There’s a divergence in coffee cultures between Europe and America. Europeans tend to prefer designated blends of coffee with a certain provenance (e.g. Italian espresso), where consistent quality is ensured by following the same blending recipe. In contrast, Americans are coming to favour coffee from certain plantations. Coffee experts believe that Europe as a whole will pick up on and begin to appreciate the allure and variety of flavours provided by pure coffees.
One emerging trend is towards rare coffees that boast an unmistakeable taste and aroma, but whose annual harvest is negligible in size. Examples include Hawaiian Kona coffee or the famous and highly-prized Jamaican Blue Mountain.
Italians get through 33 bn cups of coffee annually, meaning a consumption of 600 cups per capita. No surprise, then, that coffee culture is deeply rooted in the nation, where the number of family-run roasteries and coffee shops is truly enormous. It’s Italy that gave the world espresso, renowned for its intense aroma and full, rich taste. The brewing process takes place so quickly that the coffee grounds can’t result in bitterness or over-extraction.
The first professional espresso machines were introduced in the early 20th century in Milan, but it was in the 1930s that Francesco Illy developed a coffee machine that used compressed air instead of steam. Later, in 1945, Achille Gaggia invented the portafilter machine.
Having a coffee at one of Paris’s numerous cafes alongside a boulevard or square is something of an attraction for tourists and locals alike, and this slice of culture really adds to the city’s colour. Historically, the habit was instigated by provincial merchants, particularly at the port of Marseilles. Coffee initially appeared in Paris in 1657, where it was sold by street traders, in small shops and at exhibition stands. The first real coffee shop, called Café Procope, was opened by Procopio di Cultelli in 1686. Its popularity was enhanced by the prime position it held opposite the Théâtre Français. Fitted out with elegant mirrors and marble tables, it gained respectability and became a place to catch up on the latest gossip and to bump into personages such as Russeau and Diderot. During the revolution, it was frequented by Marat, Robespiere and Danton. Coffee culture took off in a big way. In 1720, Paris boasted 380 garden and street coffee shops, but just 150 years later there were three thousand of them. In fact, many of them, including Café Procope, still exist today. In recent years, coffee consumption in France has averaged 180,000 t annually. In contrast to the Italians, the French prefer weaker coffee, primarily medium roast.
The Brits love their tea. In fact, tea consumption in the UK is only second in the world to Ireland. Recent figures suggest that GBP 560 m is spent on coffee in the country. While instant coffee remains very popular, 11 per cent is given over to beans of the best quality. Coffee culture is still on the rise, and every high street boasts its own Starbucks or chain outlet if not several such places.
Finns get through an incredible 12 kg per capita of the stuff annually, so Finland takes the gold medal in this particular discipline. Despite their enthusiasm for the beverage not all consumers are focussed on quality, although instant coffee only accounts for one per cent of total consumption. Domestic roasters import arabica from Columbia (40 per cent), Brazil (20 per cent), Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Mexico (20 to 25 per cent). Meanwhile, the Norwegians, Swedes and Danish are also big coffee consumers, each nation favouring its own method of preparation.
In terms of total coffee consumption, Germany’s the second largest consumer in the world after the United States, and is the largest buyer and importer of it in the world. On average, Germans drink four cups of coffee a day, more than they do beer. The nation was one of the first to establish coffee houses, and trading in it goes back many centuries in cities like Bremen (1673). The drip filter’s the most popular way to prepare it.
Czech consumers prefer coffee that is aromatic, full, dark and strong, they’re not used to the slightly acidic taste that can perculate through. The national “speciality” is known as the Turek, which hasn’t got anything to do with traditional Turkish coffee as the name might suggest. Quite simply, finely ground coffee is put into a mug and then hot water’s poured over (not quite at boiling point), meaning it maintains its aroma; it’s never served with milk. Every street contains a tea and coffee shop of some description, possibly referred to as a Cukrana, which is a cross between a cake shop, ice-cream parlour and cafe. Adults have been reported as consuming just one cup of coffee a day, i.e. two to three kilograms per person annually. From a European viewpoint, this value is markedly below average, where it tends to be six to seven kilograms per person per year).
It’s possible to pay an extortionate amount for a cup of coffee in Tokyo, usually receiving Jamaican Blue Mountain in a thin porcelain cup in exchange. This is often given as a gift at the turn of a new year. Curiously, Japan used to be the only country to celebrate national Coffee Day, which falls on 1st October. The Japanese don’t go in for espresso, instead preferring lightly roasted types.
Dairy products aren’t as popular as in Europe, so no latte and cappuccino for the Japanese. Conservation coffee is much sought-after, served either hot or cold, one the best selling brands being Kilimanjaro, a drink made from Tanzanian coffee.
The most popular coffee in the USA comes from Brazil, Mexico, Columbia and Guatemala. Even though most Americans aren’t fussy about the quality of their coffee, the speciality or gourmet market is large and constantly growing. The situation now is in start contrast to the 1960s, when the market was saturated with poor-quality types from a few producers.
The nation is largely responsible for the invention of take-out coffee, often served in paper cups with plastic lids. Local consumers are used to drinking espresso from 100% arabica beans. Full flavoured types are wildly popular, meaning that the beans tend to be strongly roasted. Numerous Hollywood movies have highlighted American coffee culture shop in one form or another, often showing the queues of people waiting to give complicated instructions to the baristas behind the counter.