The Middle East and Africa were pivotal to the spread of coffee culture. Several Southeast Asian countries are amongst the top 10 that produce and export high quality coffee to almost every corner of the globe.
In this climate, how did the US, a country in the West, become the sole biggest coffee market in the world?
In 2022 alone, it is reported that coffee revenue amounted to a whopping $85 billion in the United States, with Brazil, the world’s largest coffee producer, ranking 3rd after Japan and making $35 billion the same year.
Looking at this notable gap should tell you something about how steadfastly the US dominates the global coffee market.
If you are wondering why that may be, keep reading as we explore the story behind how coffee reached the nation and how their influence led to this uncontested position.
How Did Coffee Reach the US?
Originally, coffee is said to have been brought to the US in the 1600s by British colonisers. They were amongst the first to set up coffee houses and introduce Americans to the world of this caffeinated beverage.
Much like in many other countries, historically, coffee shops have served as a haven for political and intellectual conversations.
While tea was the choice of drink for most Americans before the arrival of coffee, it was soon replaced by the latter. This was largely because tea was attributed to the British and, therefore, against the American sentiment. Tea products were also heavily taxed by the monarchy.
During wartime, the importance of coffee was further cemented in the American way of life as soldiers would regularly consume the beverage to remain alert and get an energy boost.
Two brothers, having realised the demand for coffee, revolutionised the sale of roasted coffee by importing beans, roasting them in Brooklyn, and selling bags of them to individual buyers. Their company, called the Arbuckle Bros Coffee Company, was the first company to begin selling coffee in America.
Gaining Monopoly of the World Coffee Market
By the end of the 19th century, coffee consumption had become commonplace in the US.
Industrialisation meant that advancements in the field of manufacturing and distribution allowed more and more coffee businesses to be set up.
As the US was transitioning into a superpower, its wealth, resources, and immigrant population grew considerably. Buyers/ traders in the US gave coffee producers from other countries the access to a larger market that they normally would not have had access to.
One question that most of you may have is “Does the US even produce coffee?”. To put it simply, yes, they do. 3 regions namely Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and California have coffee farms that produce coffee for commercial purposes.
But is this coffee comparable to those that come out of the best coffee-producing regions in the world? Probably not.
The reason being that most American states do not lie on the bean belt. And therefore, their environmental conditions do not support the growth of premium quality coffee.
That said, their coffee market is worth billions of dollars. If you didn’t know already, the United States is the world’s largest importer of coffee. Every year, they import millions of bags of coffee from Colombia and Brazil. That’s where a majority of their coffee comes from.
A considerable percentage of these coffees is then exported to Japan, South Korea, Mexico, and Canada.
The United States becoming the biggest coffee market in the world has more to do with their economic strength than their own ability to grow coffee.
Having imbibed coffee culture because of the continued influx of immigrants, who brought with them their own coffee traditions, the US was able to tap into their wealth, technological resources, and trade relations to become the epicentre of the global coffee trade.
With multi-billion dollar coffee brands bolstering the US economy and a population that has the biggest disposable income globally, it is no wonder!
The next time you step out for a cup of Starbucks coffee or grab something at Dunkin Donuts, pause to think about just how far and wide America’s cultural influence reaches.
World over, there’s a demand for American coffee brands and so these continue to flourish, strengthening the US' coffee industry.