Author Mark Richards

The UK has fallen in love with coffee. But do we really drink that much? How do we compare to other countries around the world? And how much is the world’s most expensive coffee?

If a visitor from the planet Zog landed in the middle of London he would rapidly come to one, inevitable, conclusion: that the sole purpose of life on Earth was to drink coffee.

Coffee shops are everywhere. People that once thought the Gold Blend ads on TV were pretty cool would now rather die than start their day without a decaf skinny latte – obviously with their name scribbled on the outside of the cup.

Small wonder then that recent trading results from Whitbread – owner of the ubiquitous Costa brand – showed revenues up 7.4% to £1.67bn and profits up nearly 20% to £342m. Although Whitbread also owns Premier Inns and other brands Costa played a major part in those good figures, enjoying near double-digit growth in the year as the number of stores in the UK increased to 1,500 – and that is before you count the Costa machines, which are in thousands and thousands of corner shops and garages.

That, of course, pales into insignificance compared to Starbucks near 25,000 outlets worldwide – not bad for a company that opened its first store in Seattle in March 1971. (Useless fact alert: the name Starbucks comes from the name of the chief mate in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.)

How much coffee do we drink in the UK?

Whatever our visitor from Zog might conclude, us Brits are well down the league table when it comes to coffee consumption. Depending on which source you use, we drink between 55 and 70 million cups of coffee a day (compared to 165m cups of tea). That is out of around 2bn cups drunk every day around the world.

That consumption translates into the average Brit consuming 1.7kg of coffee a year, putting us – and Theresa May surely has to address this national shame – 40th in the world league table. At the top of the table are the Finns, who get through a staggering 9.6kg per person – nearly six times the amount we do. Also in the top ten are Norway, Denmark and Germany, whilst Brazil – where much of the coffee comes from – is 10th in the world league table with 4.8kg a year.

First oil, then coffee…

As you might expect, coffee is highly important to Brazil’s economy. Globally coffee is the second largest export in the world after oil and it is absolutely integral to the economic well-being of some smaller countries. Coffee was first introduced to Brazil around 1820 and exports are now worth around $8bn a year. However, it is even more important to some smaller countries: coffee makes up around half of Uganda’s exports and more than two-thirds of Burundi’s. The International Coffee Organisation estimates that around the world 25m families are dependent on coffee exports, in what is still a relatively labour intensive industry.

So with coffee being drunk in increasing quantities around the world, it is time to ask the crucial question…

Is drinking coffee good for you?Expensive coffee

Absolutely. There is simply no question that drinking coffee – and lots of it – is the number one thing anyone can do for their health. Coffee protects against cirrhosis of the liver, increases your fibre intake, protects against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, reduces the risk of suicide and depression, slashes your risk of heart disease and even strengthens your DNA. In case you had not guessed, those facts were taken from the Caffeine Informer website…

Definitely not. No. Do not ever drink another cup of coffee. More than four cups a day is linked to early death, coffee raises your blood pressure, it increases the risk of heart attacks in young adults, when you get older it can lead to gout attacks, it can cause incontinence and insomnia – and while you are lying awake you will probably have a headache and indigestion from too much coffee. It can also increase the risk of miscarriages and make the menopause worse. My thanks to Caffeine Informer for at least addressing both sides of the argument…

Like most things, coffee is neither good nor bad for you. As your Grandma said, ‘A little bit of everything and everything in moderation.’ Coffee is no exception.

But does coffee make us feel inadequate?

I suspect the answer to that is ‘yes.’ I am fairly certain that a great many people have a latte simply because they do not know what all the other options mean. I hold my hand up, I used to order a latte and wonder why it tasted of milk, not coffee. The answer is simple; a latte is a very milky coffee. If you just want milk with your coffee, try a flat white (which will help you appear ten times more sophisticated than someone ordering a latte.)

What’s the difference between, say, a cappuccino and a macchiato? Surprisingly little: this is a useful guide if you want to score a few man points next time you’re in the local coffee shop.

The world’s most expensive coffee

Anyway, you do not want to be messing about in Costa, Starbucks or Nero. You want to be sitting by the pool at your villa, drinking a cup of Kopi Luwak, the world’s most expensive coffee. Kopi Luwak (literally civet coffee) comes from Indonesia and – sorry, there is no delicate way to put this – comes from coffee beans which have been eaten, digested and then excreted by the Indonesian palm civet. The low levels of supply, unusual production method and different taste make Kopi Luwak the most expensive coffee in the world, selling for anywhere between $100 and $600 per 500 grams, compared to a range of $3 to $10 for coffee which has been produced in rather more conventional ways. Annual production of Kopi Luwak is between 250 and 500kg – compared to the total world production of around nine million metric tonnes.

So two key questions inevitably follow: how much is a cup of Kopi Luwak and what does it taste like? Anywhere between £25 and £75 a cup depending on how much is available. And the taste? It’s described as being ‘earthy and smooth, less bitter than normal coffee.’ Other people say that it is ‘slightly nutty, with caramel hints.’ The general consensus is ‘not that much better than any other really good coffee’ but, well, it is the most expensive coffee in the world so you have to try it…

Sadly, I cannot afford a cup of nutty, earthy coffee with a hint of caramel. But Hallowe’en is coming! I’m off to enjoy a Pumpkin Spiced Latte with ‘flavour notes of pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.’ There’s something for those Indonesian civets to aim for…