I’m in my early forties, and as someone who grew up during the 1980s and early 1990s, I can remember life without coffee. You see, living in a council estate in the North East of England during the New Romantics era meant the most exotic drink you ever saw in the kitchen was Nescafe.
How times have changed. I honestly don’t know anyone who doesn’t have — at the very least — a cafetiere somewhere in their kitchen. Whether or not it always gets used is another question, but you can see where I’m going here. Us Brits have gone from a nation of tea and instant coffee drinkers to a nation of educated “beanies” in just one generation.
In case you’re wondering, the term “beanies” is something I made up to describe people who are fascinated by coffee beans.
The explosion of coffee shops across the country is just one of the reasons for the Brits’ love affair with the bean. We now know how to brew a great cup of joe in our own home; we also realise that brewing real coffee instead of instant takes just a few seconds longer.
But we still have quite a way to go before we catch up to some other coffee-drinking nations around the World. The likes of Italy and France have enjoyed a passionate love affair with coffee for several centuries. Even the Americans know have known their arabica from their robusta for decades.
The coffee-drinking league tables don’t lie
So, where do we stand in the international league table of coffee drinking nations? Which countries are obsessed with the bean, and which have bigger beverage priorities?
To mark the recent London Coffee Festival, organisers got together with London-based journalists and the International Coffee Organization to compile a list of the biggest coffee drinkers in the World according to consumption per capita. And to say some of the results were surprising would be a monumental understatement.
It might surprise you to know that the nation with the biggest coffee addiction is… Finland. Each person in the country consumes an average of 12 kilos of coffee every year. To put this statistic into some context, that’s around 900 cups of coffee a year. There must be something in the air in this area of Northern Europe, as Norway lies in second place with 9.9 kilos per year. Iceland is fourth with 8.7 kilos, and Sweden is sixth (after the Netherlands) with 8.2 kilos.
Coffee culture is still very much a European phenomenon
But get this: neither Italy nor France made the World’s top 10 coffee drinking nations. Italy — the spiritual home of Western coffee culture — was 13th in the league table with 5.8 kilos of coffee consumer per head of population. France was a lowly 18th in the list, with just 5.1 kilos a year.
Of the top 20 coffee drinking nations, all but two were European countries. Canada was 10th in the league table, and Brazil was 15th. Believe it or not, the USA was just 26th in the list, despite having an international reputation for being a country of hardened coffee addicts. And if you want to find the United Kingdom in the league table, you’ll have to scroll right down to 45th position. That’s right: as much as us Brits have learned about coffee over the last two or three decades, we still don’t drink anywhere near as much joe as other Western nations.
Fortunately, the International Coffee Organization came up with a second league table — one we perform a lot better in. It’s a league table of tea drinkers, and we sit proudly in third place, just behind our cousins in Ireland and the World’s biggest tea-drinking nation Turkey.
Why are we so far behind in the coffee league table? Well, it probably relates to how we drink coffee in the UK, as well as the dominance of tea. We are a nation of take-out fanatics, and a great deal of the coffee we drink is made for us in coffee shops. Although we’re now making coffee in our own homes, we still tend to favour the traditional British cuppa behind closed doors. Add to that the influence British pubs still exert on the social fabric of the nation, and it’s not difficult to see why we languish in 45th place.
The morale of the story? Well, there isn’t one. These statistics demonstrate that, despite the recent upsurge in coffee sales in the UK, we’re still very much a nation in love with the tea bag.