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Updated: June 14, 2012 10:09 IST

Why tea, why not coffee?

S. C. Anantharaman
Comment (37)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
Coffee beans ready for harvest. — File Photo: K.K. Mustafah
Coffee beans ready for harvest. — File Photo: K.K. Mustafah

So we are going to have a national drink. That might be tea. This might happen exactly a year from now. In April next year, to be precise. This “declaration” was made in Jorhat by Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission.

Was it a government decision he was announcing? When you give tea the “national drink” status, should not people be allowed to have a say? What about Parliament? Or, is Yojana Bhavan's “declaration” final?

The United Progressive Alliance, heading the ruling coalition at the Centre, never stops emphasising that it stands by the aam aadmi (the ordinary man). Precisely as an aam aadmi, I would like to know who exactly decided to confer this exalted status on tea. What is the national urgency? Was it cleared by the “high command”? Because that is where matters are sent by the Congress (heading the ruling coalition) for the final say? Were the coalition partners consulted?

And pray, why tea? Were the merits of other drinks to be given this national drink status considered? Why not coffee? Why not the lowly kanji (gruel)? Why not lassi or buttermilk? Why not ganna juice? Why not neera or padhaneer? (Morarji Desai organised sale of neera through official outlets in what was once Bombay, and now Mumbai) And why not the delicious tender coconut water? Along with the tender pulp, it would make a wholesome meal.

Among all these, the case of coffee to be declared the national drink is stronger. Tea can never match the fragrance and taste of filter coffee. On taste, people may differ but the pleasant aroma that fills the air while making coffee is not there while preparing tea. You can't help enjoying this unique aroma when you are either roasting or powdering the beans. Or, even when you are pouring boiled water over the freshly ground coffee powder in the traditional percolator. The aroma fills the entire room. Enter any Coffee Board shop anywhere in the country and you will know what I mean. The aroma is irresistible.

I don't know whether it is scientifically correct, but coffee appears to produce more stimuli than tea. You can judge this from the spirited discussions that take place at Coffee Board outlets. Even in the Central Hall of Parliament I have seen more people ordering coffee than tea.

One can go on and on over the merits of “coffee by the yard,” but the main point is how, when, why and by whom was tea chosen?

Two comments are attributed to Mr. Ahluwalia. One, this “decision” is intended to honour Maniram Dewan, first Assamese tea planter and Sepoy Mutiny leader. “The other important reason” is that half the labour force in the tea industry is comprised of women and it is the largest employer in the organised sector.

Both reasons are not convincing enough to choose any drink as a national drink. No committee has gone into this — that is the usual style in government before taking such a momentous decision, isn't it?

More to the point, looking at the national scene today, is there any tearing urgency really to declare a national drink? Are we not getting along, merrily or otherwise, with whatever we are drinking? In fact, a serious-minded person like Mr. Ahluwalia should consider: instead of naming any drink “national,” should not we be concentrating on giving our citizens clean drinking water? Even to make tea, you need water. Its availability, and access, should be made easier.

(The writer's email is

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I do not see how giving some drink a national status is going to make a difference,
other than may providing some impetus to tea plantations. While the country is
burdened with graver issues, it is absurd that first off, the government is coming
with "national drinks" and secondly, we're actually debating as to what should or
should not be the national drink.

from:  Siddhartha Sarangal
Posted on: May 25, 2012 at 03:23 IST

I was able to see the large number of responses to my article only today. To use a recent addition to our vocabulary, I was in a "kolaveri" mood when I read the unilateral declaration of a "national drink" out of the blue. As I had observed in my article: Is there a tearing urgency really to declare a "national
drink", looking at the national scene today? Is absence of a
"national drink" retarding faster progress of the nation? The
answer will be a definite no. Just two news items in The Hindu on
May 9 (on back page and on page 7)- 41 villages in Maharashtra wanting to merge with Karnataka and girls not wanting to get
married to youths in certain Gujarat villages - emphasise how
provision of clean drinking water is much more important. -

from:  s.c.anantharaman
Posted on: May 22, 2012 at 12:10 IST

Am I the only one who thinks this article is written in a sarcastic tone, critisizing the concept of a national drink and must be taken in that way? I am sure the author didn't mean any disrespect to tea.

from:  Sudhamsh
Posted on: May 8, 2012 at 21:23 IST

I agree with Mr. P N Shreeniwas. Our drinks are more simple and do not involve caffeine or intoxication. In fact Choosing 'Nimbu Paani' as our national drink would be a better choice for a 'hot' country like India.

