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The Perfect Blend: Britain's Love Affair With Coffee

Despite being a nation of tea sippers, we’re partial to a coffee or two. In fact, 46% of coffee drinkers admit they find it difficult to get going in the morning without a ‘cup of the brown stuff’.

Coffee first made its appearance in the UK in the 17th century, when the first café open in Oxford in 1650. The earliest coffee houses in Britain were coined ‘penny universities’. With a single penny, customers could purchase a cuppa and find themselves in stimulating conversations.

A 17th century coffeehouse

Each café had a particular clientele, which was defined by occupation, interest or attitude; Tories and Whigs, Traders and Merchants, poets and authors, and men of fashion and leisure. However, not all coffeehouses hosted such elite clientele: some were stamping grounds for criminals, scoundrels and pimps.

King Charles II attempted to ban the sale of coffee, as the increasing popularity made him nervous. He also believed that coffee houses disturbed the peace of the realm and promoted idleness. Women also petitioned against coffee, claiming that coffee made men too talkative and rendered them impotent. By the end of the 18th century, coffee began to be replaced by a relative latecomer to the British shores – tea.

It wasn’t until the late 20th century that the British love affair with coffee was reignited by coffee chains such as Starbucks and Costa Coffee, as well as smaller, artisan coffee shops. The popularity of artisan coffee shops has helped some coffee drinkers regard themselves as coffee connoisseurs, who enjoy a large variety of roast and ground blends. Despite the rise in a subculture of self-confessed "coffee geeks", instant coffee still remains the nation’s number one in-home coffee brew, which is drunk regularly by 62% of adults.

An artisan coffee shop in Edinburgh

So what does the future look like for the coffee market in the UK? Customers are more conscious than ever about environmental and ethical issues surrounding coffee. People are also broadening their pallets as never before and demanding more clarity on coffee supply chains, more bean variety and a wider diversity of brewing methods. Overall, people are demanding more across the board from their coffee roasters than ever before.

Whether it’s a good old plain coffee or an organic Columbian cold brew, coffee continues to be firmly embedded in British culture and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

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