6 Ways Coffee Helped Transform the World


More than five centuries ago, when coffee was a localized crop in the East African territories of Ethiopia and Yemen, Arab Sufi monks used the beverage for a purpose similar to what people drink today: get a boost to stay awake. Their goal at the time? To reach divine consciousness in midnight prayers.

On its centuries-old path to becoming a global commodity and a global drink, coffee has been a tool to build empires and fuel an industrial revolution. And it was sometimes a not-so-hidden driving force behind human exploitation, slavery, and violent civil war.

Over time, coffee has changed the way people live, work and interact. Here are six ways coffee has transformed the world.

The globalization of coffee helped fuel slavery

After spreading to the Near East, North Africa and the Mediterranean, the coffee trade reached Europe in the 17th century. As the drink grew in popularity, empires realized they could grow their own coffee using peasant and enslaved labor in their distant colonies. Around the 18and century, English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Dutch rulers had made coffee one of their main colonial cash crops, along with sugar, cotton and tobacco.

From Indonesia to Latin America and the Caribbean, enslaved workers were forced to grow coffee on colonial plantations. The French Caribbean colony of Saint-Dominique grew two-thirds of the world’s coffee in the late 1700s until the island’s plantations were burned down and the owners massacred during the Haitian Revolution in 1791. Using even more slave labor, the Portuguese aggressively stepped up to make Brazil the largest coffee producer in the world. Brazil, which brought the largest number of slaves to the New World and was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery in 1888, makes coffee the heart of its economy, its banking system and its political and social structure. Faced with laws granting freedom to the descendants of slaves, a Brazilian deputy opposed to abolition declared in 1880: “Brazil is coffee, and coffee is the nigger”.

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The cafés have contributed to fueling the public debate

18th century Turkish coffee

Cafes first appeared in the Ottoman Empire, where observant Muslims, who abstained from alcohol, did not need to congregate in taverns. Over the centuries and across the world, cafes have become essential in establishing what some philosophers call a “public sphere”, once dominated by elites, for a wider mix and class of people.

From the 16and century, the Ottoman Turks – who spread coffee to the Muslim world and later to Europe – tried to close the cafes, only to face the protests of the pro-coffee mobs who forced them to reopen. Cafes were the only communal places where men could congregate and discuss news, religion, politics, and gossip away from the watchful eyes of religious or state authorities.

In Europe, cafe patrons have planted the seeds for new ways of managing economies and shaping politics. The London Stock Exchange, Lloyd’s of London and the East India Company began in cafes, known in London as “penny universities” because the price of a cup often gave customers access to an ongoing intellectual debate. In Colonial America, Boston’s Green Dragon Tavern and Cafe became famous as the place where the leaders of the Sons of Liberty met to hatch the Boston Tea Party of 1773 and foment their revolutionary ideas that led to the American Revolutionary War.

READ MORE: How coffee fueled revolutions and revolutionary ideas

Coffee’s Kick helped fuel industrialization

In 18andLast century England, as the Industrial Revolution gained momentum, relentless new factory workers worked day and night thanks to coffee. Or more precisely, the caffeine it contains.

Everyone from Ottoman Turks to 18andIntellectuals of the Enlightenment realized that the stimulant of coffee increased energy and increased concentration. For demanding manufacturing industries looking to keep factories running around the clock, coffee has allowed them to turn workers’ natural sleeping and waking hours into “clock time.” Workers who used to take breaks to eat five times a day could now continue to function with frequent coffee breaks instead, as the Industrial Revolution spread to other parts of Europe and North America.

“The drink of the aristocracy had become the necessary drug of the masses, and morning coffee replaced beer soup for breakfast,” writes Mark Pendergrast in Uncommon Grounds: The story of coffee and how it transformed our world.

Instant coffee helped fuel the world wars

July 4, 1944. An American soldier reads the American forces newspaper The Stars and Stripes in his foxhole on the front in Normandy, France.

July 4, 1944. An American soldier reads the American forces newspaper The Stars and Stripes in his foxhole on the front in Normandy, France.

Instant coffee, made with quickly soluble coffee crystals that eliminated the drink’s traditionally time-consuming brewing process, took off during World War I. It was then that the American inventor George CL Washington found a way to increase production and sell to the army, to give soldiers combat rations. a helping hand.

“I am happy in spite of the rats, the rain, the mud, the draft (sic), the roar of the guns and the cry of the shells…”, wrote an American soldier from the trenches in 1918. “It only takes a minute to fire up my little oil heater and make some George Washington coffee. During this war, soldiers called him “a cup of George”.

During World War II, GIs called him a “cuppa Joe”. Once the United States entered the war in 1941, the military ordered 140,000 bags of coffee beans per month, 10 times the previous year’s order, to brew instant brew. Authorities rationed coffee for civilians for nine months so troops would have enough.

After the war, several companies, including Nescafé and Maxwell House, widely advertised instant coffee to veterans, their families, and the public who saw and sometimes sought to emulate a soldier’s love for the inferior brew. . Once consumers discovered the convenience of the drink, its popularity grew.

In Latin America, coffee was linked to bloody civil wars

In Latin America after World War II, crushing rural poverty and widespread exploitation of laborers working to harvest coffee, bananas, and other global commodities sparked regional pockets of communist activism. America, fearing Soviet influence in its backyard during the Cold War and working to protect corporate financial interests, intervened in several Central American countries, supporting coups and escalating wars. bloody civilians.

First, the US-backed coup in Guatemala in 1954. It was then that the US Central Intelligence Agency decided to overthrow democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán after that he began to give more than 100 fallow coffee plantations to peasant cooperatives with the support of the Guatemalan communists. The putschists installed the right-wing president, General Carlos Castillo Armas, who reversed land reform, restored the secret police, and drove the peasants off the land they had been given. His assassination three years later led to three decades of repression and bloody violence by government death squads and guerrilla groups. The coffee elite retained their land and status. Workers continued to suffer.

In the 1970s and 1980s, similar conflicts erupted in neighboring Nicaragua and El Salvador. In the latter, a US-backed military junta faced left-wing rebels seeking to overthrow the government, which had close ties to coffee oligarchs and the elite. Right-wing death squads trained in the United States joined the Civil War, and clashes in the countryside claimed 50,000 lives. Coffee exports, which accounted for most of the country’s income, fell drastically. Almost a million people have fled the country. [[[[

Starbucks fueled the coffee comeback

The ubiquitous Starbucks cafes where people work, relax or meet friends might not have existed if Howard Schultz – a marketing director for the company, known then as the state’s largest coffee bean roaster from Washington – hadn’t flown to Milan, Italy in 1983. , he fell in love with the hundreds of cafes and espresso bars where baristas made lattes and cappuccinos while talking to waiting customers .

Back home, he convinced the owners of Starbucks to let him open an espresso bar. He bought the six-store chain and roasting plant in 1987, promising to open 125 stores/cafes within five years. As of 2020, Starbucks owned nearly 9,000 floors and licensed another 6,500 in the United States, and had over 30,000 stores worldwide.

Starbucks has managed to not only commoditize fine coffee, but also to reinforce the drink’s five-century-old historical significance as a reason to gather, sip, and connect.

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