Coffee and number-crunching

One of the highlights of my recent American book tour was a visit to Starbucks HQ in Seattle. I explained about the coffeehouse internet, and the extent of coffee’s influence on the course of history. As I was leaving I went past the Starbucks Map, which shows how many Starbucks coffeeshops there are in different countries of the world. There are over 9,000, around 6,000 of which are in the US. Since the population of the US is around 300m, that means there is roughly one Starbucks for every 50,000 people. In Britain, in contrast, there are a mere 451 Starbucks coffeeshops. The population of Britain is around 60m, so that works out at one Starbucks for every 133,000 people. In other words, there’s probably room in the British market for twice as many Starbucks coffeeshops as there are at the moment. (Other chains also exist in both countries, of course.) You think that’s scary? In London in 1700, one authority puts the number of coffeeshops at 3,000. The city’s population at the time was around 600,000. So that’s one coffeeshop for every 200 people. The figure of 3,000 is dubious, though, since it comes from a single source. It seems likely that the real figure was more like 1,000. But that’s still a coffeeshop for every 600 people. What is the point of all this number crunching? Simply this. If you think today’s cities are overrun by coffeeshops — something I don’t have a problem with, by the way — the situation 300 years ago was far, far worse. (This all occurred to me today as I was filming with an American TV crew at the Jamaica Wine House — a London pub on the site of the city’s first coffeehouse, established in 1652. They even have an original advertising handbill from that year, “The Vertue of the Coffee Drink”, hanging on the wall.)

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