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Food Critic: Coffee or tea? More Ukrainians say coffee
April 5, 2012, 9:56 p.m. | Food & Nightclubs — by Olga Rudenko

If the world were divided into tea drinkers and coffee drinkers, historically Ukraine would have firmly fit into the tea group. But it seems that our habits are changing very rapidly – we’re getting hooked on coffee with record-breaking speed.

Dmytro Bunetsky, a 24-year-old office worker in Kyiv, is enjoying the spring weather with a regular cup of coffee in his hands. He is having a break, and coffee is his typical companion.

The office environment suggests that Bunetsky has two options to get his espresso– the office coffee- making machine, or a coffee dispenser in the building, and he occasionally uses both.

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Ukrainian Dmutro Bunetsky drinking coffee

“I started drinking coffee when I was 14, I was influenced by the American pulp fiction where the main character smokes and drinks a lot of coffee and bourbon,” says Bunetsky. “Normally I have two or three cups every day.”

Bunetsky drinks coffee at meetings outside the office, and in the evening, too.

A study released at the International Coffee Festival in India in March showed that Ukraine’s coffee consumption grew wildly over the past decade, by 23 percent. This is the highest growth in the world.

Turkey, the second-fastest growing coffee consumer, had a 7.7 percent growth, while neighboring Russia – just 7 percent. On average, emerging markets grew by 3.6 percent, while traditional markets were almost flat, except for Britain, which grew by 3 percent.

To cater to this newly acquired habit, many coffee chains have sprouted across the nation. In Kyiv alone, there are about 10 chains with over 70 coffee shops, offering a multitude of drinks made out of the near-magical coffee bean.

Serhiy Reminny, head of IONIA coffee trading company and author of “Irresistible Coffee” book, said that the top reason for the increase in coffee consumption is the growth of wealth in the last decade.

“But even with that growth Ukraine remains an unimportant market for the world's coffee business. An average Ukrainian consumes just two kilos of coffee per year. In Poland, the number is three kilos, in Great Britain – five,” he said.

It does not seem to even be enough for the famous international coffee chains. Ukraine still has no Starbucks, and Gloria Jeans Coffees has opened and closed in Kyiv, preferring to stick to the safer turf of Lviv and Odessa, with their vibrant restaurant scene and novelty-seeking public.

The largest Ukrainian chain so far is Coffee Life, which has 33 coffeehouses in several Ukrainian cities since it opened in November 2007.

Surprisingly, it’s not the morning time that makes Ukrainians rush for the coffee houses, but evening, according to Coffee Life statistics.

Also, Reminny said that in western Ukraine people consume more coffee than in the eastern parts of the country because of historical connections with the coffee-worshiping Austria.

Nevertheless, the disparity is relatively small in Ukraine compared to Russia, where coffee is popular in the European part only.

An average Ukrainian in the west consumes 2.5-2.6 kilos of coffee beans per year, compared to 1.3-1.4 kilos in the east. Just ten years ago, the national average was just half a kilo.

Reminny also added that despite the fact that coffee consumption is a market of prosperity, coffee-addicted western Ukrainians consume more of it than eastern counterparts, who are not necessarily poorer.

“We are not the world’s biggest coffee consumers, but our dynamics are the greatest,” he says.

The most popular coffee brands in Ukraine are Nescafe produced by the Swiss food giant Nestle and Jacobs, which belongs to the American Kraft Foods. The leaders are the same worldwide. These brands traditionally occupy up to 25 percent of the world market.

The number of ground coffee fans is growing slowly in Ukraine. A decade ago, instant coffee consumers accounted for 90 percent, but the number is 10 percent lower now, according to Reminny.

Doctors seem to approve of this particular trend. “Instant coffee is not coffee at all,” says Dr. Kostyantyn Zelensky, a general practicioner in Kyiv.

He says two or three cups of espresso, home-made or bought from a coffee machine, are a safe daily dose that won’t affect your health badly, and will improve your mood. Exceeding that dose may cause hypertension and ulcers in some people.

“Coffee is a habit that needs some time to be cultivated,” says Reminny, speaking of coffee's future in Ukraine. “Plus, it is the drink of the middle class, so it’s a marker that identifies economical changes.”