1934 Map Resizes the World to Show Which Country Drinks the Most Tea

Not a day goes by that I don’t use Google Maps for some­thing or oth­er, whether it’s basic nav­i­ga­tion, research­ing an address, or find­ing a dry clean­er. Though some of us might resent the dom­i­nance such map­ping tech­nol­o­gy has over our dai­ly inter­ac­tions, there’s no deny­ing its end­less util­i­ty. But maps can be so much more than use­ful tools for get­ting around—they are works of art, thought exper­i­ments, imag­i­na­tive flights of fan­cy, and data visu­al­iza­tion tools, to name but a few of their over­lap­ping func­tions. For the impe­ri­al­ists of pre­vi­ous ages, maps dis­played a mas­tery of the world, whether cat­a­logu­ing trav­el times from Lon­don to every­where else on the globe, or—as in the exam­ple we have here—resizing coun­tries accord­ing to how much tea their peo­ple drank.

But this is not a map we should look to for accu­ra­cy. Like many such car­to­graph­ic data charts, it pro­motes a par­tic­u­lar agen­da. “George Orwell once wrote that tea was one of the main­stays of civ­i­liza­tion,” notes Jack Good­man at Atlas Obscu­ra. “Tea, assert­ed Orwell, has the pow­er to make one feel braver, wis­er, and more opti­mistic. The man spoke for a nation.” (And he spoke to a nation in a 1946 Evening Stan­dard essay, “A Nice Cup of Tea.”) From the map above, titled “The Tea is Drunk” and pub­lished by For­tune Mag­a­zine in 1934, we learn, writes Good­man, that “Britain con­sumed 485,000 pounds of tea per year. That’s one hun­dred bil­lion cups of tea, or around six cups a day for each per­son.” We might note how­ev­er, that “the pop­u­la­tion of Chi­na was then nine times big­ger than that of the U.K., and they drank rough­ly twice as much tea as the Brits did.” Why isn’t Chi­na at the cen­ter of the map? “The author made a ten­u­ous point about the cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences between the two: the Chi­nese drank tea as a neces­si­ty, the British by choice.”

Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty library’s descrip­tion of the map is more forth­right: “While Chi­na actu­al­ly con­sumed twice as much tea as Britain, its posi­tion at the edge of the map assured that the focus will be on the British Isles.” That focus is com­mer­cial in nature, meant to encour­age and inform British tea mer­chants for whom tea was more than a bev­er­age; it was one of the nation’s pre-emi­nent com­modi­ties, though most of what was sold as a nation­al prod­uct was Indi­an tea grown in India. Yet the map brims with pride in the British tea trade. “Thus may be told the geog­ra­phy and alle­giance of Tea,” its author pro­claims, “an empire with­in an empire, whose bor­ders fol­low every­where the scat­tered ter­ri­to­ries of that nation on which the sun nev­er sets.” A lit­tle over a decade lat­er, India won its inde­pen­dence, and the empire began to fall apart. But the British nev­er lost their taste for or their nation­al pride in tea. View and down­load a high-res­o­lu­tion scan of the “Tea is Drunk” map at the Cor­nell Library site.

via Atlas Obscu­ra

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Orwell Explains How to Make a Prop­er Cup of Tea

10 Gold­en Rules for Mak­ing the Per­fect Cup of Tea (1941)

Col­or­ful Maps from 1914 and 2016 Show How Planes & Trains Have Made the World Small­er and Trav­el Times Quick­er

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • Phil Snead says:

    It’s aston­ish­ing now to under­stand that, in the absence of per­va­sive glob­al “infor­ma­tion,” this map would be regard­ed not as a dis­tor­tion, not as an affront, not as “nation­al­ist” atavism — but sim­ply as a parochial­ly amus­ing way to sell more tea while swelling the proud breast of the British Isles!

    Just think of all the old stuff we nev­er got a shot at decon­struct­ing and dis­cred­it­ing back in the day when we had to think for our­selves. How *did* we get by?!

  • Lorenzo says:

    What about Turkey or oth­er mid­dle-east­ern coun­tries?!?!

  • tetri_tolja says:

    Loren­zo is right — Turkey is total­ly miss­ing from the map. Today Turkey is the world’s largest per capi­ta con­sumer of tea, almost all of this grown domes­ti­cal­ly. Tea cul­ti­va­tion began in the late 19th cen­tu­ry in Turkey as the British crack­ing of the mil­lenia-long Chi­nese monop­oly on the sci­ence of tea pro­duc­tion allowed the spread of the tea bush to oth­er cli­mates friend­ly to it, such as the south-east­ern coast of the Black Sea. In the tur­moil fol­low­ing the col­lapse of the Ottoman empire and the rise of the Ataturkian state, tea con­sump­tion became an inex­tri­ca­ble part of the Turk­ish psy­che, rel­e­gat­ing the more expen­sive, import­ed cof­fee of the Ottoman era to a lux­u­ry drink. Nowa­days one can­not walk twen­ty meters in a Turk­ish town with­out run­ning into a tea shop, nor take a meal (or even make it between meals!) with­out numer­ous cups of strong black tea, ele­gant­ly poured from a dou­ble teapot (effec­tive­ly a mini-samovar) into exquis­ite hour-glass shaped, han­dle­less trans­par­ent glass­es over a cube of beet sug­ar. Appar­ent­ly this map-mak­er, although appar­ent­ly well versed in com­merce, was utter­ly unaware of the ris­ing tea cul­ture at the oth­er end of his con­ti­nent — pos­si­bly because none of it would have been bought from Britain or sold in it.

  • Josh Jones says:

    I’m curi­ous, Phil, as to how describ­ing the map in exact­ly the same terms it uses to describe itself con­sti­tutes “think­ing for your­self.”

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