The tea industry, concentrated in Assam and West Bengal, had got minister for development of the northeastern region, Paban Singh Ghatowar, to back its quest for national status.
But, commerce minister Anand Sharma wrote to Ghatowar: "…being competing beverages having respective market shares, declaration of one as a national drink is likely to hurt the interest of the other and raise an avoidable controversy."
Meanwhile, coffee retailers like Bangalore-based Café Coffee Day, have been aggressively promoting the drink across the country with coffee consumption rising at an annual 5% in recent years.
Although tea remains a popular drink, its consumption has risen by a mere 2% annually, as per the commerce ministry.
The North Eastern Tea Association chairman Bidyananda Barkakoty is distraught, "Did people stop eating bananas or oranges because mango was declared the national fruit?" he said, vowing to keep the struggle going.