The very first coffee shops in the UK date back to the late 16th century. Back then the coffee shop was somewhere to meet, socialise, trade, and most importantly, explore a product that was incredibly new to the Western world - the coffee bean.
UK coffee culture is something that just hasn’t stopped growing. The requirement for multi-purpose spaces that cater for people to meet, relax, work, write, perform, and escape, is paramount. Over four centuries since coffee first made its mark on the British mainland, its legacy has developed no end.
According to Project Cafe UK 2019, the UK coffee industry was valued at £10.1bn in 2018, with a 7.9% growth in the previous 12 months. Amid stagnation and decline in many other industries in the UK, why has coffee remained strong?
The coffee shop has grown into more than just a place to catch up and drink coffee, it has become a recognisable safe space for lots of people, and the centre of many communities. Above all, and perhaps even more so than the classic British pub or any restaurant, the coffee shop is a place that is accessible and comfortable for people of all ages and backgrounds. The idea of independent coffee shops using artsy branding, shabby-chic interiors, and creating cosy and rustic atmospheres, has grown into a subculture in itself. (Take a look at our four Merseyside-based stores.)
With regards to sustainability, the coffee shop has been crucial in helping the Western world discover and appreciate finer grades of coffee, with 'third wave coffee' culture only coming into play in Europe and America in the 1990's. Until then, we in the West were guilty of seeing all coffee as a single product. Now, we can appreciate different variations and qualities of that product, and with it recognise the work and commitment that goes into all processes involved. Alongside this education, comes knowledge of issues and conditions in coffee-growing communities, such as a lack of clean water and sanitation in many countries throughout the coffee belt. The rise in popularity of the coffee shop has lead to a increase in education and knowledge of the core product and processes, and with that comes a more realistic understanding of issues in the parts of the world where this all originates from.
So what's next for the coffee industry? Well, despite current economical and political instability that affects many industries, we believe that the coffee industry is still on the rise. In the grand scheme of things, people are only just beginning to appreciate the coffee shop as being as crucial to high street as it is, and the importance of coffee as a product and commodity. Coffee has a long way to go yet.
HEATH, H. & JOURNEAUX, B (2019). '£10.1bn UK Coffee Shop Sector Achieves 20 Years of Sustained Growth', World Coffee Portal (online). Available: https://www.worldcoffeeportal.com/Latest/News/2019/UK-coffee-shops-achieve-20-years-of-sustained-grow
'Independent Coffee Shops Continue to Grow in the UK', Aqua Cure (online). Available: https://www.aquacure.co.uk/knowledge-base/independent-coffee-shops-continue-to-grow-in-the-uk