The coffee tax – the import of coffee

The coffee tax is an important source of income for the German tax authorities: it flushes around one billion euros into the public coffers every year. However, those who buy coffee for their own consumption at retail need not worry about becoming a tax evader. Even those who order coffee for self-consumption on the Internet are on the safe side from a tax point of view. Because growers, processors, sellers and mail order companies are responsible for paying the tax to the tax office for deliveries to private end consumers.

Fee without de minimis limit

The coffee tax in Germany is currently 2.19 euros per kilogram (EUR/kg) for roasted coffee and 4.78 EUR/kg for instant coffee. If it is a mixture of both forms, the tax rate depends on the respective proportion. In the years 2007 to 2013, the German state took in around one billion euros a year from coffee.

The prevailing rule that the mail order business is responsible for the correct payment of the tax has only been in effect since 2010. Since there is no de minimis threshold for the coffee tax, this tax also applies to small quantities from the first gram. Before 2010, this actually led to customs taking action against small consumers who bought coffee from the countries of the European Union (EU) via mail order. In 2007/08 this led to back taxes of 25,000 euros

For the average consumer in everyday life, it is important to note that Coffee imports from EU countries for personal use are tax-free. Customs will accept the “personal consumption” declaration for up to ten kilograms per capita . This regulation also applies to coffee imports from non-EU countries - albeit with different calculation bases. For example, customs will accept the import of goods for personal use by sea and air up to a limit of 430 euros per adult.

Between tariffs and preferential agreements

Duties apply to the import of coffee into EU countries - an exception is non-decaffeinated green coffee. This remains duty-free from all countries of origin. Otherwise the following sentencese apply: For decaffeinated green coffee 8.3 percent; for caffeinated roast coffee, 7.5 percent; for decaffeinated roast coffee 9.0 percent. A 9.0 percent duty also applies to extracts, concentrates or essences from coffee.

Exceptions from these customs rates form preferential agreements with the countries of origin. Then the coffee tariffs either disappear completely or are much lower. The current schedule of tariff preferences has been in effect since the beginning of 2014 and is available with its up-to-date information on the European Commission's TARIC website. If you are interested and would like to find out more about the important rules of the world market, you can find information in German at

Footnotes about the coffee tax

Germany is one of the few European countries that has a coffee tax. Even in the present, this still leads to some tendencies that make you smile. If you follow the pure quantities, for example, the people in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg drink the most hot, black coffee of all Europeans: 25.6 kilograms of green coffee per year.

That's hard to believe, since the Germans are also big coffee lovers, not to mention the Finns.The explanation for the European coffee champion Luxembourg leads to a sentence attributed to the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: Only believe statistics that you have falsified yourself Because there is no coffee tax in Luxembourg there, the German neighbors like to stock up on it because it's cheaper in the Grand Duchy. Even within the Federal Republic of Germany there are oases where the coffee tax is not levied. On the North Sea island of Helgoland and in the municipality of Büsingen. The latter is completely surrounded by Swiss territory, but belongs to the district of Konstanz in Baden-Württemberg. This special position makes the municipality a coffee tax-free zone.

Consumption tax with historical roots

The history of the coffee tax in Germany begins in 17. Century, at that time coffee consumption rose sharply and the state used this as a source of income. Coffee was subject to import duty and this remained the common form of duty for a long time. The tax continued to undergo changes throughout different historical eras.

In the area of ​​the German Customs Union, it fell sharply in the 1850s, since the founding of the German Empire in 1871, the customs revenue on coffee went to the imperial government. From 1909 they rose sharply as part of the financial reform. After the Second World War, a new determination of the coffee duty rates as part of the currency reform failed. Since the summer of 1948, the coffee tax in Germany has been an excise tax, which initially only applied in the areas of what later became the Federal Republic of Germany administered by British and US Americans. In the Basic Law of 1949 it was agreed that this tax revenue from the entire Federal Republic of Germany, including the areas administered by the French, would go to the Federal Government.

After that there were historical peculiarities that can only be understood from the situation of the first years of reconstruction. For example, the coffee tax was ten Deutschmarks per kilogram (DM/kg) up to 1953 and favored coffee smuggling on the western borders of Germany, for example on the Aachen coffee front . This chapter ended with the reduction of the coffee tax to only three to four DM/kg. Since coffee consumption increased sharply with the economic miracle, the income from this levy was already higher in 1954 than before 1953.

The last chapter in the history of the coffee tax did not end until 2013. Then the Petitions Committee of the German Bundestag rejected a lobbying campaign against this tax, primarily operated by the coffee roaster Darboven. In Europe today, apart from Germany, there is only a coffee tax in Belgium, Lithuania, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland.

Jack Mack Coffee thanks the author: Dr. Boris Haefele for this excellent article.