Is the UK experiencing a cultural shift?

The British have always been known for their love of tea. In fact, when you visit souvenir shops in the UK, you will find that a large part of souvenirs are actually teas; more specifically, you will find large quantities of English Breakfast tea sold in small containers that depict British landmarks or the Royal Family.

Nowadays, however, people are questioning whether the hot beverage that is so closely associated with British culture will be replaced by coffee. In 2018, Express reported that in Britain, people drink around 165 million cups of tea a day. Nevertheless, coffee consumption is steadily on the rise with approximately 95 million cups being drunk daily: this number has risen from 70 million in 2008. In an article titled ‘The slow death of the most British thing there is’, The Washington Post explained that between the mid 70s and 80s, tea consumption fell by 20% in the UK. This percentage continued to rise drastically as between 1974 and 2014, the UK experienced a 63% plunge in tea consumption.

This increase in the demand for coffee can be seen as a consequence of the fast-paced and hectic lives we lead today. Tea tends to be associated with relaxation: it is a hot drink that you sip while you eat biscuits, read a book and listen to the sound of rain outside your window. Coffee, on the other hand, has become a necessity for many as the busy lives we lead today require plenty of caffeine. For this reason, it is not surprising that all the high streets are always flooded with new coffee shops.

In addition to this, the senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, Emma Clifford, commented on the fall of tea consumption as she told The Washington Post: “It [tea] has a serious image problem here. […] People, especially young people, are not excited about it at all. It’s just too mundane.” It must be noted that Clifford’s statement mostly refers to black – or standard – tea which many now associate with ‘tradition’.

What is more, up until recently, the British did not have much knowledge or experience with the variety which coffee has to offer; that is, even today, the majority of people in the UK drink instant rather than fresh coffee. As a result, the younger generation is keen and excited to try and experience various coffee drinks. With espressos, lattes, flat whites, mochas, cappuccinos, affogatos, frappuccinos and numerous others, the possibilities are endless.

Despite all of this, tea is still the UK’s preferred drink; however, with the evident rise in coffee consumption, this may soon change. It is worth noting that the coffee shop experience plays a significant role in promoting the consumption of the warm beverage. In contrast to coffee lovers, tea drinkers seldom leave the house to grab a cup of tea in a café (at the end of the day, there’s a reason why these places are called cafés). Therefore, in order to ensure that tea remains a symbol of British culture, the tea industry needs to work on evoking the same excitement and enthusiasm as coffee does.

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