The logistics of a cup of tea

We start the day with a cup of tea, and Londoners drink enough tea or coffee to fill eight Olympic-size swimming pools every day. The UK drinks 165 million cups per day, or 62 billion cups per year, which is 23,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. You put the kettle on. A standard kilowatt kettle uses some 80 (food) calories to come to the boil, about the same as the potential energy stored in five teaspoons of sugar. In a year, London consumes some 132,769,103,200,000 calories or 154,400 gigawatt-hours of electricity, the equivalent of 13,276,000 tonnes of oil. This is more than Ireland consumes and about the same as Portugal or Greece.

Half the tea consumed in London comes from East Africa, the rest mostly from the Indian subcontinent, China or Indonesia. It gets to Britain packed in either foil-lined paper sacks or tea chests, in containers, by ship, in three to five weeks. In Britain, it is deliv ered to blending and packaging centres, and packets of loose leaves or tea bags are distributed to retail shelves. Ninety-five per cent of tea is consumed in tea bags. Most likely, milk will be added - 25 per cent of the milk consumed in Britain is taken with tea; 674,000 tonnes of milk and cream are consumed in a London year, or approximately 240 Olympic swimming pools.3

In the UK there are 2,251,000 dairy cows producing 14,071,000,000 litres of milk a year. This easily makes the UK self-sufficient in milk. However, because of the idiosyncrasies of international trade, countries import and export the same product at the same time. In 1997, the UK imported 126 million litres of milk and exported 270 million litres. Imports are now less, and exports greater, but 2002 still saw more than 70 million litres come into the country.4

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