from:  Kaushik
Posted on: May 8, 2012 at 11:59 IST

In pronouncing national symbols, it is only good to have things that are rooted in/original to the nation. Not sure if tea originated in India. While (the very healthy) buttermilk seems to be an ancient drink in India, it might not appeal to vegans and those who don't like curd. Coconut water or kanji are superb emblems worth considering. Overall, an excellent question by the author.

from:  Venkat
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 09:07 IST

why do we need to label something like a national drink a country as vast as our mother INDIA we should avoid giving something a national status ( until it is unavoidable ) ......let people drink

from:  Narender Singh Bhandari
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 00:05 IST

Seriously now, aren't there better things to do. On a slightly different note, now that I think of it, it would probably have been better to go for a Republican form of government (India is called Republic of India, which is an irony) where each state and its people can make their own lives better instead of depending on a central government to do so. Its time people took matter into their own hands and worked towards the betterment of their own kind and not letting the government meddling into every single little thing.

from:  Akshay R
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 22:44 IST

Agree with Nanjundamurthy; when there are more important national issues to be solved, why bring in national drink issue; absolutely ridiculous - what next on agenda of Montek bhai ? National dress - mundu or langot? National tiffin - idli/dosa or poori/roti ? waste of time energy; Silly it is to take up such frivolous matters to national level; stop this please; concentrate on better topics for national good

from:  Radhik Hairam
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 21:48 IST

Tea or coffee, both came from outside India and how can this or that be a national drink? If the aim is honor the workers of the tea industry, the government must assure their rights which are being snatched from them with the help of the economic policies. The government must intervene in the disputes between the industry managements and the workers and take steps to fulfill their demands. Instead of such things, if the powers be are keen in just declaring tea as national drink, it is a cheap tactics to divert the attention of the people.

from:  A. Kumaresan
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 19:30 IST

Surely Mr Ahluwalia is jobless. We don't have a national drink in the same way as we don't have a national language. And frankly these things are not important at all. How many people in India have access to clean drinking water throughout the year? I would be pleased if they think of 'Right to drinking water'.

from:  Naveen
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 19:27 IST

Tea came from China and Coffee was discovered by Arabs. Our drinks are Panakam, Kallu, arrack, butter milk, theertums made from herbs like Tulasi. I wonder why this fascination about a foreign product.

from:  P.N.Shreeniwas
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 19:12 IST

I am surprised that such a topic deserves an article in the first place. And it again reminds of those days when Tamilnadu raised its voice against Hindi as national language. Now someone wants to make noise about Tea not being or being a national drink. There is nothing in this world which doesn't have some good and some evils. Same with Tea, Coffee, Cane Juice and Neera. Now this way we can go on debating for ages as to what should ultimately be the national drink. I am disappointed that these days there seems to be lack of discretion in what gets printed in The Hindu. The other day Hindu published an article on how our ancestors lived without electricity and hence we, born in modern times, should be comfortable with power cuts. These articles reflect authors' own personal preferences than an impartial study of the subject matter.

from:  Yogesh
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 19:04 IST

Tea being the national drink on account of the fact that it is arguably the largest tea growing country. Perhaps, more Indians are consuming tea, in particular, in the north of India. However, both plants are not native to India. I think,tea wins the accolade!

from:  Saratchandran
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 18:40 IST

I agree that a proper consensus should have been taken. However, I do not like the way the author is forcing his thoughts on the reader. How he concludes that "Tea can never match the fragrance and taste of filter coffee." is beyond me. But what's more baffling is that such a tone of language was allowed to be published in THE HINDU!!

from:  Piyush
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 18:16 IST

unless, declaring tea or coffee drink national, has any economic facet associated with it, it should be discussed.Otherwise what is the point in discussing which drink is better over other. Whole this discussion is frivolous.Even if coffee wins over tea then what would happen. Now one can start fighting for Beer to be declared as national drink, as it represents youth and India is young. Would that make any sense???

from:  abhi
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 17:43 IST

All these years we didn't have a national drink and we didn't lose anything. By declaring the national drink, we are not going to gain anything now, either. I fully agree with the author's last paragraph and Mr Nanjundamurthy's comment.

from:  Vaijeyanthi
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 17:32 IST

Tea is cheap and best.

from:  Mukhtar A Damudi
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 17:21 IST

