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Coffee Trends: Emerging coffee markets

March 2, 2018
By Brian Martell


Coffee has gained in popularity among emerging economies where the fashion of drinking it is seen as Western. The popularity of coffee in China alone has contributed to the growth in demand with supply doing its level best to catch up. The International Coffee Organization (ICO) reports that Chinese consumption of coffee grew by over 16 per cent per year from 2013 until now.

This is still far less than their traditional hot beverage of choice —tea — but still a major increase that if sustained, will see China becoming the world’s largest coffee consumer overall in 20 years (it is doubtful they will achieve the rank of per capita king, that position is firmly held by Finland at a whopping 9.6 kg per person per year). The latest statistics released from the ICO in January indicate that global consumption is up by 1.9 per cent with North America almost keeping in lock step with the trend (2 per cent) but with Asia representing double the increase at 3.9 per cent.  Total coffee consumed went from 155,756,000 bags (60kg/bag) to 157,382,000 or, in terms of roasted pounds close to 17.5 billion lbs consumed – 873.5 billion cups (in case you were wondering…).  

Not surprisingly, Asia is where most of the emerging economies are; Vietnam, India and China to name a few. And while Vietnam is a net exporter of coffee, it too is experiencing a change in taste from tea to coffee at a rate of 6.3 per cent for 2017 over 2016. The gains made by coffee are mostly at the expense of tea, which to North American hot beverage industry trends seems counter-intuitive as tea is making great gains in this market, especially in the U.S., but tea is still the most widely consumed beverage worldwide.  If the trend continues, we will see more strain put on coffee production which is not far above world demand (157,440,000 bags produced in 2017, less than 60,000 bags above consumption). Curiously, world-production of tea (stats from 2015), shows a widening gap between production and consumption, with production far ahead of what people are consuming. As early as 2009, the difference in production over supply of tea was about 100,000 metric tonnes, while the current gap is now over three times that amount, reports the International Tea Committee. With coffee on the rise internationally and tea presumably slowing its rate of growth (the UK is forecasted to import more coffee than tea by 2021), the strain will only continue.

Nature and markets always seem to have a way of figuring things out; and by markets, I mean people. An expanding coffee demand will see a shift in agriculture towards the market that is expanding. Just as California has converted wide expanses of its arable land to almond orchards; where possible, tea gardens may be converted to coffee plantations in the not too distant future.  It was only 150 years ago that this exact phenomenon (except in reverse) happened in Ceylon (current day Sri Lanka), where the highlands of the island had over 100,000 acres dedicated to coffee production until roya (coffee rust) decimated the crop. Since that time, the plantations were converted to tea gardens.  Of late, coffee is making a comeback in Sri Lanka, predominantly through hardier hybrids able to withstand the diseases that took out their ancestors.  Sri Lanka may be the harbinger of what is in store for coffee production in the future. Thirty years ago, Vietnam was not considered a coffee nation for consumption or production; today it is ranked second in overall production (albeit with Robusta). It may not be long until we start associating other nations that are not traditionally considered coffee exporters as holding their own with the coffee heavy weights of the world.  Some emerging countries to watch are Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, and Nepal. Not all will promote or be able to grow premium grade Arabica coffees, but from a coffee world equilibrium point, they will be part of the continuing narrative that keeps our industry healthy and strong.


Brian Martell works at Heritage Coffee as vice-president of sales and has many years of industry experience. Brian has also been the recipient of three prestigious awards: the Don Storey, Stuart Daw, and the Albert DeNovelus Customer Service awards. Questions, comments, feedback, start a dialogue? Email him at