Who are Europe’s top tea and coffee drinkers?
If you thought it was the British and the Italians, think again.
“In terms of general coffee drinking, Northern Europe is the most important market: The Finns drink a huge quantity of coffee,” Giacomo Biviano, head of the European, Middle Eastern and African markets for Italian espresso maker Illy, told the German Press Agency (DPA).
Among Europe’s tea fanatics, meanwhile, Britain comes a humble third, behind Ireland and world champion tea-drinker Turkey, and not far above Russia and Poland, said Michiel Leijnse, global marketing manager at the Lipton tea company, a subsidiary of leading multinational Unilever.
Indeed, when it comes to hot drinks, you could argue that variety is Europe’s leading feature.
The continent’s biggest coffee drinkers are the Finns, who consume up to 12kg of coffee per year — the highest rate in the world, double that of Italy. Norwegians and Danes are not far behind.
But the Nordic nations tend to prefer relatively weak, drip-brewed coffee, while Mediterranean countries are far more partial to the concentrated impact of espresso, Biviano said.
In Italy, for example, espresso is by far the dominant form of coffee consumed: Italians drink around 14 billion espressos per year.
Milky blends such as the cappuccino and latte make up just one-fifth of Italian consumption, “because Italians only drink cappuccino at breakfast,” Biviano said.
In Northern Europe, by contrast, the ratio is reversed: Milk blends sell four times as well as espresso shots, according to Illy’s research.
That might suggest that North Europeans prefer weaker hot drinks. But curiously enough, if coffee starts strong in the south and weakens as you travel north, tea goes in the other direction.
“A typical tea bag for the British market would contain 3 grams of tea, in France the same bag would hold 2 grams, and in Italy it’s 1.5 grams,” Leijnse said.
That, again, is largely because of milk: British and Irish drinkers regularly take it in their tea, while in southern and eastern countries such as Italy, Russia and Turkey, it is more often drunk with lemon, or unadulterated.
And while traditional tea-drinking nations such as Britain and Russia prefer black tea, tea drinkers in traditional coffee nations are far more willing to experiment.
“In Russia and Britain, flavored teas make up a small percentage of total sales. But in France, they’re less focused on black tea because tea is more often drunk at 4 o’clock with pastries, so there’s a larger variety of flavors and infusions: We even have four different types of Earl Grey in France,” Leijnse said.
Companies from both sides of the hot-drink divide are now moving in to one another’s markets: Illy recently took over French tea firm Dammann Freres, while British tea company Twining’s is now marketing its own coffee blends.
And with drinking habits evolving ever faster in the melting pot — or coffee pot — of globalization, it looks as if variety, more than anything else, is now Europe’s cup of tea.