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If, like most Brits, you enjoy a regular cup of tea, spare a thought today for all the people whose labours put that delicious, refreshing and affordable brew on your table.

A dozen years ago today saw the first ever International Tea Day, now celebrated every year on December 15th. The aim of the event is to draw the attention of governments and people around the world to the impact the global tea trade has on workers and growers. It also gives a platform to campaigns for fair trade and price supports to make the tea growing industry both more sustainable and more viable for those who rely on it for their livelihood.

International Tea Day is mostly celebrated in tea-producing countries such as India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, Uganda and Tanzania. However, organisers hope other countries which are major tea consumers will also adopt the annual event and use it to help address inequities in the international tea trade.

In the past, the people who actually grow and harvest the tea, often in poorer, less developed nations, have received too little benefit from their endeavours, with the lion’s share of profits instead going to traders, brokers and retailers. In more recent years there have been steps to address this, both through initiatives and incentives in tea-producing countries and international schemes such as Fair Trade.

These aim to ensure more of the profits from global sales of tea go to the producers and enable those employed in the tea growing industry to live better lives. International Tea Day is another way to highlight this process and has won the backing of trade union movements around the world and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Great Britain has a long association with the international tea trade and has long been known as a nation of tea drinkers, where everything stops for the nation’s favourite hot drink. That might be a slight exaggeration, and coffee is certainly gaining ground here in the UK, but tea still reigns supreme.

As a nation we consume 165 million cups of tea every day, compared to around 70 million cups of coffee. That’s 60.2 billion cups of tea drunk every year in the UK. Here are some more top tea facts and figures:

  • The Republic of Ireland is the world’s top tea drinking nation, closely followed by the rest of Britain.
  • The biggest tea producer in the world, by quite some margin, is China. Figures for 2015 showed it produced 2,230,000 tonnes of tea that year, followed by India with 1,191,100 tonnes and Kenya with 399,210 tonnes.
  • The percentage of the British population who drink at least one cup of tea of herbal tea (actually herbal ‘infusions’) is a staggering 84%.
  • Of all the tea drunk in Britain each day, 96% is from a tea bag. Before the 1970s, the vast majority of tea drunk in Britain was brewed from loose leaves.
  • Almost all British tea drinkers (98%) prefer to take their tea with milk in it.
  • There are around 1,500 different varieties of tea.
  • When tea was first introduced to Britain in the late 1600s it was a luxury item and heavily taxed, so that rich people kept it locked away in ornate tea caddies.
  • Tea does contain caffeine, but typically less than half the amount found in coffee. You can also now buy decaffeinated tea.
  • Tea is generally thought to be good for you, as it contains natural substances which act as ‘antioxidants’ in the body. However, the old adage “all things in moderation” still applies here!

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