Does drinking coffee make your country richer?

Hi, this is Pascal! I’m a developer on the app team at Datawrapper. Today I’m going to take a look at how the amount of coffee you drink might be related to your country’s wealth.

For many people, coffee is an essential part of their day. Some even say they can’t get out of bed or function properly without a cup of coffee in the morning.

Caffeine, the coffee ingredient these people crave, sounds like a magic bullet: studies show it can make you more alert and focused, speed up your reaction time, and even improve your short-term memory.

So coffee can potentially boost productivity on an individual level. But is this also true on a national level? Today I want to take a not-so-serious look at the relationship between coffee consumption and the productivity of countries.

At first glance, this chart might give an easy answer: Drinking lots of coffee makes people more productive and increases their country's wealth, which leads to a higher standard of living. But before you run off to chug the office coffee pot, there are a few things to consider. Things are rarely as simple as they seem, especially on a macroeconomic level and, of course, correlation does not imply causation.

  • People living in wealthier countries tend to have more money to spend on non-essential goods like coffee. One of the consequences of this is that these countries have more (and better!) coffee shops, which may encourage people to drink more – or to start a habit.
  • Coffee consumption is often linked to culture and tradition. For example, people in Nordic countries like Finland, Sweden, and Norway drink the most coffee by a wide margin. This is in part explained by the culture around it. In Scandinavian countries, it’s common to gather with family and friends to enjoy coffee and pastries, called “fika” in Sweden or “pullakahvit” in Finland.
  • Of course, coffee isn't the only stimulant beverage. Countries that drink less coffee in comparison, such as Turkey and Ireland, are two of the countries with the highest tea consumption (source); with Turkish tea being very strong. Countries like the USA, UK and Japan drink an average amount of coffee, but are the countries with the highest consumption of energy drinks per capita (based on sales, source).

In conclusion, there is no conclusion. People drink coffee in various amounts for a variety of personal and cultural reasons. And even if it results in increased productivity for some, we know too little to attribute the economical status of a whole country to how much coffee its people consume.

I drink coffee mainly because I enjoy the taste, but I also (subconsciously) associate coffee with a productive work session. So in a way, coffee makes me more productive – but that may well be the placebo effect talking.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy your next coffee (or tea, or energy drink) break. Next week, expect a Weekly Chart from my coworker and designer Alex.