With the recent opening of the new but supposedly unique chain coffee shop Black Sheep coffee in Edinburgh and around the UK, is it possible that there could be such a thing as too many coffee shops and that this surplus of coffee places is more of an invasion then a wanted invitation?
There is a coffee shop on every corner, of every street, it is not unusual in fact to see more than one of the same coffee shop on the same street. They are always there to supply your need for a simple coffee: latte, Frappuccino, iced latte, or an iced white chocolate mocha (courtesy of Starbucks).
These coffee shops are also tailored to your every need, with so called atmospheric environments, appealing to every nook and cranny of human diversity. In the online blog Gitnux it states that in the United States alone, there has been a 2.4% increase in the last five years of coffee shops. Moreover, this is set to increase with 17,537 new shops projected for 2025 and a further revenue of $90,277 million. In other words, that is a huge amount of coffee and consumption. These coffee places also range from the hipster vibe with sofas to imitate a comfortable living room that you never want to leave and others closely resembling five-star hotel lobbies – there is truly something for everyone. If you are willing to pay £5 or more for the coffee.
However, this almost overpopulation of coffee shops and the overwhelming choices bring several issues to the table. For example, the killing of the independent market and local community. According to Statista, in the UK it is estimated that there are roughly 8,222 coffee shops, with 10.5 million people choosing local coffee shops, compared to a staggering 20 million who choose classic chain brands such as Costa Coffee or Starbucks. With this invasion of big brand coffee shops, the smaller local brands simply cannot compete. Eventually leading to a death of the local Highstreet market.
Furthermore, in another article by Statista, it stated that in 2022 “there were 35,711 thousand Starbucks stores worldwide.” This implies the indifference humanity has towards the shocking amount of one coffee shop. That we don’t seem to be bored by the repetitiveness of chain coffee shops and our slightly gullible willingness to pay over £6 for a mere coffee just because it is labelled under an exotic style name. However, when there is close to 40,000 shops of the same company, maybe it is time to admit there may be a problem with modern consumerism.
These chain coffee shops also cause a problem of displacement because they are often found in or create gentrified areas, leading to an increase in overall prices in that specific area. Contrary to popular belief gentrification, although beneficial in many respects, can cause price rises and the forced migration of people. This is because of the fast pace of gentrification; these people can no longer afford to live in their homes anymore. In a paper for Radical Statistics Journal, Rowland Atkinson states that displacement, specifically in New York was “between 10,000 and 40,000 households per year,” and that “such figures are obviously linked to the prevalence of gentrification activity at any point in time.”
Atkinson goes on to say that “Legates and Hartman (1986) indicate that an 'approximate and conservative' total annual displacement figure for the US amounted to 2.5 million persons.” This article was written in the late nineties, so these figures have undoubtedly increased dramatically due to the increase in recent gentrification.
The arrival of big chain brands such as luxurious coffee shops signals the gentrification of areas and therefore its price rises in consumerism and housing. Forcing people to find cheaper and often less desirable accommodation. This rise in chain brands also leads to a loss of independence and identity, creating rather monotonous living prospects for the future.
Although this big coffee brands are expensive and encourage conformity, the other big issue is the sourcing of the products used to make such complex coffee ingredients. For example, in Starbucks or any big chain brand, there is always an excessive choice of milk, you can choose from: skimmed milk, oat milk, soy milk, almond milk or even coconut milk, semi-skimmed milk or rarely even the full fat milk, the list of different ingredients and naturally resourced items is endless.
However where does your expensive latte come from? It comes predominantly from Latin America and the Pacific. In an article by Food is Power, in Latin America and the Pacific, local coffee farmers typically earn only 7–10% of the retail price of coffee, while in Brazil, workers earn less than 2% of the retail price.
Due to the fact that coffee farmers are predominantly families, many children are pulled out of school early to help with the work, creating the frequent use of child labour. Furthermore, Fairtrade International reports that as of 2019, small coffee producers receive less than $1.00 per pound of coffee. This means that majority of these people are barely earning enough to live. So, the question is, is this sacrifice of human well-being really worth a latte with soy milk?
It begs the question will enough ever be enough. The western way of life in the drastic need for exotic and luxury commodities and never-ending consumption is causing inequality in less fortunate areas of the world. In the West there is a loss of local farming and independent shops, and in other areas such as Brazil, they are not living but merely surviving off a below minimum wage.
Is it really necessary to have 10 different coffee shops selling the same product on one street? If we perhaps learn to shop more locally or in places where coffee is produced ethically and to a Fairtrade standard we can maybe help to restore a little bit of equality and sense. If we learn to scale back in our need for endless commodities, we could help prevent displacement from homes and this overall invasion and overtaking of our society by chain brands.
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