There are two main stereotypes which adhere to the British persona; the china cup toting tea drinker, and the rowdy lager lout. These are the guises other nationalities would have us take and we've worn them pretty well throughout the decades, but little by little a change has taken place and in recent years an interloper has appeared on the high street: the coffee shop. It's not that coffee is a new thing - its seventeenth century heyday saw it spread far and wide - but as a culture it remained something of a bohemian outsider here in the UK. Until now.
At a time when pubs are closing at a rate of 27 per week, the rich aroma, smooth flavour and stimulating properties the of little brown bean means that the coffee shop is currently booming. Interestingly though, the amount of coffee that we each consume hasn't greatly increased in years; what has changed is the way that we are drinking it.
On high streets everywhere establishments have been springing up where the drink is the main draw. Coffee is no longer an afterthought, a chaser to the food; while consumers may purchase cakes, sandwiches and other consumables to accompany their drinks, it's the brand, variety and style of coffee which is calling customers in off the street. It's this focus on 'proper coffee' which has seen a social change in the country, with two of the UK's capital cities, Cardiff and London, now able to boast that almost half (46%) of all drinking establishments within the city limits are now coffee shops rather than pubs.
So what is happening to the Great British pub? In a recent survey, three quarters (74%) of people said that if they had to choose, they would rather give up alcohol than sacrifice their caffeine fix. But the thing is, coffee culture isn't just about that socially acceptable high that a hit of caffeine brings; the coffee shop has become a social hub. Where once you'd meet your mates at a pub and catch up over a beer, more and more of us are chatting over lattes, cappuccinos, espressos and flat whites, and the pub is starting to get in on the action.
Not that long ago, the idea of ordering a coffee at a pub was almost as laughable as the beverage was undrinkable. The closest most establishments came to a caffeinated drink was a bottle of Coke or a Red Bull mixer. You simply did not visit a public house for coffee, and the brave souls who risked it were inevitably served a cup of stale instant. Isn't it interesting how times change?
With sophisticated equipment now available at relatively affordable prices, pubs are able to compete with the coffee shop, offering a full range of the nation's favourite hot beverages with very little effort. The Latte is marginally ahead when it comes to coffee connoisseurs, attracting 29 percent of the vote in a recent poll, but the Cappuccino (26%); Americano (18.5%); Flat white (13%) and Mocha (6.5%) all have fans of their own, and the pub is now able to cater for them.
That being said, there is still something of a north-south divide when it comes to café culture. While our cosmopolitan capitals - London, Cardiff, Belfast - are leading the way with coffee shop conversions, in the north of England eight out of ten drinking establishments are still pubs, with Sunderland, Hull and Nottingham holding fast to the traditional watering hole social scene. Nothing changes overnight however, and with consumers seeking high quality, ethically sourced coffee at a greater rate than ever before, it's hard to deny that café culture is slowly percolating into the British persona.
Wyatt Cavalier is co-founder of Honest Coffees.Suggest a correction