The History of US Coffee Consumption

And How Coffee Went Global

History Books beside Coffee Roasted from the old country, with coffee beans strewn across the table, the saucer, and the scene.

Coffee Today Is Everywhere – On Every Corner – Look there it is Passing By

When I worked at my first coffee shop, I got to the point where I could drink somewhere around 10 shots of espresso in one eight hour shift and hardly be phased. This was after coming into the job as a casual coffee drinker who preferred lots of sweet, creamy Starbucks recipes, who felt like I’d taken a shot of adrenaline the first time I did a straight up double shot with a water sip chaser.

There was a short while where I quit coffee because I was drinking those 10 shots and feeling nothing, and sometimes feeling sleepy afterward. That didn’t last very long. These days I try to moderate my consumption while also finding it, on some days, to be a motivator for getting out of bed. Finding a reliable and simple recipe for my own at-home cold brew is also ramping up my consumption.

I try not to worry so long as I’m not making myself sick, mainly because I know I’m not alone. There are, of course, the millions (if not billions) of coffee consumers in the US and around the world to keep me company, plus those who have historically obsessed over and perpetuated coffee consumption and culture.

Ancient Map with Coffee Beans covering up the corners of the map

Coffee Culture Goes Mainstream

To start, there are some particularly famous characters to keep me company with my maintained obsession, even if they aren’t specifically known for their coffee preferences.

As Amanda Scherker writes for The Huffington Post, “if you suspect that you’re going overboard with your coffee addiction, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, some of the most fruitful and acclaimed human beings to ever walk the planet were totally, sometimes painfully, nuts for coffee.”

She lists 9 “famous geniuses who were also huge coffee addicts,” starting with Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Apparently, Bach was so obsessed he wrote a coffee cantata, mostly mocking the public’s rejection at the time of the Viennese coffee houses. The public saw coffee as a dangerous vice and Bach said: “It’s my vice and I need it now.” Mozart was less contentious about his obsession, but a bit more obsessive, as he allegedly counted 60 beans for every cup of coffee he consumed.

Ben Franklin Loved His Coffee & His History

Then there is Ben Franklin, who Scherker considers one of the first freelancers.  (Could this be the great, great … great, Grandfather of my industry?) because he spent much of his time in London going to political meetings, playing chess and chilling at local coffee shops; he even had his mail sent to one of his favorite stores and later sold his own coffee beans. The next guy on the list, Voltaire, brings us closer to the point of this post which is overall coffee consumption and coffee consumption trends over time. Voltaire reportedly drank 40 to 50 cups of coffee EVERY DAY. My hands are shaking just thinking about that. Despite warnings from his doctor about this level of consumption, he lived to be over 80. Voltaire would reportedly mix his coffee with chocolate, but he’s got nothing on Kierkegaard who reportedly had to have 30 sugar cubes in his cup of joe.

Theodore Roosevelt – Measured in Cups of Coffee

Theodore Roosevelt’s coffee consumption isn’t measured in cups because he didn’t drink it out of a traditional cup; his beloved coffee mug was reportedly “more of a bathtub” than a cup and he was said to drink up to a gallon of coffee per day. For references, a typical small cup by today’s standards is 12 ounces; it takes 128 ounces to get to one gallon which means Teddy would drink almost 13 cups per day. It sounds like a lot, but he’s got nothing on Voltaire. L. Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz series, also relied on his coffee jolt to begin writing each morning, though he reportedly only had about five cups each morning before beginning work; though he reportedly liked it “high enough ‘to float a spoon on it without sinking.’”

Margaret Atwood Breakfast of Champions | David Lynch is Obsessed with Coffee

Writer Margaret Atwood, who brought us the novel version of Handmaid’s Tale, reportedly drinks only coffee for breakfast each day and even has a line of coffee named after her (for charitable purposes). Finally, if you’ve watched any episodes from cult favorite Twin Peaks, you’ll not be surprised that its director, David Lynch, loves a “damn good cup of coffee.” He is coffee obsessed, with a blog and a coffee line to prove it; though still doesn’t have Voltaire beaten with approximately 7 cups consumed per day.

How many do you drink? How many does the average American or person anywhere in the world drink? How has that changed over time? While the amount of coffee consumption clearly doesn’t correlate with the amount of genius (all of the above have made tremendous contributions to culture and society on their varying amounts of caffeine) it’s still fun to find out.

For years now, the coffee shop has been the fastest growing section of the restaurant industry; but, despite that, some claim that the amount of average coffee consumption per capita hasn’t changed all that much.

