When Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced last month that he expects China to become the company's largest market beyond North America, with, eventually, "thousands of stores," it made sense: emerging middle class, most populous nation on earth, fastest-growing big economy, and so forth. The forecast also draws attention to the surprising geography of coffee.
Although the U.S., with its 11,000-plus Starbucks stores, consumes more of the stuff than any other country, America can't crack the top 10 on a per-capita basis. In Latte America, coffee is often merely a platform for milk and sugar. "We're guzzling big cups," says Judith Ganes-Chase, a commodities analyst in Katonah, N.Y., "but what's in the cup?"
Because of harsh winters and long nights, among other factors, Scandinavia leads the world in per-capita cups; the greatest addicts, by a large margin, are the Finns. Traditionally, cold countries have been the thirstiest importers, while the tropical exporters haven't been nearly as enamored of their own product. That's changing. Brazil, the largest coffee producer, is on track to surpass the U.S. as the world's greatest aggregate coffee consumer in the next few years. Helping the cause, the Brazilian government has started to include café com leite—coffee with milk—in school meals for kids aged 5 and up.
These days, the rise of a national coffee culture tends to reflect economic growth. According to the research firm Euromonitor International, Turkey, Belarus, and Ukraine—all traditionally tea-drinking—have been the fastest-growing coffee markets over the last five years, driven chiefly by instant coffee. From Russia to India, as in China and Brazil, emergent middle classes with more disposable income tend to adopt Western habits, with coffee being a conspicuous element. "It's a very affordable statement of who someone is as a professional," says Tracy Ging, of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. Ging says that in the last five years, the number of espresso machines her association's members report shipping to the BRIC countries has been on the rise. China actually drinks less coffee, per capita, than any other of the 80 largest economies tracked by Euromonitor. But if strivers from Beijing to Qinghai become even desultory coffee drinkers, multiply a few cups by 1.34 billion, and you've got a Venti torrent of new business.