How we drink our coffee differs from country to country. In Paris, coffee shops are the centre of social life and many Parisians spend their time enjoying a coffee and croissant. However, in London, however, coffee is more of a to-go drink people pick up on the way to the office.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the differences in coffee culture across the Americas. From the birth of commercial coffee in the Pacific Northwest, to Colombia’s late-night lattes, here’s what you need to know.
Let’s tuck in…
North America: home to the commercialisation of coffee
Coffee is as much a part of North American culture as are Ford Mustangs, the wild west, waffles and pancakes. It’s in an American’s nature to begin the day by drinking coffee (and if you’re in New York like us, to do so with bagel in hand). Consequently, coffee has both revolutionised and been revolutionised by the continent.
The United States, for example, is the birthplace of third wave coffee and the commercial coffee chain. In Seattle – in the Pacific Northwest – Howard Schultz came up with the idea of a coffee shop that placed emphasis on ‘the experience of coffee’, and he opened Starbucks, which brought to life that vision. It started as a humble independent coffee shop in Pike Place market, but today, Starbucks sells approximately four billion coffees per year and is the biggest seller of coffee across the entire planet.
It’s not just the United States who instigated the rise of commercial coffee chains, however. In Canada, Tim Hortons (which was founded long before Starbucks by the Toronto Maple Leaf’s hockey player, Tim Horton) has sold coffee to the nation every day since the swinging 60s. A ‘double double’ – a Tim Hortons coffee that is two parts milk, two parts sugar – is quintessentially Canadian, and the chain has recently spread to the rest of the world, with new stores now opening up as far as the United Kingdom.
But a rise in coffee culture in North America brings with it a rise in counter culture, and as a result, North America’s specialty coffee scene has recently boomed. In fact, specialty coffee sales are increasing by 20 percent every year, and today, they account for nearly 8 percent of the entire coffee market. Forget frappuccinos, socially conscious Americans are after flat whites, trad capps and V60 filters. What’s more, they’re willing to pay an extra buck or two to have them.
Of course, the sentiment of the ‘coffee experience’ remains the same; North American’s are still drinking coffee as a gateway to conversation and friendship. It’s this about the culture that matters most.
South America: sophisticated drinking from local beans
As much of South America begins to develop, so does their coffee culture. In producing countries like Colombia and Brazil, coffee is a national identifier, and much of the country drinks domestic beans from well-known coffee growing regions.
But, in the United States, for example, coffee consumers will pick between beans from Kenya or Ethiopia. In Colombia, however, coffee consumers are choosing between regions within their country. It’s a level of sophistication and coffee education that North America cannot match.
Coffee is especially important to much of Brazil. In fact, Brazilian children as young as 10 drink coffee added to milk. However, because of the importance coffee plays in this culture, it is not a drink to enjoy on-the-go. Coffee drinking (like eating food) is a sacred time to be performed sat down, usually with friends.
Colombia serves coffee black and with sugar, and in small cups. Called a Tinto, this short and sweet drink can be found in most coffee shops across the country for as little as $.10 a cup, and it’s known as the ‘working class coffee’. It’s nothing special or significant, but it brings people together and is enjoyed into the early evening.
Coffee is about people
The one defining factor that binds North and South America is the emphasis on people. Sure, drinking high quality coffee (like our beans!) is important, but it’s the enjoyment of coffee with others that makes this drink a staple of American culture.
When all is said and done, it’s nice to kick back with friends over a drink of something. Unfortunately, alcohol is socially unacceptable before 5pm…