Thursday, 18 September 2014

As British as a cup of... coffee?

English Breakfast with a dash of milk, no sugar. That's the Britain we grew up in. But now that Costa inhabits every hotel, restaurant, service station and high street corner, could it be that we're becoming a nation of coffee drinkers? That the traditional builder's tea needs a campaign to save it?

 Waves and waves of coffee

Having proved relatively immune to the charms of coffee before, fetishising our traditional English brew instead, the introduction of American coffee culture – milky, sweet, espresso based drinks – appears to have finally seduced us. Coffee is everywhere. Britain hearts coffee. And apparently, we heart it more every year.

As Third Wave Coffee takes hold in Britain's cities, the Second Wave (espresso machines, basically) is still flooding the country. Costa opened 177 new branches last year, and reported pre-tax profits growth of 22% above 2012 (itself a strong growth year). Premium, takeaway coffee was one of the last bastions of growth during the worst of the recession; an affordable luxury in straitened times.

The question is: has it come at the expense of our traditional favourite?

 The fall of tea

 It certainly looks that way. Sales of tea are falling exponentially. 6% down in 2013, double the 3% fall in 2012. Most tellingly, it's not just the high street coffee chains gaining from tea's loss – in the same period, sales of NescafĂ© were up 6.3%.

That instant coffee (First Wave) is outperforming tea in the sales stakes is the surest sign that the tastes of the nation are changing. Hard to imagine there would ever be a time when freeze dried coffee would be preferable to a nice cuppa, particularly without Anthony Head's contribution, but it seems that time is now.

 Unless... it's more complicated than that?

 Going green

The proliferation of high street coffee shops might be the most obvious sign of tea's decline, but behind closed doors there's another story. While sales of 'builders tea' continue to decline, sales of more exotic, healthier teas like green tea and herbal teas grew 19% and 15% respectively in 2013.

 Indian black tea may have been exotic once, but after centuries of afternoon tea (a tradition instigated by a Portuguese princess) it seems to have lost its shine in favour of newer (to Britain), more cosmopolitan flavours. The original drink of globalisation is suffering from globalisation.

Broadening palettes should be applauded. But there does seem something sad about the decline of the Great British Cuppa. Doesn't there?

This is a guest post. 

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