It’s a question the Swiss government has been grappling with since they announced earlier this year that they were planning to quit stockpiling coffee, declaring the drink not vital for human survival.
It’s one of several basic goods Switzerland keeps on reserve in case of an emergency, along with items like flour, sugar and medicines. The government started this stockpiling system between the First and Second World Wars, as a way to prepare the landlocked nation for wars, natural disasters or epidemics.
But the announcement hasn’t gone down well with the general population. The Current’s interim host Laura Lynch spoke to Imogen Foulkes, the BBC’s Geneva correspondent, about what happened.
How much coffee does Switzerland stockpile?
Wait for it: 15,000 tonnes. That is supposed to keep a population going for three months, should there be a coffee emergency in Switzerland.
That suggests that the Swiss drink a lot of coffee.
They do. They love it. I mean, they are up there in the top 10 … on the list of the world’s biggest coffee consumers. They consume about 8.5 [kilograms] — that’s 17, 18 pounds — of coffee a year per head of population.
So then what was the response when the government announced that it was considering dropping coffee from stockpiles?
Quite a lot of concern, actually.
The government says, ‘Well, you know, if we’re planning for emergencies, we keep stuff that’s really going to keep people alive. You know, stuff with calories in it. And coffee is not one of those.’
But … your average Swiss person clearly, judging by the mood on the street, says, ‘Well, sorry, coffee, it is essential to life. I need it.’
People are saying, ‘I need it when I get up in the morning, just the same way I need my shower. I need a coffee after lunch. I need one in the afternoon to keep me going at work. And then maybe a little espresso after dinner at night.’
They just really don’t like the idea of living without it.
So what has the government decided to do now?
Well, there’s such a debate. And I think, to be honest, the interest of media organizations outside Switzerland has also kicked the whole thing up the political agenda a bit. [So now] the government has said, ‘Oh, you know what, we’ll reconsider that coffee decision. Maybe we’ll decide to keep it on the list.’
I think there’s also been some pressure from the coffee importers and producers. Don’t forget, we’re the home of Nestlé and Nespresso here in Switzerland. And the way these stockpiles work is not that the government has great big government warehouses. The producers and importers undertake to store thousands of tonnes themselves. And guess who pays them to do that? The government. So it’s quite a good [money maker] for the coffee producers.