The UK already has 15,000 coffee outlets and is about to get thousands more thanks to our increasingly sophisticated taste.
There are more than 5,000 branded coffee shops in town centres, retail parks, railway stations, airports and even drive-thrus along motorways across the UK, and last year they served up £2bn of coffee – double the sales recorded in 2005. Add in the independently owned coffee shops – another 5,500 – and the near 5,000 that have rapidly sprung up in outlets from corner shops to Wetherspoons pubs, and there are already well over 15,000 places to find a caffeine fix.
And experts say the march of the coffee cups is far from over. Jeffrey Young, managing director of coffee analysis firm Allegra Strategies, predicts there will be more than 7,000 branded coffee shops within the next few years and nearly 18,000 outlets including independent and non-specialist shops. The 12 pubs a week that are closing are being more than offset by coffee shop openings.
The coffee revolution began when Italian brothers Sergio and Bruno Costa opened their first shop on Vauxhall Bridge Road (a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace) in 1978. Costa is now by far the biggest player in the market with almost 1,400 UK stores serving 450,000 coffees a day.
Despite the UK falling into a double-dip recession, consumers are increasingly prepared to pay £2.50 or more for a cup of coffee. In the 13 weeks to the end of May, Costa’s like-for-like sales jumped 8.4%. Last year Costa’s profits rose 38% to £70m.
One of the strugglers in the British coffee market has been US group Starbucks, which has consistently failed to turn a profit in Britain. Run in the UK by Kris Engskov, a former aide to President Clinton, the chain is undergoing a radical image overhaul to make it appear more British. It has stripped back its garish logo, doubled the strength of espresso-based drinks and begun to ask customers their names when they order. Sales jumped by 9% the week after the change this year.
But it’s not just the coffee itself that has changed. The word barista is in growing usage for the counter staff (Britain boasts two world champions) serving a range of coffee from flat white (an antipodean version of the latte in which the steamed milk is served from the bottom of the jug) to cortado (an espresso cut with a small amount of warm milk to reduce the acidity).