The value of coffee
The value of coffee

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The value of coffee

5 Comparing cultures of coffee consumption

As you learnt in the coffee quiz, ordering a cappuccino in Italy after 11 a.m. can be difficult. Much more popular in Italy is the small, short coffee drink called espresso. But why has Italy’s coffee culture developed in such a different way from that in the UK, where cappuccinos and lingering visits to coffee shops are common? The second series of films on this course, The Cultures of Coffee Consumption, will help you identify some of the key differences between the coffee shop cultures in Italy and the UK, as well as other parts of the world.

Activity 4

About 60 minutes

Now watch the first extract of the film which explores the differences between coffee consumption in Italy and the UK. A blank table has been provided to help you to compare coffee cultures in Italy and the UK. Don’t be concerned if some boxes are more difficult to fill in than others – this is the nature of comparison and the social world. The forces shaping the development of coffee cultures in the two countries will inevitably be different with certain elements being more important in one country than another.

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Transcript

NARRATOR:
Coffee may be the most popular drink worldwide. Yet, how we take our coffee varies across the globe. In the UK, the recent growth of branded coffee shops, like Costa and Starbucks, has influenced the style of coffee we drink and the price we pay. Whereas in Italy, it is the short drink, espresso, enjoyed in a family-run enterprise for a relatively low price that has come to dominate the market.
MAX FABIAN:
We like coffee as a quick break moment. It’s a pleasure, and it’s a gathering moment. But it’s quick. Different from other countries, where coffee’s drunk calmly, Italy has a very espresso way of drinking coffee.
JONATHAN MORRIS, UNIVERSITY OF HERFORDSHIRE:
One of the most surprising things about Italy is that people don’t appreciate how little Italians actually really know who supplies their coffee bar. Most people don’t choose their coffee bar on the basis of the coffee or the brand. And that, in a strange way, is rather different from Britain, where we think about the coffee chains. We’re very brand conscious, you know, am I a Costa person, am I a Starbucks person?
But really, they choose the bar more like the way we choose our pub. Is it a nice local? Is it a place that my friends go? It is very difficult to manoeuvre in that market. The margins are very low and it’s, therefore, going to be very difficult for the big chains to compete there. But it does mean that the margins keep everybody trapped at a certain kind of level of earning and, indeed, coffee quality.
NARRATOR:
Different cultures of coffee consumption help to illustrate that numerous factors influence the way the social world is shaped and developed. What contributes to coffee cultures in one country can be vastly different to what contributes to them in another.
The UK has seen a rise in US-style cafes run by large, corporate brands where customers have been encouraged to linger for hours at a time, alone, working or with friends, socialising. Whereas in Italy, historical regulations that control the price of coffee continue to shape the expectations that customers have about the coffee-drinking experience. And this has made it difficult for chains like Starbucks to make inroads.
JONATHAN MORRIS:
The price in Italy was historically controlled. The beginning of this was the First World War, when the government was keen to protect certain basic items of consumption. And so, it introduced legislation that said that local councils could agree maximum prices for certain basic goods.
And one of the basic goods that they chose was a price for a cup of coffee with no service included. And that kind of explains and creates a lot of what lies behind Italian coffee culture. Because the no service included is why you have your coffee at the bar.
MAX FABIAN:
Espresso is very cheap in Italy, which is a substantial reason not to come to Italy for this business. Italy’s relatively territorial. Every single place has its own traditional roastery to refer to. This is a minor reason, but it’s one of the reasons.
INTERVIEWER:
Why is espresso so cheap in Italy?
MAX FABIAN:
Why? Because they are not able to sell it more expensive. This is the answer.
NARRATOR:
Whilst consumers in Italy do not expect to pay more than 1 euro for their coffee, the situation in the UK is quite different. Professor Morris traces the rise of the speciality coffee shop to the early 1990s when the then unknown brands, Coffee Republic and Costa, realised that people were willing to pay for high-end speciality coffees served in a space that was somewhere between home and work.
JONATHAN MORRIS:
If you think about the standard kind of coffee shop, many people say, well, that’s a 20 or 30-minute business, and what you’re really selling is the rent of the space. And you wrap that up in the price of the coffee. Because our market in the UK is mostly milky coffee, it’s kind of milky where it takes you a while so that you want to sit down and drink your coffee. That creates the possibilities to, in effect, start using that coffee as rent for time.
NARRATOR:
The so-called third space became so popular that in 1995, Costa was acquired by Whitbread, the large brewery, hotel, and leisure group, who saw it as a vehicle to reproduce the success of the coffee houses already flourishing in the US. Costa is now the most successful coffee shop business in the UK, operating over 1500 outlets with profits of £110 million in 2014.
JONATHAN MORRIS:
The coffee shop revolution is very caught up in the digital revolution. So that the development, first of all, of the fact that people are working, sort of, self-autonomously, originally, just within the workplace, I can go away and get a nice cup of coffee, go outside the building, because I’m basically working on my own task on my computer.
Then, as we get the rise of the laptop, I can take my computer with me. The mobile phone – I can sit in the coffee bar, drink my coffee, make my calls, work on my laptop. And of course, the wireless provides us with the final kind of connecting piece so that everything can be integrated up together. So, those whole sets of stages, each of which have made working more autonomous and easier to do wherever, have actually facilitated that kind of rise of the coffee shop.
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Comparing the cultures of coffee consumption in Italy and the UK
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Discussion

