In most parts of America, coffee consumption far exceeds tea consumption. However, coffee has a major competitor, especially in the United States and Latin America.
Coffee is very popular today, it wasn’t always like that
Coffee as a drink was well known in the Thirteen Colonies (now the United States) as early as the 16th century and was so popular that there are records of stores selling it as a luxury product.
However, the most popular drink in North America was tea, a product that originated primarily in India and was considered one of the flagship products of British trade. It is therefore not surprising that most people in the Thirteen Colonies (which were of British origin) drank tea almost exclusively.
However, in the last third of the 18th century, the tea’s popularity fell sharply as the drink was considered “unpatriotic” during the American Revolutionary War. As a result, coffee became popular with those seeking independence from the British, also because it was cheaper and more common than tea. The latter because the crops were in more accessible countries.
In those days, contempt for tea went so far that people threw crates of tea into the sea as an expression of contempt for all things British.
On the other hand, in areas of America where there was no British colonization, tea was never very popular, as the native people already had their own beverages. Also, the other European settlers (Spanish, Portuguese and French) preferred coffee, especially since they did not want to buy products like tea, which were traded by their British competitors. Thus, the love for coffee grew over time while tea consumption, particularly in mainland America, was in free fall.
Coffee production in Latin America and the Caribbean – consumption in North America and Europe
Latin America and the Caribbean account for more than 50% of the world’s annual coffee production. But it wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that domestic consumption of the drink increased as several governments in the region developed policies to encourage consumption.
It should be remembered that in the past more than 90% of coffee production was destined for export. On the other hand, coffee consumption in America, which has been increasing since the 1950s, has always had a strong competitor in the form of soft drinks. This is because sugary soft drinks are popular with the American public because they are cheaper and have also been more and better promoted than coffee or tea for decades.
Coffee consumption is increasing across America
The trend in America is that more and more people are drinking coffee, particularly due to findings linking coffee consumption to better health. At the same time, as people become more concerned about their well-being, they are looking for healthy alternatives to consume.
In addition, the governments of several countries on the continent are trying to promote the consumption of healthy foods with public health campaigns.
It is therefore a question of discouraging the consumption of products that are scientifically proven to be harmful to health, such as B. Soft drinks that have a very high content of processed sugar.
This will open up the market for natural beverages like coffee.
Slow growth in coffee consumption
Although Latin America is the world’s leading coffee producing and exporting region – Brazil is the largest producer and Colombia the third largest – the region lags far behind northern Europe in per capita consumption.
As a result, per capita coffee consumption in the Americas is about 50% lower than in Europe, so there is still a long way to go before the region achieves balance between production and consumption.
How much coffee is consumed in the producing countries?
According to consultancy Euromonitor International, Brazil, the world’s leading coffee producer, ranks second in the Americas in terms of coffee consumption per capita. So far, in 2022, the South American giant has consumed 5.4 kg per person per year.
Colombia, the third largest coffee producer in the world, ranks fourth in per capita consumption in the Americas, with 2.8 kg of coffee per year.
What does that tell us?
Coffee consumption in the producing countries is not high, since almost all coffee production is destined for export. This is the historical constant in these countries as industry profits are higher in foreign markets like Europe. In contrast, until a few decades ago in Latin America, it was common to consume low-quality coffee, since it is cheaper because it is the rest of the production (pasilla), that is, what is not exported.
What is not exported is for domestic consumption, or low-quality coffee is simply imported for that purpose. In the last two decades, however, the situation has changed as small Latin American growers and some large coffee industry companies have stepped up their efforts to educate consumers.
The aim is to ensure that Latin American consumers appreciate the benefits of good coffee and are willing to change their consumption habits. So far, the measure has had an effect, at least to a certain extent. Although consumption of specialty coffee is increasing, there is still a long way to go before this beverage surpasses that of soft drinks. So economic conditions and habits are still factors that are holding back the eventual switch to specialty coffee consumption, at least in Latin America.
Coffee consumption in North America
We will now take a look at consumption in the north of the Americas.
According to the National Association of Colombian Coffee Growers, Canada is the country with the highest per capita coffee consumption in the Americas, averaging 5.5 kg per year.
Coffee consumption has steadily increased in the north of the country over the past decade, overtaking other beverages such as soft drinks, tea and natural juices. Additionally, specialty and gourmet coffee consumption is one of the fastest growing sectors in the country due to a strong culture of appreciation for this beverage.
