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When Was Coffee Introduced to the UK? Facts & FAQ

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UK flag with coffee on table

Coffee comes from a small bush or tree, with the beans that are used to make coffee actually being the seed from inside the coffee berry. While the UK is traditionally considered a nation of tea drinkers, coffee has become increasingly popular and, at least according to some sources, coffee is now as popular as tea and is certainly one of the most popular non-alcoholic beverages in the country.

Although it is difficult to give an exact date of when coffee first came to UK shores, the first coffee house was opened in 1652, and this is likely around the time when it first made its way over from Arabic countries.

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There is some debate over who exactly was the first to discover coffee, as a drink, but it is widely accepted that the coffee bean originates from Ethiopia, and many believe that a goat herder named Kaldi saw his goats eating the curious red berries from the coffee tree. Seeing how the coffee gave his goats greater vigor, he decided to try the berries for himself. He reported his findings to the local abbot and coffee beans were cultivated, prepared, and drank in the region thereafter.

As word spread of the power of the coffee bean, especially in its ability to invigorate and refresh drinkers, so too did it spread across the world.

Coffee spread to the Arabian Peninsula in the 15th Century, where it was served in public coffee houses. By the 17th Century, it had made its way to Europe. Initially, in Europe, people denounced it as being Satan’s work but once the Pope tried it for himself, he decreed it a drink from God.

One trader’s assistant, Armenian-born Pasqua Rosee, brought some of the beans back with him from a trading trip to the Ottoman Empire. He started to serve coffee from his home, but such was the popularity of the drink that he eventually set up a stall serving coffee to all that wanted it, in 1652.

The UK is famed for its love of tea, and it has certainly taken a long time for coffee to reach the kind of popularity that tea has enjoyed. However, in recent years, some sources state that coffee has now become as popular a beverage as tea. As unthinkable as this might be to some of the population, the popularity of coffee shops across the country is certainly a testament to how beloved the brown beverage has become.

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According to one survey in 2021, the same number of Brits drink at least one cup of coffee per day as those that drink at least one cup of tea per day. 63% of the nation enjoys a cup of coffee, including instant and brewed coffee, and coffee is consumed at home as well as at coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants.

In total, 95 million cups of coffee are consumed in the UK every day. Considering the country’s population of just over 67 million people, this is equivalent to nearly one and a half cups of coffee per person.

Coffee shops continue to increase in popularity and, as of 2020, Brits spend over £4 billion a year in coffee shops. Although this figure will have taken a substantial hit during the Covid pandemic, it has likely rebounded since lockdowns and closures have been lifted.

Coffee is grown in Central and South America, Africa, and the Middle East. It is Brazil that tops the list of countries with the highest exports, producing and shipping 5.7 billion pounds of coffee every year. This accounts for around a third of the world’s coffee. In the 1920s, Brazil’s exports made up 80% of the world’s coffee.

The United States consumes the most coffee, by weight, but when you look at the amount drunk per capita, it doesn’t even feature in the top 10. Neither does the UK. It is Finland that has the highest consumption rate of 12 kilograms of coffee, per person, per year. Finland is followed by Norway, Iceland, and Denmark, all of which are known for their cold winters.

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Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world and while the UK is best known for being a nation of tea drinkers, Brits have been turning their attention to coffee ever since its introduction in the 17th Century. Today, as many people drink coffee every day as those that drink tea, and coffee shop expenditure tops £4 billion per annum.

Featured Image Credit: gmstockstudio, Shutterstock

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