While reading the title of this article, I could not help but think that the author is biased towards coffee. And after reading the article itself, my thoughts proved to be right. Personally, I am a Tea-man. I have been drinking tea from an age when other kids were busy gulping up milk. That said, the aroma a number of people ordering coffee in the parliament cannot be the reasons to choose coffee as a national drink. But on a very serious note, I second Nanjundamurthy V's argument that we have many more issues, rather than mere problems, to discuss and tackle than a national drink.

from:  Nitish
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 16:23 IST

Neither tea nor coffee, I believe Pure milk should be made as national Drink. There is valid reason for that: When a child born from that time itself he/she start consuming milk and not tea or coffee.Old and ill person need milk and not tea or coffee.If a young person has to take care of his body and fitness, for him it is necessary to have milk everyday. No matter what you are preparing tea or coffee , you need milk to give it final taste. No matter which festival you are celebrating in all those Milk needed. Among all milk is what we are getting directly from nature but to have tea or coffee we need to prepare it. Milk has always been compared with Amrit. I don't see any reason to declare Tea as a National drink when we have Milk. One reason could be that the person who has made such statement belong to a very high society and not aware of the value of Milk.

from:  varun kumar
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 15:18 IST

Very nice article. Your last paragraph very well reflects what I thought when I read the 'news of national drink'. The paragraphs before it are quite fun too. :)

from:  ich
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 15:12 IST

As an avid drinker of tea i am very happy to hear that tea is being considered as an national drink.I also support this fact on the sole reason as because tea is consumed by and large most of the population and also it gives India foreign reserves which is very important for our economy least to mention the no. of direct and indirect employment to the people.

from:  Monish Newar
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 14:30 IST

India should have a national drink. In every way tea is fit to be named as the national drink. First of all India is the largest producer of tea while our position in world coffee production is low. Tea industry employs much larger population than coffee in our country. While coffee is grown mostly in the south tea is produced in the south as well as north in a notable way. India produces all qualities of tea right from the top, Darjeeling orthodox tea to some South Indian CTC tea. Aroma of quality Darjeeling tea is exceptionally superior. However, preference for a beverage varies from person to person changes with the time of the day. But, in every city, town or village tea shops are common than coffee houses. While coffee is generally considered to be a drink of the affluent, tea is consumed by the rich and poor alike. Working class normally prefers tea for invigoration than coffee. There is no doubt that tea meets most of the criteria to be named as the national drink.

from:  Dr.C.K. George
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 14:06 IST

Surprised that such an amateurish article has appeared in 'The Hindu' of all places.We do need arguments and debates but this article is more suited for a class 10 examination than a national newspaper.

from:  Sachin
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 13:55 IST

Tea's flavour increases when it gets boiled for a long time. Humans are
like that when we suffer more, we will achieve more. May be to imply the
same, Tea is preferred as a National drink! :)

from:  Dhivyajanani
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 13:25 IST

Do we really need something called national drink, for the progress of
the nation. Does the progress of the nation depend on national drink,
national animal, national flower, national game. Do these really make
our identity.

from:  vishal
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 13:12 IST

Well the author seem to be liking coffee over tea and might be sad about it but the fact is that you visit anywhere in this country you can find the tea commonly drink by the peoples. Go to any house of a common Indian, you can find it to be offered to you. visit any place and you will find tea stalls, "CHAIWALAs" and even you visit the government offices then also you will find more tea is being drink. And I would like to ask you to visit the villages where the most of the Indian population lives. you will rarely find coffee but you will get tea. So please think about all these points before saying the coffee is the better option.

from:  Dev
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 12:53 IST

When is 'national' in the present era? it has no significance both in terms of
understanding and necessity in a federal country like India. We have so many
national things like bird, flower, language, etc. Not everyone seems to know what
that means. Especially, 'national language' concept creates more problems because
of pure misunderstanding. Why dont we get away from the concept of 'national' as
it is no more relevant. It was never relevant. These are the times that some state
governments have started to voice their concern regarding India's foreign policy
with respect to some countries. Dear UPA, it's time to ponder over the concept of
'single foreign policy'.

from:  Sivakumar Sambandan
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 12:45 IST

