Coffee vs tea vs soft drinks: what “CCB” do countries prefer?

I recently came across a study into caffeine consumption of 57 countries that examined the role caffeine plays in our diets and revealed what “caffeine source” each country prefers. The study, conducted by researchers in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (Chicago, Illinois), used 2017 volume sales of caffeine-containing beverages (CCB) from London-based global market intelligence firm, Euromonitor International.

The beverage “sources” included coffee (brewed, instant, ready-to-drink), tea (black, green, “other” teas, herbals, ready-to-drink) and soft drinks (colas, other soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks). An infographic of caffeine preference created by shows regional trends.

The study found that tea, not surprisingly, was the preferred beverage of choice for many countries in most of Asia, including China, India, Indonesia, and Japan. Of course, it also has a strong preference in Africa – Kenya is the world’s largest black tea exporter – and in Europe, with Turkey, Ireland, and the United Kingdom being the world’s top three tea-consuming countries per capita.

Coffee was the most preferred CCB in several countries in Europe, including all the Nordic countries. Overall, coffee and carbonated soft drinks are the top caffeine-containing beverages sold in Europe. The Netherlands consumes the largest volume of coffee per capita than any other country in the Euromonitor database, followed by Finland and Sweden. The UK and Turkey favour instant coffee while the rest of Europe prefers fresh-brewed coffee. Furthermore, as we have covered in many articles in Tea & Coffee Trade Journal over the years, instant coffee mixes – coffee, sugar, and cream powder – are especially popular in South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, and China.

Coffee is also the leading CCB in Canada, South Korea, and Brazil. Per the study, which was published in MDPI’s Special Issue, “The Impact of Caffeine and Coffee on Human Health,” Brazil is the only country in South America to have a proclivity for coffee over cola or other soft drinks. I am a bit astonished that Colombia is not the other South American country on the list to have a preference for coffee over other beverages.

Interestingly, the study reports that Food & Beverage Daily Guidelines (FBDG) in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and South Africa discourage high coffee and tea intake because they inhibit iron bioavailability or increase phosphorous levels, while FBDGs in several countries of Asia and the Pacific also express caution concerning the iron inhibitory effects of coffee and tea, particularly when these beverages are consumed with meals.

Most disconcerting though, given the absence of any healthy attributes, is the global preference for soft drinks. The research reveals that the United States and most of Latin America overwhelmingly consumed soft drinks over other CCB, as did the Philippines, Thailand and Australia. Even in Europe, some countries that are heavy coffee drinkers like Italy and Switzerland purchased more soft drinks than coffee by narrow margins.

The study finds that the proliferation of soft drinks in Latin America is largely due to Coca-Cola’s prowess. Mexico, which favoured soft drinks the most over other drinks (Mexican consumers drink about 163 liters of carbonated soft drinks per year), is also the world’s biggest consumer of Coca-Cola per capita.

However, it is important to note that many countries were not tabulated, and that caffeine purchases do not differentiate between every possible caffeine drink (such as yerba mate or even hot chocolate/cocoa) — there are an abundance of coffees, teas and soft drinks from which consumers may choose.

Furthermore, the study was published in 2018 and CCB habits globally may have changed since then. For example, from the plethora of beverage webinars and sessions at trade shows (pre Covid) I have attended over the last few years, data showed that soft drinks consumption was declining, while coffee and tea consumption has been increasing (with many former tea-strongholds embracing coffee and vice versa, as well as the healthy attributes associated with both beverages). It would be fascinating to see the results of an updated version of this study to see how consumer behaviour with regard to caffeinated beverages has evolved.

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