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Coffee Is a Luxury, Not a Staple

Coffee is a luxury, not a staple

Coffee is a luxury, not a staple

Coffee connects the world. Humans consume over 2 billion cups of coffee every day. Coffee is the black gold of the world, and it’s the second most traded commodity in the world. The first is also black gold, oil.


The whole world joins in the daily morning ritual of drinking coffee. This ritual is seen as basic and not at all the luxury it is. Coffee drinkers sip the drink as a wine connoisseur would, and when one looks closer, a coffee drinker is also a connoisseur.


Like anything in life, what is good also has a dark side, and coffee has often been produced by slaves, even to this day, but today we call them underpaid workers rather than slaves. Many are indentured labourers. Children in coffee producing countries slave for our caffeine addiction instead of going to school. Even animals are exploited in the production of coffee. The practice of feeding coffee beans to animals and then using the excreted beans for consumption is a disturbing and growing trend.


Coffee is excellent and tasty if you live in the northern hemisphere and are part of the everyday ritual drinkers. Coffee is bitter if you grow the beans.
Coffee is the second largest asset in the world, and it is also the second most popular drink after water. Coffee is a relatively new commodity in the history of the world.


Coffee was born in the Ethiopian mountains or at least discovered. A goat herder saw that the goats got giddy and happy when eating the fruit of a tree; he brought some fruits to a monk in a nearby monastery. The monk didn’t appreciate his discovery and threw them in the fire, and a lovely aroma soon spread, and other monks entered the room enticed by the aroma. They saved the beans from the fire, crushed them, mixed them with warm water and thereby brewed the first cup of coffee. This story is one of many legends about the origin of coffee.


The first literary mention of coffee was in the year 1000, when physician and philosopher Avicenna Bukhara wrote about the medicinal properties of coffee.
Arab traders brought coffee from their travels to Ethiopia, home to what is Yemen today. They cultivated the plant and created a drink they called qahwa, or that which prevents sleep. Qahwa, also written as kahwah, is one of many words Arabs use for wine. The process of making coffee could also make a potent alcoholic drink, but the Koran forbids wine and any alcohol, but not coffee.
Muslim pilgrims smuggled coffee plants back home. Indian people did the same.
Ottoman Turks introduced coffee to Constantinople in the mid-1400s, adding clove, cardamom, cinnamon and anise for an even more energising drink.


Coffee was a controversial drink. In1511, coffee was banned by orthodox imams at a court in Mecca due to its stimulating effects. A similar law was passed in Cairo, Egypt, in 1532, but the Sultan of Cairo intervened. He declared coffee sacred and had the Governor executed.
Coffee arrived in Venice in 1570 and was first only a drink for the wealthy.
When coffee had reached the port of Venice, it did not take long before the British Ostindian Company and the Dutch East Indian Company spread the merchandise to other port cities in Europe. In 1675 there were over 3,000 coffee houses in England, and these coffee houses soon became an essential forum for policy, trade and religious discussions.
Coffee houses became hubs of conversations and gatherings throughout Egypt, Syria, and Ethiopia in the 17th and 18th centuries. They also became institutions of equality as people shared information regardless of social class or political power and people called them penny universities as you could learn anything for the price of a cup of coffee. Historians trace the beginnings of revolutions to the coffee houses.

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The Netherlands played an important and often forgotten role in the emergence of coffee. In 1616, Dutch trader Pieter van der Broecke succeeded in acquiring a pair of coffee trees from Mocka. The coffee trees were thrown in Amsterdam’s botanical garden, eventually developing into a species of Coffea, known as Coffea Arabica.
The offspring of Pieter van der Broeckes Coffea Arabica trees were transported within a few years to the Dutch colonies of Java and Suriname, which soon became the main suppliers of coffee to Europe. The few coffee trees that Pieter van der Broecke brought from Mocka are ancestors to almost 80 % of the coffee produced today.


The Dutch broke the Muslims’ world monopoly on coffee in 1696. Some say the Dutch stole the seedlings, while others claim they were legally exported.
In 1669 the Turkish Ambassador to Paris introduced coffee to the Court of Louis the XIV, and soon all of Paris was talking about coffee.
In the early 1700s, the French created a new way to make coffee, enclosing the coffee in linen bags immersed in hot water, omitting coffee grinds.
By 1715, there were more than 2000 coffee houses in and around London.
In 1727, Brazil acquired fertile coffee seedlings through a secret liaison between the French Governor’s wife and a handsome Brazilian Colonel and from this secret deal grew the largest coffee empire in the world.
In 1757, the British left the coffee trade to the Dutch and French. Tea becomes England’s drink instead of coffee.


When coffee first reached America, it was not for consumption but for production. The colonies had not grown enough to constitute a big market, but the climate in South America and the Caribbean Islands was well suited for the coffee tree.
Almost all coffee plantations in the American colonies relied on African labour slaves. Together with the sugar plant, the cocoa bean and the cotton plant, the coffee tree was a contributing factor to the massive slavery in America — slavery that continued until the late 1800s.
Coffee consumption gained its major impact in North America as a direct consequence of the Boston Tea Party in 1773. After this, it was considered unpatriotic to drink British tea, and during the American War of Liberation (1775–1783), US soldiers instead began to drink coffee cultivated in South America and on the Caribbean islands.


By the early 19th century, coffee was an established beverage in almost the whole world, and its growth continued steadily in the 20th century — mostly thanks to new technology. In 1900, the American roaster Hills Brother’s invented the vacuum pack of coffee. The technology, still used today, made it possible to send roasted beans from coast to coast without stiffening. The invention marked the beginning of the end of the local coffee roasters.


In 1900, the Japanese chemist Satori Kato patented the technology of creating instant coffee. The following year, 1901, Italian Luigi Bezzera received the first patent on an espresso machine. Two years later, German Ludwig Roselius invented decaf coffee.
Despite a few contributions from Europe and Asia to the history of coffee in the 20th century, the United States is the giant of the international coffee market.
In 1920, the United States Congress voted through the ban on alcohol, and the sale of coffee exploded. Twenty years later, the United States imports 70 % of the world’s coffee. When the American soldiers went off to war in Europe, Maxwell House instant coffee was among their supplies, and after the war, consumption increased further.


During the 1950s, the coffee brands competed almost exclusively for prices, and the quality of the coffee suffered.
At the same time, the sale of soft drinks in the United States exploded. A whole generation of young people chose Coca-Cola instead of black gold, and coffee saw a downward trend in the United States for the first time in food history. The trend lasted until the 70’s when Starbucks came on to the coffee scene.
Starbucks started as a retailer of roasted coffee beans. When Starbucks employed sales and marketing manager Howard Schultz in 1982, he tried to convince the owner to begin selling espresso drinks, but the owners refused. He left in frustration in 1985, launched the cafe chain Il Giornale which was a huge success. Two years later, he bought Starbucks for less than $ 4 million.
Schultz replaced the Giornale chain logo with the Starbucks logo and began an unprecedented expansion. Throughout the 1990s, Starbucks opened a new cafe every business day, and the brand was soon established on the international market. Starbuck’s expansion made coffee trendy again, and more and more people started to drink coffee.


Coffee is today the world’s most popular drink; some countries drink more than others, 45% of the world’s daily coffee consumption takes place in the USA.
We really should start treating coffee as a luxury. From an environmental perspective, coffee is the most heavily sprayed crop in the world and uses massive amounts of water as well as wasteful packaging. From a compassionate perspective, we can’t claim to be ignorant of the slave-like conditions of the workers producing this luxury drink we see as just a regular part of an everyday ritual several times a day.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Tina Brescanu

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