Tea unites Indians like no other. Like cricket, it is an indian drink accidentally invented in the west. And today it is again our link to the west. It is grown in the plantations of Ooty in the deep South, in the valleys of Assam in the Northeast, as well as in Darjeeling in the North. The ultra-rich savour it in five-star hotel hi-tees across the country; the poor labourer will drink his in the neighbourhood tea-stall. You may sip an afternoon tea watching cricket at the maidan; you may sip an irani chai watching the sun set at the Charminar; engage in adda in Calcutta's tea houses; or enjoy it amidst sanskrit chanting beside the temple at Mylapore. The 'Boston Tea Party' threw down Indian tea from its ships 300 years ago. The "Darjeeling" today symbolises the best of Indian produce from New York to London, and Tetley tea is today an english tea owned by indians.

from:  Kesava
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 12:23 IST

Undoubtedly coffee an elite drink. But in a country full of aam aadmi, TEA only is affordable,accessible and available to many. A simple survey would reveal that TEA is taken multiple times a day by a huge lot in this country.

from:  Ravi
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 12:09 IST

Totally agree with Mahesh J, Well Coffee is drunk by a few except the southern states, while Tea is the most popular drink with the masses,
the sheer majority of people drinking tea gives it an obvious and
logical stature of National Drink...well if we think of something truly indigenous and to our roots in villages, then cow's milk should have
been considered as the National Drink! The next best option seems to be

from:  Priya Chauhan
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 12:02 IST

Given all the "reasons" given by Mr Ahluwalia, and the arguments presented above in
favour of tea, I find this whole episode ridiculous. Not so for the choice but for the idea itself. The idea of a "national drink". Don't we have more serious issues on hand presently? Drinking water (as pointed out in the article), shortage of electricity etc etc... Dear govt.! Please, oh please take the job of ruling the country seriously!

from:  Nanjundamurthy V
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 11:45 IST

Put this issue on a national vote, and you shall get one answer to all
your questions. That is TEA. For some coffee might be better but for
most tea is a staple drink. Separately, you can put up points in favor
of other drinks as you have done, but do you have anything to say
against those numerous reasons for making tea a national drink.

from:  Prashant
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 10:47 IST

I am a filter-coffee addict. However, I am happy that Tea has been made the National Drink. Rightly so. Among all the beverages, tea and coffee are consumed the most world-wide. Tea is original to India, coffee is not! Well, the word "Tea" is a corruption of the Tamil word "They" (the "Th" pronounced as the"th" in thin). I am proud of our tea.

from:  Dr. Chandrasekhar Srinivasan
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 10:16 IST

Perhaps the aroma is the only consideration for a national drink is a
false assumption. Probably the author has not come across the aromatic
variety of tea. Also national drink cannot be decided by what people in
Central Hall of parliament hall prefer. Tea is the most widely preferred
by people in India and the history associated with the tea makes its a
ideal choice as a national drink.

from:  Sumit
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 09:42 IST

Tea is cheapest drink after water, 83% Indians drink it daily, employment to poor women & export earnings - these 4 reasons remove Lassi, Chhas, neera, sugarcane from competition.
About Coconut water - its a drink of middle class & above. 60% Indians who live below Rs 30 per day simply cannot spend 20 bucks for this. Its not the case with tea, so, tea is more inclusive. No doubt aroma of coffee is great but, frankly, I love aroma of boiling tea - its a personal choice & many will support me on this. Scientifically, Coffee is more stimulus but then, tea is also stimulus plus, tea has more anti-oxidants which makes it more healthier than coffee.In tea business highest number of people are employed compared to any other drink in India - chaiwallahs, women tea workers, tea shops, tea traders.
Agree with Author that Parliament or people should decide drink, but please note my above objections on your article.

from:  Mahesh J
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 08:48 IST

we used to say it is tea time and not coffee time leave alone the pronounciation comfort with single syllable just "T" .The other one is after a completion of technical failure, in the pretext of relaxing it is easier to say "am going for Tea " with a singe nod may be permittedd to go for a tea but not for a coffee. Even at tea shop i mean way side tea shop they put a boiler full of hot water , and with cloth filter they dust out the tea and offer a cup of tea , in no time , and the customer receives with right hand the glass containing a single tea, and scans the daily news of local area with a cup inbetween the lip, for nerve to get impulse, the impact being less for heart ailment person and not with coffee. And so the Coffee is preferable in kitchen of our house to feel the aroma in the entire kitchen , and while after being out of house it is only MONO LETTER "T" is preferable.
However the picture is good and now only i see the coffee beans and with thanks.

from:  Rajasekaran.S
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 08:48 IST

I think tea is a better drink for body and budget of aam aadmi.

from:  Sowmya Dhanaraj
Posted on: May 6, 2012 at 08:46 IST
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