Gallop Measures the History of Coffee in the United States

Gallup reported in 2015 that 64 % of adults in the United States drink more than one cup per day, up only one percentage point from 1999; the average was 2.7 in 2015 compared with 2.9 in 1999. That being said, in 2016 The Washington Post reported that the Millennial generation was actually starting to boost coffee demand in the United States, with that demand increasing an average of 1.5 percent each year. The Post cites an article from Bloomberg which states that millennials account for 48 % (for 18-24-year-olds) and 60% (for 25-39 year olds); both of those numbers are rising while other demographics are falling in their average consumption.

According to The National Coffee Blog, the amount of espresso consumed each day in the United States has almost tripled since 2008, along with other increasing trends unique to the “gourmet” coffee industry, also attributed to Millennials. What about individual consumption?

According to statisticbrain.com, as of 2016, 54% of adult-aged Americans, or 100 million people total, drink coffee each day. 35% of those prefer black coffee, and 65% only drink coffee primarily during breakfast time. Additionally, 65% add cream and/or sugar to their coffee. American consumer demand leads to $4 billion spent on coffee imports annually.

Deviating Statistics Grinds the Coffee Gears

Deviating from other statistics, this site states that the average number of cups consumed per day by more than half of the American adult population is 3.1—which, honestly, sounds more realistic to me. Further, each drinker reportedly spends $164.71 on coffee each year, which really isn’t bad if you consider that a small coffee at a shop is usually at least $2. According to this site, 30 million of those 100 million American consumers drink correctly “specialty” coffee drinks, like lattes and mochas. 24% of that number drink at least 13 cups of coffee per week, which breaks down to about 2 per day. More consumers go to Starbucks and higher end chains while 29 % go to McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts.

60% of coffee drinkers report that they need a cup of coffee to start their day (I’m definitely in that bunch, though less so than I used to be). And 68% have a cup of coffee within their first hour of being awake each day.

Another blog, citing Gallup statistics among others, reports that Americans consume approximately 102 billion cups of coffee per year (take that Voltaire)! About 11% of the adults coffee consumers drink more than 4 cups of coffee per day. They also report that 66%$ of women but only 62% of men drink coffee every day; women also say drinking an average of 2.9 cups to men’s 2.6 cups per day.

Coffee consumption also depends somewhat on your economic level, with 58 % of those earning less than $30,00 per year consuming versus 66% of those earning $30,000 or more.

In England in the days when coffee houses were starting their boom and becoming the spots for debate, conversation, art and politics, they would call them penny universities because the average cup of coffee cost a penny and would often be served alongside deep, stimulating conversation. As of 2015, the average cup of coffee in the US is $3.28.

Coffee Addicts Unite!

Further, 26 % of these coffee consumers identify as coffee addicts, though if you drink more than three cups per day, you’re more likely to claim this (46%). If you work in an office, your consumption is liable to be higher than others, with the average office employee reportedly consuming at least 20 cups per week.

Global Consumption of Coffee

All that being said, the US coffee consumption is meager compared to a lot of other countries globally. In 2013, the US didn’t even make a list for Top 50 Coffee Consuming Countries, which was beaten by Finland. At that time, the average caffeine consumption (including tea and other caffeine sources) per person per day was 168 mg; comparatively, in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, that number was approximately 400 mg.


Recommended Reading:

The History of Coffee
History of Coffee | The History Kitchen | PBS Food
History of coffee and how it spread around the world
History of Coffee from 850 to 1599 – Discovery of Coffee

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9 Comments

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  1. It’s really weird to think that not so long ago coffee was so out of reach for many consumers and how far it has come in just a few decades.
    I can’t imagine how my life would be without having a cup of coffee in the morning to wake me up. That’s why we have so many coffee shops all around and why coffee has become a culture for itself in the past few years. People get to enjoy their coffee every day for an affordable price

  2. This was really interesting! I hadn’t really put much thought into the fact that famous people throughout history enjoyed coffee just as much as people today. It’s really amazing how far coffee has come though, going from being considered taboo and similar to a drug, to being consumed by most people on a daily basis. I definitely fall into the demographic of breakfast coffee drinkers, I can barely start my day without it. As a new mother, it definitely gives me that nice little boost. I wonder if mothers are the reason that women consume more coffee than men?

  3. I belong! Coffee is important to me because it helps me get energized at work and not to be sleepy while working. There is something in the coffee that makes me feel good when sipping a cup. The feeling of satisfaction is unexplainable! It keeps me going and keeps me alert always. Coffee is my partner when I have projects to finish especially when working at night.

  4. Interesting read, I would like to try some of Ben Franklin’s brand. Nice read about coffee history.

    I drink about 2-3 cups of coffee a day. And I usually have a cup within the first hour after I wake up.

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