How much is all the tea in China worth?

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Dear Cecil: How much is “all the tea in China” worth? And why are so many people not willing to do things for it? Charlie, Palm Beach via Madison, Wisconsin


Illustration by Slug Signorino

Cecil replies:

What do you mean, what is it worth? Who cares what it’s worth? The impressive commodity here isn’t supposed to be the money, it’s the awesome acreage of tea. This bottom-line mentality sorely vexes my sensitive soul.

I regret to say that my most recent tea statistics are from 1983. However, the Chinese have not been very cooperative since that column about having the whole population jump off chairs at the same time (see Earth: threats to orbital stability of, in my first book). Besides, my subscription to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Bulletin of Statistics ran out. Be that as it may, in 1983 China produced 401,000 metric tons of tea out of a total world production of 2.06 million tons.

This is a pretty fair mess o’ tea, all right, and if you caved in and took it after all, there’s no question you wouldn’t have to go to the grocery store (for tea, anyway) for quite a while. However, in the scheme of things agricultural, it is not so much. In the same year China produced 169 million tons of rice, 4.3 million tons of rapeseed, and 1 million tons of jute, ambary, and hemp. Granted, “I wouldn’t do that for all the jute, ambary, and hemp in China” does not stir the emotions the way tea does, but we have to keep things in perspective.

Also, I should point out that while all the tea in China might not tempt you, if somebody offered you all the tea in India, you might want to give it some thought. Indian production in 1983 was 588,000 tons, the largest output of any country. (China was #2.)

As for why so many people aren’t willing to do things for all the tea in China, I don’t know. Maybe they’re still bugged about that little fracas in Tiananmen Square. But probably they just don’t like tea.

Cecil Adams

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