Number of Belfast coffee shops rises by third in two years
The number of coffee shops in Belfast has jumped by a third in just two years.
There are more than 100 branches across the city, figures show.
And it is home-grown independent operators who are leading the way in the growth of Belfast's coffee culture.
According to research from commercial property agency Lambert Smith Hampton, the number of cafes in the city centre and selected districts has increased by almost a third from 79 in 2016 to 104 at the end of 2018.
The findings by senior research analyst Claire Cole for the Belfast Telegraph focused on the city centre and areas including the Lisburn Road, Ballyhackamore, the Lower Newtownards Road, Ormeau Road, Boucher Road and the Queen's Quarter.
Local chains have seen the biggest increase in their Belfast coffee shops since the beginning of 2016, with an 80% rise in numbers.
Growth for national and international chains like Caffe Nero, Starbucks and Costa was slowest at 22% since 2016.
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Nonetheless, they remained the dominant type of coffee shop with 52 stores. Ms Cole said: "With coffee consumption in the UK increasing and an estimated 95 million cups of coffee drunk
in 2018, there is no sign that caffeine saturation is likely to soon occur and brands continue to demonstrate their appetite for expansion.
"Economic surveys have shown that consumer confidence and spending in Northern Ireland has slowed a little, but this, so far, seems to have had no noticeable effect on people's need for their morning coffee or their desire to buy it in shops.
"In order to stay relevant, however, coffee shops need to pay attention to trends and customer demands.
"This includes integrity, ethical responsibility in coffee sourcing, environmental awareness and innovative techniques."
Local chains Bob & Berts and Ground Espresso Bars - both of which started out on the north coast - now have an established presence in Belfast with three and four stores respectively.
And independent, standalone coffee shops have also boosted their presence by a quarter since 2016, rising to 34 stores in 2018.
Examples include The Bake House on Belfast's Lisburn Road, District on Ormeau Road and The Pocket on University Road.
Belfast Telegraph restaurant critic Joris Minne said the explosion in new coffee shops showed that we are becoming increasingly sociable - but shunning alcohol in favour of coffee in our social habits.
"The good thing about coffee and cake is that it's accessible to everybody," he said.
"There's no age limit and it means you don't have to be reliant on alcohol to socialise.
"And everyone can enjoy coffee and cake, from the age of three to 93."
And he said the proliferation of new coffee shops in Belfast made it feel as if numbers had risen 10-fold.
Mr Minne gave special mention to the smaller coffee chains like District on Ormeau Road, Kaffe O - which has a spot on the Ormeau Road and another on Botanic Avenue - as well as General Merchants and Root and Branch.
"In my view, those independents are so much better than any bigger chain," he added.
"They have a real sense of personality.
"They really focus on customer relationships and they're also really part of the community."
He added that some of the scandals over payment of corporation tax involving multinational and national coffee chains like US giant Starbucks could also enhance the image of smaller operators.