Could a cuppa save your life?

The Gulf nations are drinking ever larger quantities of India’s most famous export. As a healthy alternative to sugary drinks, Dr Mona Al Munajjed argues that tea can help solve the region’s growing lifestyle disease crisis

The UAE has imported almost 80,000 tonnes of tea in 2010, according to FAO estimates.

The UAE has imported almost 80,000 tonnes of tea in 2010, according to FAO estimates.

During a recent trip to india, i was invited to stay on a magnificent tea plantation in Vandiperiyar, 169km from Kochi in the southern Indian state of Kerala located on the Arabian Sea. A tropical and monsoon climate provides the region with the rains essential to growing evergreen forests and cash crops such as coconuts, rubber, tea, coffee, and spices.

More than 150 years old, the tea estate is situated in the mountains at an altitude of 1,100 metres, where tea, cardamom, black pepper, coffee and vanilla are cultivated together. I was fascinated by the seemingly unending green acres, the long rows of “manicured” tea trees, and the beautiful fertile hills where both men and women workers were plucking tea leaves.

While gazing at the tea plantation, I reflected on the importance of tea production in the world, the countries that produce it, and where it is being exported. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicates that world tea production reached almost 4.3 million tonnes in 2011. More specifically, global black tea production reached 2.7 million tonnes that year, while green tea production attained 1.3 million tonnes. However, due to erratic climate conditions, global black tea production has decreased in all producing countries and has fallen in 2012 by 2.85 percent compared to the same period in 2011.

For a long time, India has been second only to China as the largest producer of tea in the world. The FAO indicates that in 2010 India produced almost 0.97 million tonnes of tea, making up 24 percent of the world’s total production. China, the top tea producer, produced 1.4 million tonnes of tea that same year, covering 33 percent of the world’s total production.

Recent estimates indicate that in 2011, India’s production reached 0.99 million tonnes, and China 1.6 million tonnes. Other foremost tea producers are Sri Lanka, Kenya, Turkey, Vietnam, Iran, Indonesia, Argentina and Japan.

When visiting the tea factory, I learned about the different processing stages of the tea plant and was told that the wealth of the tea estate in Vandiperiyar is based on its tender leaf, which gives an excellent quality of tea, black, strong and full of flavour. I pondered on the importance of tea consumption in the world and in particular in our Middle Eastern culture.

After water, tea is the most consumed beverage worldwide — 4 million tonnes in 2010 — and is drunk daily in many cultures and at social events. The FAO estimates reveal that in 2011 the Middle East region’s consumption of 0.6 million tonnes of tea was second only to the Far East in global black tea consumption (the latter reaching 1.3 million tonnes in the same year) and Middle East consumption is projected to increase to 0.76 million tonnes in the next decade.

Among Middle Eastern countries, black tea consumption in 2011 was highest in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iraq and Sudan.

The consumption of black tea in the Gulf region started over a thousand years ago when Arab traders brought tea from Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and from Kerala in southwest India to the Arabian Peninsula and introduced it to their culture. Tea-drinking has become for Arabs a popular family and social tradition as well as part of the daily drinking pattern.

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