So where do those tea-swilling British get all of the millions of cups of tea that they put away in the course of a day? Once upon a time the answer to that was a simple one. They got it from China, which for quite some time was pretty much the only game in town. But as they grew tired of being subject to the whims of Chinese tea merchants, the British began setting up their own tea estates in India in the mid-nineteenth century. Within a few decades they were turning out considerable quantities of tea, enough to give the Chinese a run for their money.

Popular British Tea Brands (ETS image)

Popular British Tea Brands (ETS image)

But what about today? If you’d asked me to answer that without doing any research ahead of time, I’d probably have given an educated guess that the bulk of Britain’s tea came from Africa and India with lesser amounts being provided by China, Sri Lanka and various other tea growers.

Turns out I my educated guess was a bit off the mark, if we’re to believe a recent report from a British journalist. That would be Simon Reeve, who’s apparently rather well-known in that part of the world for his books and travel-themed TV shows.

The answer to the question of where the British get their tea, as Reeve would have us believe, is Africa. Or, as the notes for his show puts it, most British tea is “bought from an auction in the coastal city of Mombasa in Kenya.” The show, titled This World: The Tea Trail With Simon Reeve, also finds Reeve and his crew traveling throughout other tea-producing regions of Kenya and other east African countries such as Uganda to get the lowdown on tea.

Even for those who know a little bit about the background of tea production (including yours truly) Africa often tends to be overshadowed by tea producers such as China, India, Sri Lanka and Japan. But the latter two countries actually produce considerably less than Africa, which ranks right near the top of the world’s tea producers, along with China and India. As a report from the UK Tea Council notes, “tea producing countries in Africa include Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa producing about 32% of world exports.” A great deal of which ends up in British tea cups.

For even more information on African tea, see this articlethis article, and this article on this blog. Also, here’s a link to the East African Tea Trade Association. While it doesn’t appear that you can watch the entire version of the aforementioned show online anywhere, you can check out a few clips here.

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

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