/ Food & Drink

Are we a nation of coffee addicts?

Coffee cup with heart shape

It’s UK Coffee Week – ‘the nation’s biggest celebration of coffee’. And its most high-profile event, the four-day London Coffee Festival, starts today. Are you one of Britain’s addicts to this innocent-looking beverage?

Featuring a host of talks, barista demonstrations, and opportunities to drink cups of the stuff, the London Coffee Festival is testament to our passionate affair with the world’s most-celebrated type of bean.

Its popularity has grown so much in the past few years that it’s now the world’s most traded commodity after oil. It’s also developed a cultural cachet that the humble cup of tea just can’t compete with. So what makes this hot drink so alluring?

Coffee chain reaction

Much of the recent growth can be attributed to the rise of chains like Starbucks and Costa. Grabbing a latte on my way to work is so much a part of my daily routine that it’s strange to think that no-one really did this in the UK a decade or so ago. Even knowing the difference between a cappuccino and an espresso was unusual back then.

Whether our love of coffee led to the growth of chains, or the growth of chains led to our love of coffee is hard to pin down. What’s more certain is that our new-found coffee culture has made us more discerning when it comes to buying coffee (Arabica over Robusta, if you please). And it has led to the rise of fanatics across the country, with espresso machines taking pride of place in thousands of kitchens.

The cultural attraction

I’m especially sensitive to caffeine, so a proper brew any time after noon is normally a ticket to a sleepless night. But, despite this, I’m still drawn to it like a moth to a flame, and will often forego a good night’s sleep for a ‘hit’. I’ve tried to find an alternative, but no other drink has quite the same allure.

The addictive properties of our nation’s favourite bean have been well documented. But our love is surely more than just a chemical addiction; it’s a cultural phenomenon. Many of us want to love the liquid. It’s not just about the tantalising flavours and – for me – unbeatable aroma; it’s also tied up with the drink’s long-held connections with socialising and ‘culture’.

William Burroughs once wrote that ‘Kerouac opened a million coffee bars’, referring to how the Beat poet Jack Kerouac, often found scribbling away in coffee shops, propelled 1950s coffee culture because people wanted to emulate him. And I know my own experience has been partly influenced by its romantic associations.

The simple pleasure of drinking coffee

Advertising has played its role too. Who of my generation, which came of age in the 1980s, wouldn’t want to align themselves the drink of sophisticates (according to the Nescafe Gold Blend adverts)? To me, it held more allure than tea, the drink of chimpanzees (according to PG Tips).

And in these financially testing times, our habit provides us with a comparatively cheap pleasure that I, for one, wouldn’t want to give up. But how much of our consumption is to do with the drink itself, and how much is it about its culturally-charged image?

Are you a coffee addict? What’s the allure for you? And have you become more discerning in recent years?

Which of these hot drinks do you like (multiple choice)?

Tea (24%, 809 Votes)

Coffee (24%, 801 Votes)

Hot chocolate (16%, 556 Votes)

Mulled wine (8%, 270 Votes)

Herbal tea (8%, 267 Votes)

Malted milk (eg Horlicks, Ovaltine) (7%, 246 Votes)

Bovril (5%, 180 Votes)

Hot toddy (4%, 125 Votes)

Mulled cider (2%, 74 Votes)

Other - tell us in the comments (1%, 42 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,084

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I have been drinking rather more coffee than recommended since my days as a student. I have not tried giving up so I don’t know if I am addicted, and it does not seem to have done me any harm.

I am not sure what ‘Horlics’ is, in the survey above. Maybe best served with Special K. 🙂


As I said last time round I’m not sure we like coffee that much. Coffee shops but not coffee. I read somewhere that to go into Starbucks you need a pram and to think that coffee is a sort of tepid milk shake, which is about right.


I like coffee but would not pay the price, on a daily basis, that specialist coffee shops charge for a coffee. Their coffee is not usually strong enough for me, unless I have an extra shot of expresso. I like to drink real filtered coffee at home and either instant coffee, or soup in work situations. From time to time I only drink cold drinks like water and fruit juice, but only hot drinks are covered in the poll.


When I was a youngster growing up overseas in addition
to coffee, tea, malted milk, there was an imported beverage
from the US…. the American mid-west, quite palatable
stuff, whose name I seem to have forgotten.

The Milo beats Ovaltine on price and flavour every time.


I would have picked ‘green Tea’, not that black stuff.


I’m Janice and I’m addicted to coffee. I didn’t realise it until I tried to give it up. By lunch time on the first day of going without caffeine I had a really bad headache, and by the end of the day I’d decided I was definitely going to give up giving up!

Never again. I have now accepted I’m an addict – and I only drink a few cups of instant a day.


I had always habitually drunk coffee for breakfast until two years ago. After realising that actually it didn’t do much for me and it was nothing special, I switched to tomato juice instead; I just don’t see the big attraction.

What I dislike even more is the US-originated coffee shop culture that is spreading all over the world. I would much rather go to the pub than go to these coffee chains with their overpriced drinks that don’t even appeal to me. The French have got it right; their cafés cater equally for coffee drinkers and alcohol drinkers as well as proper food. I find it particularly annoying when people in London invite me to a US coffee chain for a business meeting!

Richard Norman says:
26 April 2013

The craze for coffee houses is not new. It took Europe by storm in the 17th and 18th centuries. Listen to Bach’s Coffee Cantata, for instance. The French Enlightenment was born in the coffee houses of Paris. What’s new, perhaps, is the democraticisation of the fashion – it’s not just for a cultural elite. But the other striking feature of the modern phenomenon is the exorbitant prices – which raises the question of where all the profits go. Has Starbucks started paying its taxes yet? And how much of what we pay actually goes to the primary producers – the coffee farmers? Whenever you go into a coffee shop, insist on Fairtrade (and don’t be fobbed off with pale imitations like Rainforest Alliance)!