Globally tea continues its steady increase in production, doubling in the past 20 years from 2,525 million metric tons (MT) in 1995 to 5,305 million metric tons (5.3 billion kilos) in 2015.
In September Ian Gibbs, who was elected chair of the International Tea Committee (ITC) in May, presented a detailed assessment of global tea supplies, consumption patterns and export totals. During the past 80 years the ITC has compiled statistical data on tea from around the world. Gibbs illuminated some important trends in his presentation at the 7th North American Tea Conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
While tea is grown commercially in more than 35 countries, production remains concentrated in a few with the top seven producers accounting for 90% of tea and the top 10 growing 94% of the world’s tea. Production continues to outpace consumption with Kenya, China and Vietnam showing significant increases. Surges exceeding 6% in production impact prices, which are generally flat, said Gibbs.
The gap between production and consumption is widening. Production in 2015 was estimated at 5,306 MT with consumption at 4,999 MT resulting in a 307 MT surplus. In 2014 the surplus was 351 MT. Five years ago (2010) the surplus was 127 MT and 10 years ago surpluses were less than 100 MT.
Note that some of these surpluses on paper might be used for other purposes, such as supplements and cosmetics.
Demand is uneven with traditional stalwarts like the United Kingdom drinking less tea. India is prospering, and while China is experiencing a sluggish economy, the two countries combine to make a potentially huge market that could take off “and that would be pretty interesting!” he exclaimed.
A steep and steady upward climb for production totals varies from the graph showing only a slight incline in exports during the same period. In 2015 1,802 MT or tea was exported which is a modest increase over 1995 totals of 1,094 MT. This is an indication of the significant increase in consumption by domestic markets in tea producing countries, according to Gibbs. Japan, for example, exports less than 2% of the almost 100 MT grown there and so far this year has imported 16,759 metric tons of mainly black tea from China, Sri Lanka and India.
“The percentage share of crop available for export continues to decline,” said Gibbs. In 2006 43% of the tea produced was exported. That percentage has fallen every year since, he noted. In 2015 only 34% of the tea produced was exported. “This means 66% of tea is retained in the producing lands,” he said.
The share of exports by country is shifting, he noted, with China now accounting for 18% of global exports (mainly green tea). Kenya remains the global leader with a 25% share of exports (mainly black tea). Sri Lanka follows China in third place at 17% market share with India at 13% and Vietnam now 7%. Argentina rounds out the top 5 with 4% market share. Once listed among the top five, Indonesia’s 3% share continues to slide as tea growers there switch to food and other cash crops, primarily palm oil and arabica coffee.
China, India, and Turkey together drink more tea than all the rest of the world’s consuming nations combined, observes Gibbs. In 2015 China consumed 1,812 MT of tea. India, which is experiencing significant demand from a growing middle class, consumed 948 MT and Turkey, which has the largest per capita consumption in the world, drank 253 MT in 2015.
Gibbs calculated the three year average consumption per country in kilos to discover interesting changes in consumption. Turkey’s per capita average of 3.14 kilos (7 pounds) per person is accelerating while tea consumption in the Republic of Ireland has declined from a similar average in 1993-95. Last year Irish tea drinkers consumed a three-year average of 1.6 kilos (3.5 pounds), falling from first to fifth in per capita rankings. Turkey is now followed by Afghanistan at 2.4 kilos, Libya at 2.19 kilos the United Kingdom at 1.74 kilos and Morocco at 1.73 kilos per person. Tea consumption in China is on the rise at 1.22 kilos (2.65 pounds). Russia, another major tea consuming country and the world’s largest tea importer, has also shown a strong trend during the past decade with a per capita three year average rising by a quarter to .88 kilos (1.95 pounds) in 2015.
The United States and Canada are coffee nations. The three year per capita average consumption for Canada is .47 (16.5 ounces), down during the past five years while tea consumption in the US is on the rise to .41 kilos (14.5 ounces) in 2015.
The US is one of the few countries with a growing market for imported tea right now. In 2015 129,694 MT was landed, up from 100,060 in 2005. Argentina remains the largest source of tea at 55,291 MT followed by China (18,717 MT), India (15,361 MT) and Vietnam (7,991 MT). Indonesia has been the big loser during the recent past, falling from 9,389 MT in 1995 to 3,734 MT last year.
In Canada tea imports fell from 18,877 MT in2005 to 16,330 MT in 2015. China and Hong Kong have increased their share but the US and UK remain the most important suppliers. In 2015 Canada imported 5,673 MT of tea from the US and 3,520 MT from the UK. India was third at 2,438 MT and China ranks as the fourth most important supplier landing 2,261 MT in 2015.
Source: International Tea Committee presentation, 7th North American Tea Conference.