Coffee around the World: UK

in Did you know?

“Even the British drink more coffee than tea nowadays,” mentioned a friend when she returned from a recent trip to London. And while this is just the observation of a single person, it may not be far from reality. Let's see how the British measure up to other nations when it comes to drinking coffee.

The past

Coffee was introduced to the UK in the late 16th century, with the first coffeehouse opening almost a century later – in 1651. These coffeehouses spread quickly, becoming gathering places used for deep religious and political discussions during the enlightenment, which even led to King Charles II enforcing a ban on coffeehouses in 1675. Coffee did gradually gain in popularity, but it was tea that was the drink of choice of the British. However, in the 1970s things started to change. Between the mid-1970s and 1980s the consumption of tea fell by 20%, while coffee flourished. Over the last forty years, coffee consumption has tripled, making it the drink of the present and the future.

Tea, pubs, wine – make way for coffee

While tea may still be the primary hot drink of the British with over 160 million cups of tea per day consumed, coffee is catching up with an estimated 60 – 70 million cups. On average, the British drink a yearly amount of 1.7 kg of coffee per person, trailing most coffee loving nations. However, the trend indicates that they are catching up quickly – on average there are three new coffee shops opened every day, and studies estimate that the number of coffee shops will overtake the number of pubs by 2030. It is estimated that the coffee shop industry in the UK is worth $11.5 billion, which is more than double the wine industry. The outlook is even brighter when taking into account that coffee is particularly popular in the age group between 16 and 34, where more than 80% of people drink coffee. Tea, on the other hand, is popular with the older generations.

I’ll have a... coffee pod?

With coffee industry booming only in the last 40 odd years, there is no traditional British type of coffee, but rather a mix of several influences. Instant coffee is the most popular, especially among people above 65. No wonder that coffee pods are the fastest growing coffee product in the last year, with sales growing by a staggering 33%. As for coffee shops, there seems to be no favorite type, which could be a consequence of UK being part of the so-called “third wave” emphasizing coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, rather than a commodity.

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