Single use coffee cups contribute around 52,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere and some brands of tea-bags can be up to 25% plastic. But which UK residents are the most clued up when it comes to the environmental impact of their favourite brews? We evaluated the habits of over 100 UK cities using Google search volumes and survey data to find out.

The UK’s greenest caffeine drinkers

To locate the Brits most concerned about the ‘sustainability’ of their caffeine, we examined
who was searching the following terms:

  1. Plastic free tea bags
  2. Recycling
  3. Reusable coffee cups
  4. Zero waste/ sustainable shops
  5. Coffee beans
  6. Loose leaf tea

We also considered how much Brits claimed to care about their caffeine carbon footprint according to a survey we conducted in February 2021 (to expose any climate-change hypocrites).

Overall, there were some clear, and surprising, winners. In third position -- particularly thanks to a high volume of searches for ‘reusable coffee cups’ and ‘loose leaf tea’ -- is Bath.

In second place, searching most in the country for ‘reusable coffee cups’ and third most for ‘loose leaf tea’ and ‘coffee beans’, is neighbour Bristol.

The winning city is another B-town (and it’s not Brighton). Residents of Bedford are googling ‘recycling’ more than anyone else, and they score highly on all other factors too. This isn’t the first time that the city has topped a list thanks to its good deeds -- in 2014, JustGiving revealed that the city was the most generous in the UK.

The UK’s Caffeine Climate-Culprits

But which unconcerned cities have landed in hot water? The third least conscientious city is Stoke on Trent, which should come as no surprise to its residents, who were the least likely to rank ‘sustainability’ as important when buying their coffee in the UK in our latest survey.

A stone's-throw from Bedford, Luton is the second least caffeine conscious city in the UK. Particularly, Lutonians don’t spend much time searching for ‘reusable coffee cups’ or ‘loose leaf tea’ when it comes to their brews.

But one place ranked significantly below all others: Bradford. Bradford scored so poorly across all categories, that even their top-scoring category (searches for 'coffee beans') placed an unimpressive 93 out of 103.

Eco Warriors, or Eco Fakers?

We know that big corporations like to play up their climate credentials, but there’s also a big disparity between which Brits claim to shop sustainably for their tea and coffee, and those who actually do.

The Northern Irish were the most likely to claim they shopped for their tea and coffee sustainably, and yet overall, the top ranking Northern Irish town Derry landed in 21st position. The East Midlands and Scotland were the next likely regions to say they prioritised sustainability when shopping, and yet neither region managed to place any city in the top ten.

The most honest region was the West Midlands. According to our recent survey, people here were the least likely to claim they shop sustainably and this was corroborated by their search volumes. Stoke-on-Trent and Coventry, which are both in the region, ranked fourth and fifth least likely to be googling about these issues.

The place which downplayed their efforts the most was the North West of England. Although the region was the 4th least likely to rank sustainability as an important factor, the region scored two cities in the top ten -- Chester and Stockport.

Which Brits Take Their Teas and Coffee Most Seriously?

Research has found that just one tea-bag can release up to 11.6 billion microplastics, and that around 56 billion coffee pods are dumped every year. Switching to refillable products -- like coffee beans or loose leaf tea -- is one way to minimise unnecessary waste.

Although the taste may be better, going the extra mile to buy raw tea and coffee is a real labour of love: so which Brits are most likely to be tea or coffee aficionados?

As mentioned previously, the people who are third most likely to google for ‘coffee beans’ or ‘loose leaf tea’ live in the same place: Bristol. It’s also worth noting that this city googles for ‘reusable coffee cups’ more than anyone else.

Cambridge residents were the second most likely to search for ‘loose leaf tea’. Those in Bedford were the second most likely to search for ‘coffee beans’, which makes sense when you consider that around 30% of the population have Italian heritage.

But the city searching for ‘loose leaf tea’ more than anyone else is Stockport, which ranked 8th overall for caffeine conscious consumption. Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire had the highest search volumes for coffee beans in the UK: could the sleepy town be the next hipster coffee-capital?

The towns where convenient caffeine reigns supreme are Sale, Newport and Raleigh (who search the least for ‘coffee beans’) and Bradford, Luton and Milton Keynes (who search the least for ‘loose leaf tea’).

There are many ways to do your bit to help reduce your caffeine carbon footprint -- whether it be recycling your used containers, sourcing plastic free tea bags or remembering to pack a reusable flask. The first step to making a change is awareness, so if you haven’t researched how you can do your bit, perhaps you will now (to give yourself, and the planet, the best caffeine break).

Author: Richard Smith

Partner at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company

Richard Smith is a Tea expert, entrepreneur, and owner of The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company. Part of a family of renowned Tea planters dating back four generations, he was born in Calcutta (Kolkata), India, where he spent his childhood between Tea Estates in Assam and Darjeeling.

In the late 1970s, having accumulated years of knowledge in the industry, Mr Smith and his mother, Janet Smith, moved to Kent, South East England, to establish a Tea business in the village of Pluckley. Their early days of packing Tea Bags by hand from chests of 10,000 prompted the creation of the company’s flagship infusion known as Pluckley Tea. It remains our most popular product today.

Mr Smith, who studied economics at London Polytechnic, has since specialised in over 1,000 types of Loose Leaf Tea - in addition to around 70 varieties of Roast Coffee - from around the world. These are now available at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, where everything is still packed by hand and fresh to order, not only to honour tradition but to ensure the utmost quality and consistency.