Comparing the cultures of coffee consumption in Italy and the UK

Italy UK
What is the most popular style of coffee beverage? Espresso Milky coffee drinks
How do consumers choose their coffee shop? Italian consumers are not very brand conscious but instead tend to choose a coffee shop that is local to them and where they think they will have a nice social experience. Consumers in the UK commonly choose coffee shops on the basis of the brand of retailer. For example, Professor Morris asks, ‘Am I a Costa person or a Starbucks person?’ Other important factors are the availability of Wi-Fi and a space where people can linger.
What does the price of a cup of coffee include? Italians pay very little for their coffee (around €1) and no service is included in this drink. Many Italians drink their coffee quickly at the bar. According to Professor Morris, the price of coffee in a coffee shop includes ‘rent for time’, referring to how UK consumers use coffee shops as a place to relax and work in.
What reasons are given for the development of a distinctive coffee culture? The Italian government regulated the price of coffee following the First World War and, although this regulation is no longer enforced, it shaped the development of the coffee shop business. Consumers only expect to pay a small price for a cup of coffee and do not pay for any extras such as service charges or ‘rent for time’. The US/UK-style coffee shop business model is not suited to this coffee drinking culture. The rise of self-autonomous working practices and the digital revolution are closely linked to the rise of coffee shops in the UK. The milky coffee that takes time to drink is well suited to consumers who want to work away from the office and check their emails using the free Wi-Fi provided by the shop.

As you will have realised from comparing coffee cultures in Italy and the UK, there are a range of factors that influence how coffee drinking is experienced in different countries. Now watch the second extract from the film, The Cultures of Coffee Consumption, and write down some of the features of coffee cultures in the other countries that are mentioned. What do you notice about these countries’ coffee cultures? How are they different from your own?

