In the United States, the land that spawned that beverage behemoth known as Starbucks, we’re obviously known more for our consumption of coffee than of tea. But if the truth be told, we actually rank relatively low on the list of coffee gluttons, tied for about 20th place with the Macedonians, who also consume about 4.2 kilograms per person annually. It’s interesting to note that the cold, dark countries of Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Netherlands and Sweden dominate the top six spots on the list, but I digress.

Kambaa Estate - better than coffee?

Kambaa Estate – better than coffee?

By contrast, U.S. tea drinkers fall just below fiftieth on a ranking of the world’s top consumers. On a per capita basis, we consume almost 13 times as much coffee as we do tea, of which we only drink a rather paltry twelve ounces per year per capita and the majority of that in the iced form, if statistics for that sort of thing are to be believed.

Which made for an interesting topic at the recent 2012 World Tea Expo (WTE), in which a panel of highly ranked tea people gathered to speculate on the question, “Will Tea Ever Be as Big as Coffee?” The other question they tackled was whether the swarm of existing coffee retailers would siphon off much of the projected growth in the tea market.

According to WTE founder and panel moderator George Jage, coffee, fruit juice, and tea are currently the fifth, sixth, and seventh most popular beverages in the United States, but coffee retail outlets still outnumber those that feature tea by a rather hefty margin. That’s about 25,000 locations for the former and 3,500 for tea.

It’s interesting and somewhat relevant to this question to note that Starbucks, which has also been offering tea in its outlets for quite some time, seems to be renewing their focus on this aspect of their business. The company has already opened a juice bar in their home base of Seattle and recently announced their plans to open a tea shop there in fall 2012. One can only assume that more such outlets will follow, joining the 11,000-some Starbucks outlets that are already in operation.

As for the coffee vs. tea question, the WTE panelists were actually (and perhaps not surprisingly) quite bullish on the prospects of the beverage going forward. According to some informed sources, tea sales are expected to increase by about fifty percent between 2011 and 2016, which probably contributes to the panelist’s feeling that tea sales would outstrip coffee sales here in 2017. For more on the panel discussion refer to this WTE press release. For those of us who are cautiously skeptical (but hopeful) about this bold prediction, well, only time will tell.

See also:
You Can Win the Drink Wars in Your House — Coffee vs. Tea

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