In addition, consultancy Statista has produced a forecast stating that the Canadian market is expected to consume more than 5 million 60kg bags of coffee by October 2022. In addition, most Canadians prefer to drink their coffee at home, and the preferred preparations are cappuccino, latte and macchiato.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the United States ranks third in per capita coffee consumption on the continent at about 3.5 kg per year. However, with 25.5 million bags of coffee imported in 2022 alone, it is the largest coffee consumer in the world.
Most of these imports serve as raw material to manufacture new coffee-based products, which are mainly exported to Canada, Mexico, Europe, China and South Korea. At the same time, domestic consumption of specialty coffee has increased again in recent years, as has consumption of coffee pods, according to the National Coffee Association of the United States (NCA).
According to this organization, coffee consumption in the form of cappuccino and latte has increased by 14% in North America since January 2021. Also, 41% of coffee drinkers use coffee machines, 27% use single-cup machines, i.e. coffee capsules, another 9% prefer cold brew coffee and 8% use espresso machines.
Although coffee still lags behind when compared to soft drinks, US citizens are expected to consume much more coffee in the years to come.
Mexico is one of the countries with the lowest coffee consumption on the continent, with 0.54 kg per person in 2021, according to Statista. In addition, Mexican consumers prefer instant coffee because it is easy to prepare.
However, there has been an upward trend in specialty coffee consumption in the country’s major urban centers. This is because very good Arabica coffee is produced in Mexico, so more and more specialty coffee shops are opening.
In addition, the coffee sector is investing in consumer education, which is why the Mexican Agency for Agricultural Planning has made forecasts for the year 2030. These forecasts foresee a 16.48% increase in domestic consumption from 0.80 to 0.94 million tons per year.
National coffee production is also projected to increase almost fivefold, from 0.82 million tons at the end of 2018 to 4.70 tons in 2030, a growth of 471.46%.
The Caribbean area
On the other hand, there are no meaningful figures for coffee consumption in the Caribbean, which may be due to the fact that tea consumption is much more popular among the population there. However, Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti are all producers of very good quality coffee.
However, as in other parts of America, the production of good coffee does not necessarily correlate with domestic consumption, as coffee is considered an export product that is viewed as a luxury by local populations. As a result, domestic demand for coffee has typically been low, largely because the Caribbean has traditionally preferred tea, either hot or cold, and soft drinks.
However, the interest of the Caribbean public in homegrown coffee has increased, and more and more specialty coffees are opening.
And what about tea?
As previously mentioned, coffee and soft drinks compete for the number one spot as the American public’s favorite beverage. However, on the entire continent, there are only two countries that traditionally prefer tea to coffee: Chile and Bolivia.
Nevertheless, the consumption of coffee specialties is increasing and is slowly catching up in popularity with tea. However, tea consumption is expected to increase across the Americas, particularly because of its image as a healthy beverage.
Green tea, for example, is perceived as a drink that helps with weight loss.
The paradoxical perception of tea in the Americas
Although tea is considered a natural beverage, for most people in Latin America it is a beverage that is drunk when one is ill or trying to lose weight. In other words, tea is seen as a kind of remedy or medicine that is good for health, but not necessarily tasty.
Coffee and soft drinks are considered tasty drinks that can be drunk at any time. In addition, there are countries like Argentina and Uruguay where tea consumption is below that of soft drinks, coffee and mate, which are the most popular drinks there.
Instant tea consumption is widespread in the Caribbean, but it is known that it is not very different from soft drinks in terms of sugar content.
In Canada, on the other hand, interest in tea is greater, largely due to the large influx of Asian migrants who have popularized tea consumption there. But coffee is still by far the most popular drink there.
What about the United States? While tea drinking is no longer considered a treacherous practice there, Americans prefer coffee to Coca-Cola or any other beverage.
Coffee consumption has risen sharply in the American market, and while carbonated beverages still hold the number one spot, coffee is expected to match or even surpass it in the future.
However, it will take time for the Latin American (excluding Brazil) and US public to change their drinking habits. Factors such as low prices mean that consumers still prefer soft drinks to a good cup of fresh coffee.
Still, instant coffee consumption remains high across the continent. Therefore, more investment needs to be made in consumer education so that consumers learn about and prefer new types of coffee, such as specialty coffee. Only then will the public be willing to invest more money in this product.
Much like tea, a lot of marketing and education needs to be invested in the Americas to encourage tea consumption. With the exception of Chile and Bolivia, the consumption of this drink is still very low compared to coffee and soft drinks.
Finally, there are situations such as public interest in healthy habits. Progress in passing legislation aimed at regulating and restricting the consumption of beverages such as soft drinks could lay the groundwork for coffee to become the beverage of choice in the Americas.