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coffee break, coffee culture, COVID-19, pandemic, working from home - | Written by Janice Spencer

Coffee in the Time of COVID-19

Neon coffee sign

The past year has seen our lives change in ways we’d never have thought possible before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, and most of us have been forced to adapt our behaviour and daily routines. Thankfully, one simple pleasure we’ve been able to rely on to help us through difficult days is to sit back and relax with a comforting cup of coffee. With coffee shops, restaurants, hotels and pubs having to close their doors, and many people being obliged to work from home, for much of the year there’s been little opportunity to drink coffee anywhere else but at home. Coffee breaks are now more likely to involve a trip to the kitchen rather than the works coffee machine, or a coffee shop takeout.

Many people have resigned themselves to being confined to their homes and taken up new interests. Some, who have enjoyed the speciality coffee shop experience created by skilled baristas, have now had time to learn about coffee themselves, and are reproducing their favourite coffee beverages from a wide choice of quality beans. As well as a marked rise in online sales of coffee, there’s also been an increase in sales of coffee making equipment, and more people taking out coffee subscriptions to get a regular supply of ground coffee or beans.

Fortunately for coffee consumers, most commercial coffee roasters have had the forethought to ensure they have reserves of coffee to meet the increase in demand. And thanks to the commitment and efforts of all those people involved in supplying coffee to the consumer, from the smallholder farmers and workers on coffee farms, to exporters, transporters, buyers, roasters, delivery drivers and mail carriers, we’ve still been able to derive pleasure from drinking coffee in these trying times.

But like many other industries, Coronavirus has had an impact on the coffee industry. With lockdowns and quarantine measures imposed in coffee producing countries around the world, coffee growers have been facing challenges in an effort to sustain productivity, while adopting social distancing rules and safety measures to keep their workers safe. Border controls have restricted migrant labourers who would usually travel to work on coffee plantations at harvest time, resulting in a reduced workforce at many farms, and inevitably, this has influenced the amount of coffee being produced. Processing mills may have had to shut down temporarily, and the closure of some ports has also disrupted the transportation of coffee for export.

Although stock levels in the UK and Europe are good at present, it’s impossible to predict how the crisis may affect future supplies. Some countries have fared better than others with their harvests, but others have suffered more, and countries where coffee cherries are hand-picked rather than mechanically harvested may find coffee supplies under strain. At Coffee Direct, we feel confident that by having an extensive range of coffees from around the world, we will still be able to offer a great choice of speciality coffees, in spite of any disruptions.

But as for our way of life when things do get back to some kind of normality, will it ever be like it was before? And to what extent will coffee culture in the UK have changed?

Even before 2020, coffee was a leading category in e-commerce grocery sales, and the pandemic has seen an increase in people buying coffee online. During the crisis, some roasters have been reducing amounts of coffee once destined for the hospitality industry and reserving more for the e-commerce market instead. Once coffee shops and restaurants start opening again, it’s possible that those who have invested in high quality coffee making equipment, and become skilled at brewing, may start to prefer drinking coffee at home. Some may have realised how much money they can save by brewing their own, and coffee from a shop may be considered more of a treat than an everyday occurrence.

The nation’s high streets were already in decline before the pandemic, and the proposed closure of large department stores and takeover of high street shops by e-commerce companies will further impinge on high street footfall. And how many of those people now working from home will continue to do so once restrictions are lifted? Flexible working has never been more popular, and the benefits for both employer and employee are becoming evident. If there are fewer commuters and office workers, will there be as much demand for places to drink coffee?

Interestingly though, during the pandemic, long queues have been seen outside coffee shops offering takeaway coffee, reminding us of how people still feel the need to connect with others, even when socially distanced. As spring approaches, there’s a feeling of optimism in light of the vaccination rollout, and the promising level of immunity vaccines may offer according to research studies. And once restrictions are lifted, people will be only too eager to be out and about, meeting friends over coffee, and hopefully, coffee shops large and small will soon recover from the damage inflicted on them by the pandemic. Perhaps the outcome will be a wonderful balance of an appreciation of how good it is to be able to socialise again over a cup of coffee, and also how good it is to enjoy high quality, speciality coffee at home.