Thursday, 8 September 2011

is tea drinking an addiction?

Certainly appears to be something addictive at play if you listen to us tea obsessives go on about the stuff.  As I go through The Empire of Tea (a book by Alan and Iris MacFarlane), I feel compelled to tell you about what's grabbed my attention the most.  Have already glowingly gone on about how much I liked the Introduction in contemplating The Empire of Tea and then the first chapter was covered in devouring the Memoirs of a Memsahib.

But here we are in Chapter 2 and I assume it's Alan MacFarlane (Iris's son) who's asking how and why tea managed to conquer the world.  This short chapter explains how tea became the world's most popular drink (only behind water).  It goes through the advantages/disadvantages of the other world's most popular drink candidates, but not before mentioning some impressive facts about proliferation of tea drinking around the world.

More than a few thousand years ago, there was some tea leaf chewing by scattered tribes in south-east Asia, but nothing resembling what we know as tea drinking, then two thousand years ago there were some religious groups who were brewing tea.  Millions of Chinese drank it a thousand years ago, and five hundred years later it was already the world's most popular drink (second only to water) for more than half of the earth's population.

Over the last five hundred years, tea has somehow overtaken the world (sounds ominous, doesn't it?).  As the author states, 'Tea is now more ubiquitous than any type of food or any drink apart from water.'  He goes on to say, 'Its world consumption easily equals all the other manufactured drinks in the world put together - that is, coffee, chocolate, cocoa, sweet fizzy artificial drinks and all alcoholic drinks.'

Really? Unbelievable.  Now, I'm careful to bandy about statistics.  But just to be clear, Alan MacFarlane is a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. I really can't fathom him making this claim if it weren't properly researched.  I still think that's a surprising statistic.  People drink more tea than all other beverages combined (I don't have to keep saying 'aside from water', do I?).

Rather than go through the list of other drinks, which is exactly what he does, I'd rather leave you with the way he opens this chapter.  I want to do this because I suspect it's a topic that might encourage some discussion and I'd love to see some of that happen here in the comments.  He answers the question I opened with, and here's how he does it:

'Tea is an addiction, but an addiction different from all others.  It is milder, a habit relatively easily broken.  It is more universal.  Most unusually, it is good for the addict.  And it is largely unnoticed both to those addicted and others.  Indeed, the conquest of the world by tea has been so successful that we've forgotten that it has happened at all.  Tea has become like water or air, something that many of us take for granted.'

(Source: The Empire of Tea pp 31-39)

1 comment:

  1. The notion of "addiction" is inherently needs to define it somehow. Anything containing caffeine is interesting because caffeine is known to be physically addictive, and yet it's a habit that is relatively easy to kick, at least for most people. And yet you can be addicted to things that aren't a physical dependence.

    I think it only really makes sense to talk about an addiction if there is something harmful or unwholesome about it. You wouldn't say we're addicted to food, or to breathing, and yet we can't go without it. Since tea is rarely harmful to people and since, when people want to give it up, they usually are able without a huge amount of trouble, I think it is a pretty big stretch to say tea is an addiction!

    BTW, I think I've said this before, but I like the bolding and italicizing of terms that you use in your blog posts. It makes them much more catchy and interesting to read!