A Change Brewing?

Tea is as synonymous with the United Kingdom as the Queen of England herself. However, new figures show that Britain’s love affair with tea may soon be going the way of the dinosaur. Every year since 2011, the amount of tea sold in British supermarkets has declined. Not only has it declined, but the amount of decline has roughly doubled every year. The amount of tea sold in 2013 was down over 6% compared to 2012.

Closing the gap. Google searches for coffee (blue) in the United Kindgom have grown to match searches for tea over the past 7 years.

Closing the gap. Google searches for coffee (blue) in the United Kindgom have grown to rival searches for tea over the past 7 years.

At first glance, it would seem crazy that Britain could turn its back on its most prized export. After all, in 1773 Boston patriots organized the Boston Tea Party and not the Boston Coffee Party. But this is 2014, not 1773. The worldwide expansion of American fast food chains (I’m looking at you, Starbucks) as well as a global society that’s increasingly always on the go has caused a sea change in British caffeine consumption habits.

Starbucks is fueling Britain's growing love for a cup of joe. The company now has over 730 stores and 12,000 employees since opening the first British cafe in 1998.

Starbucks is fueling Britain’s growing love for a cup of joe. The company now has over 730 stores and 12,000 employees since opening their first British cafe in 1998.

As tea sales have plunged at the supermarket and tea rooms, coffee sales have increased at a proportional rate in general and at a nearly exponential rate in public. The change is most dramatic on Britain high streets, where coffee sales hit the £1 billion mark in 2013 compared to only £480 million for tea. In fact, the coffee sector in the United Kingdom is growing at a rate 7 to 8 times faster than the British economy itself.

This news hasn’t gone over well with at least one person in the UK’s blogosphere. Emma Sturgess, in the Word of Mouth blog with The Guardian stated that it was “hard to swallow” Britain’s growing love for coffee.

The Americans may have had a big hand in introducing espresso to the Brits, but it is now a new wave of British entrepreneurs that are cultivating a distinctly British coffee culture. In much the same manner that happened in the United States in the 2000s, independent cafes are popping up all over the country. Not only do Brits want coffee. They want good coffee that’s just as meticulously prepared for them as their beloved tea. Urban blogger Peter Thomson has taken advantage of Britain’s growing coffee scene as a way to explore new parts of London. Other coffee aficionados have turned into teachers as interest in the art of making a latte has grown.

Perhaps Britain’s growing love affair with coffee is the final revenge of the Boston revolutionaries that gathered at the Old South Meeting House and planned the Boston Tea Party. One thing that is certain, however, is that the interconnectivity of today’s world will continue to alter traditional cultural values and tastes. We are becoming one giant, global melting pot.