Sunday, June 12, 2011

Coffee or tea?

When I arrived in New Zealand in 1995, I found what I thought of as a nation of tea drinkers, which, if we’re honest, was probably not the best fit for my American-reared tastebuds. However, the demand for coffee was said to be increasing dramatically, even though none of the international chains were here yet (a New Zealand chain, Columbus Coffee, opened its first location that year; by my count, they have 28 now). But how much of the perception that New Zealand is turning into a coffee-drinking nation is accurate?

The chart at the top of this post compares per capita consumption of tea and coffee in 2008 (the most recent figures available) among the countries I usually write about. In 1995, New Zealanders consumed 2.3 kilograms of coffee per person, as compared to 3.7 kgs in 2008, a roughly 60% increase in those 13 years. In 1975 (the earliest figures I have), consumption was only 1.6 kgs per person. So, there was an increase of more than 225% between 1975 and 2008. Globally, consumption per capita was more or less stable over that same period, averaging out at about a kilogram per person.

Despite New Zealand’s increase in consumption, the country’s ranked only 36th in the world for its annual coffee consumption per capita, but that’s well ahead of Australia, which is ranked 45th and the United Kingdom, which is 47th. Not surprisingly, consumption in the US beats all three countries: The US is ranked 27th in the world. However, Canada beats us all, ranked 11th in the world. Number one is Finland, at a whopping 12kg per person.

Tea” refers to any drink made from cultivars or sub-species of Camellia sinensis. That includes what we normally think of as tea, and various varieties, such as black tea, green tea, yellow tea, oolong, and white tea, as well as fermented tea. However, “herbal teas” don’t usually contain any Camellia sinensis, and so, they aren’t actually tea, but an herbal infusion or tisane.

Apparently, after water, tea is the world’s most popular drink [Alan Macfarlane; Iris Macfarlane (2004). The Empire of Tea. The Overlook Press. p. 32. ISBN 1-58567-493-1]. The stereotype is that it’s popular in Britain and countries that made up the former British Empire, but the world’s number one consumer is Turkey at 2.1 kgs per person consumed, just edging out the UK and Ireland at 2.0 kgs per capita in each country. New Zealand is ranked seventh, Australia is tenth-equal, the United States in tied for twenty-third with Canada, among others.

To really compare tea drinking with coffee drinking, it’s necessary to do some arithmetic (always dangerous for me!). That's because a cup of tea one typically consumes uses less tea (by weight) than the amount of coffee (by weight) that a cup of coffee uses: Typically, one uses about 2 grams of tea per cup (a “cup” being 177ml/6 ounces), while a cup of coffee of the same size uses 10 grams of coffee per cup. In other words, it takes a lot more coffee than tea to make a cup, so merely comparing the amount of tea or coffee per person doesn't really tell the full story about consumption or popularity.

We can more directly compare consumption by working out how many cups of coffee versus tea per person each country consumes, and that's in the chart on the right side of this post (the numbers are approximate). New Zealanders drink about three-quarters of a cup of coffee for every cup of tea they drink, about the same proportion as Australia. So, both New Zealand and Australia are still tea-drinking nations. The United Kingdom is overwhelmingly a tea-drinking nation, with each Brit consuming a little more than a quarter of a cup of coffee for every cup of tea. Americans are overwhelmingly coffee drinkers (4.2 cups of coffee consumed for every cup of tea), but Canadians are the jumpy ones in this bunch: 6.5 cups of coffee for every cup of tea.

And finally, some anecdotal evidence: In 1995 I had to shop around to find an ordinary coffee maker like I’d had in the US, though plunger coffee makers were pretty abundant. Now, all the appliance stores are filled with espresso coffee makers of various kinds (and prices), plus other types of machines designed to make coffee (that coffee maker circa 1995 is long gone). Where supermarkets then had a few brands of ground coffee, now they carry dozens, in differing grinds. Then, the only reliable (for my tastes) place to buy a cup of coffee was McDonald’s (seriously); now, there are several chains with locations all over the country (and McDonald’s no longer even rates, so much so that they’re changing their coffee bean blends for their McCafé locations), and any decent café has an espresso machine and competent barista. Coffee is now big business, clearly driven by consumer demand.

It does indeed seem that both New Zealand and Australia are on track to become coffee-drinking nations, especially as the easy availability of decent coffee spreads, but neither is there yet. However, it’s a long way off—if ever—before the UK gives up its traditional cuppa.

I wonder if anyone's worked out how much milk and/or sugar people use in their cups of whatever…


Roger Owen Green said...

Have A Cuppa Tea - the Kinks!

Buy Coffee Beans said...

New Zealand is going to be a coffe nation? wow

recycled rubber mats said...

As per your chart every state like to very much take tea. I also like tea because it is good for health. It is an informative post. It is an interesting information.

Promosyon said...

Great information, Which you share here about tea and coffee. I impressed by that. Every thing looking awesome. Such an informative post.

Buy to Let said...

I like to both. Mostly people drink a tea because It's not just the milk added to tea that builds strong bones.I like this post.

Halmari Tea said...

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