As the coffee culture in Britain becomes more widespread, some traditionalists may have a hard time accepting the changes. Writer John Walsh is one such coffee drinker, and this week he reviewed the history of coffee’s growth in popularity and then looked to the future. He expresses dismay at the importance British coffee fans are placing on their brew, asking “Why can’t we wake up without smelling the coffee?” According to Walsh, Brits spend more on coffee than they do on their energy bills, as they also are becoming more “fussy” about their drinks. They are downing 511 million cups every week, with almost half of these being bought at franchises. He points out that there are 18 different specialty coffee franchises in one mall alone! Such high numbers have become the subject of jokes among high profile people. Coffee’s rising cost seems to have no effect on demand, and there are no age levels dominating this phenomenon. From the opening of Britain’s first coffee house in 1650 to the present, the popularity of the venue has resulted in 14,022 coffee shops in the UK. Opposition appeared on the part of leaders such as King Charles II who suspected the shops would become sources of sedition among those who met there to drink and discuss politics. Among strong opposition, he failed in his attempts to close the cafes. Looking ahead, Walsh sees the growing sophistication of US coffee lovers and their interest in discussing the details of beans, varietals, methods of roasting and brewing etc. He’s clearly not ready for this third wave to hit British shores, but he’s bracing for it. A visit to the US brought him face to face with the phenomenon as one restaurant handed him pages of coffee choices, including one long list of different cappuccinos alone. What Walsh sees as overkill, others appreciate as an interesting and enjoyable pastime, similar to the excitement of wine connoisseurs discussing and sampling different varietals of wines. If he’s willing to ride the wave at least a little, he’ll enjoy the rise in quality and variety of the coffee being offered and prepared by third wave coffee providers. After all, there were probably plenty of scoffers as the wine industry grew in sophistication and the interest in delivering gourmet quality wines to the consumer. Today, gourmet coffee is the new wine.
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