How tea has helped shape the business of global trade


The import-ance of tea
How tea has helped shape the business of global trade

Did you know that tea was discovered by accident? And that this accidental discovery has played a key role in the development of international business links?

Legend has it that in 2737 B.C. Chinese Emperor, Shan Nong, was visiting a distant region and drinking his usual cup of boiled water when a few tea leaves landed in his cup. He found the drink to be so energising that he immediately ordered for tea bushes to be planted in the gardens of the palace where he lived.

Faster sail boats, technical advances – all thanks of tea

Tea arrived in Europe in the early 17th century via Dutch and Portuguese sailors. It was sold at auctions in Britain and Holland, but could only be afforded by the wealthy. Even so, tea was a key factor in establishing early international trade connections between the east and west. It even led to a number of technological developments such as faster sail boats – designed to speed up the deliveries of tea from China to Europe.

The most important trade item for Britain

As import volumes increased and British companies were established for the sole purpose of importing tea, it eventually became cheaper and could finally be enjoyed by the masses. In fact, tea drinking became so popular that it soon became Britain’s most important trade item from China.

These days the company Unilever leads global sales of tea – with retail values around four times that of its nearest competitor. Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe are the main drivers of the company’s growth, jointly making up 66% of its worldwide growth in 2011-12 (Euromonitor International).

There are currently no signs of tea losing its popularity, with around 165 million cups of tea consumed every day in Britain alone.

Some inTEAresting facts:

  • Sri Lanka is the biggest exporter of tea (FAO Statistical Yearbook)
  • The Russian Federation is the biggest importer of tea (FAO Statistical Yearbook)
  • China produces the world’s largest variety of fine quality teas (Global Tea Brokers)
  • The Republic of Ireland is the nation which drinks the most tea per capita, followed by Britain (United Kingdom Tea Council)

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