeinate your tea by rinsing the leaves for 30 seconds, then throwing away the water and steeping the leaves again? Well, as popular as this advice is it’s been shown to be a myth, albeit a rather persistent one.

As already noted, compared to the avid tea drinkers of some great nations (Turkey, Ireland, England) those of us in the United States are small potatoes. But most estimates suggest that about 80 percent of what we do drink (perhaps even as much as 85 percent) is iced tea.

How should you prepare tea? That would depend on who you ask. The International Organization for Standardization, a group that weighs in on such matters, has devised ISO 3103, a standard that sets guidelines for how tea should be prepared.

It’s tricky to be precise about how many people drink tea on an average day. But some fairly reliable estimates suggest that this number is in the neighborhood of two billion.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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