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Transcript

NARRATOR:
Changes in how we work are just one influence in our coffee consumption. Historical trading partnerships between countries, national styles of coffee processing, and regional manufacturers, as well as legislative changes, all shape and sustain distinctive coffee cultures.
MARC KAEPPELI, BLASER TRADING LTD:
The average Swiss person is having a coffee at home, first of all, for breakfast, which is mostly by capsules today or by fully automatic machine. Switzerland is not well known as a coffee land, although if you asked in Germany, they would say Switzerland is well known for the good ‘schumly’ coffee, which means the creamer coffee. And in Switzerland, we call that coffee cream.
We have a huge industry in Switzerland, coffee Nestle, Nescafe, instant coffee. We have an espresso in Switzerland that, again, after a Nescafe, 50 or 60 years ago, influenced by the instant coffee, Nestle came with another product, as you all know, an espresso, and influences the whole coffee market in the world.
LUDOVIC MAILLARD, MAISON P. JOBIN & CIE:
Typical day of a coffee lover in France, that changed when they banned tobacco into bars. Many, many bars and restaurants closed because of that. Because what happened in the morning, you are going to work, you stopped in a cafe, had your cigarette, one coffee, another cigarette, another coffee.
To counterbalance this law against tobacco, barmen tried to say, OK, we’ll sell the coffee 1 euro. Because 1 is not that expensive. Now, in the best case, you will have your cigarette on the pavement and go inside the bar to get one coffee only. But in the worse case, you will go straight and not even attend a coffee and smoke your cigarette outside.
So, now coffee is mainly consumed at home. You can go in many, many homes and you will find espresso machines or capsule machines.
NARRATOR:
Nespresso-style capsule machines, popular throughout the world, have perhaps had one of the biggest impacts on the market.
JONATHAN MORRIS:
About a quarter of Italians now have one of those. And that has really transformed and really quite devastated the coffee-bar market. The pure, little operations that were living on coffee are finding it very difficult. And it’s estimated, I think, that something like a third of bars close or change hands over the last few years.
NARRATOR:
And what about the coffee producers? Do the countries that export coffee also consume it? In Uganda, it’s only recently that a coffee culture has taken off. Because under colonial regimes, all the high-value and high-quality coffee left the country.
EDMUND KANANURA:
In Uganda, coffee wasn’t really popular until recently. In Uganda, people had a very poor perception. The colonials came, and left Uganda with tea and took coffee, which had more value and at the same time, better taste.
Six years ago, we had maybe five cafes. Now every corner of the city, there’s a cafe. And all of them are selling. We still have a challenge maybe in places outside the cities to make them learn, to reach them. But we are working very, very hard. But, I would say that coffee is becoming popular.
NARRATOR:
In Ethiopia, on the other hand, coffee has long held an important role in ceremonial rituals and traditions. Fresh coffee cherries are used as a high-energy food item, and at least half of the coffee grown in the country is sold locally, to be roasted and consumed there. The cultural value of coffee goes beyond the money that can be made from its sale through foreign-exchange markets.
TADESSE MESKELA, OROMIA COFFEE FARMERS COOPERATIVE:
We are the first people, Ethiopians are the first people who gives art of making coffee as a food to the other world. So, that in every household in our country, coffee’s taken every morning, in the afternoon, also, in the evening, three times a day. If a guest comes to your house, the first thing you offer them is coffee ceremony.
You don’t drink coffee alone in, in the rural areas in Ethiopia. Neighbours have to call each other and to enjoy coffee from a single pot. So this makes people to chat or to, of political issues, social issues in the village, and it’s a place where you settle disputes and share information.
Even when you give, for example, like marriage ceremonies, if someone wants to marry your daughter, they will come with a coffee cherry and bring it in a kind of jar to your home, and if your families accept the jar, it means they have agreed to give the girl to that family. It means bunna nyati. Bunna nyati means ‘she has eaten coffee.’ So, coffee has a big place in our country.
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Discussion

The coffee drinking cultures of four other countries were described in this video. Here are some of the points you may have picked out:

  • Switzerland is home to the large multinational company Nestlé, and this influences the type of coffee that Swiss people are used to drinking (for example, instant coffee and Nespresso pods).
  • In France, legislation prohibiting smoking in public places has had a detrimental effect on coffee shops. To encourage consumers to use coffee shops again, cafe owners have agreed to charge a minimal amount for a cup of coffee. However, the growth of at-home espresso machines is making it difficult for cafe owners to compete.
  • In Uganda, coffee drinking has only recently become popular. Historically, much of the good coffee grown in the country was exported and tea was more readily available.
  • In Ethiopia, coffee holds an important place in ceremonial rituals and social relations. Ethiopians consider it a central part of their daily routines.

The type of coffee you enjoy can be shaped by such things as historical price regulations, the dominance of brand retailers and the types of technology available. In other countries, factors that have influenced the development of distinctive coffee cultures include colonial histories, the dominance of particular manufacturers, the regulation of smoking in public places, and the structure of ceremonial rituals. The value of coffee in the sphere of consumption is not only determined by the amount of coffee that is actually consumed but the sociocultural context in which it is enjoyed.

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