No one on earth drank tea a few thousand years ago. A few small tribal groups in the jungles of south-east Asia chewed the leaves of the plant, but that was the nearest anyone came to tea drinking. 2000 years ago it was drunk in a handful of religious communities. By a 1000 years ago it was drunk by millions of Chinese. 500 years ago over half the world’s population was drinking tea as their main alternative to water.
During the next 500 years tea drinking spread to cover the world. By the 1930s there was enough tea for 200 cups of tea a year for every person in the world. Tea is now more ubiquitous than any type of food or drink apart from water. Thousands of millions of cups of tea are drunk every day. In Britain, for example, 165 million cups of tea a day are drunk, an average of over 3 per person. This means that about forty per cent of the total liquid intake of the British population is in the form of tea.
Alan and Iris Macfarlane, Green Gold, published 2003