A Brief History of Coffee

The story of coffee often begins with a shepherd named Kaldi in 9th century Ethiopia. While out in the fields, Kaldi saw his goats eating the berries from a small bush, then running and leaping about. Curious, he tried the berries and felt the invigorating effects for himself. He took some of the fruits with him and shared them with the members of a monastery nearby. The monks also noticed how the berries energized them and incorporated them into their diet, using them to maintain their energy while working. By the 1400s, coffee was being traded throughout the Arabian Peninsula.

Coffee Goes Global

Coffee was introduced to Europe during the Renaissance, first on the island of Malta by Ottomans, then in Venice via trade with North Africa. Within the next two centuries, coffee spread throughout Europe and became overwhelmingly popular with the invention of European coffee houses. These coffee houses were places to meet and discuss the day’s issues, especially subversive ones, to such an extent that political and religious leaders attempted to ban the drink. By the 18th century, the drink was popular enough that it appeared in songs by lofty composers like J.S. Bach, titled “Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht.” (Translated literally, “Be Silent, Cease Chattering.” Old Johann may have had a cup too many?)

In the Americas, coffee was introduced during colonization, first as an imported good, then as a cultivated crop throughout Central America. The cultivation of coffee in America, like other cash crops, resulted in the displacement of native peoples and the development of large-scale plantations using native people as a labor source. In the 19th century, Brazil became the world’s largest coffee producer, a title it has maintained ever since. Coffee remains a major good produced in Central and South America to this day, and human rights remain a concern. The global industry has responded with programs such as the Fair Trade certification, which attempts to maintain ethical standards among suppliers. Many roasters now practice direct trading with growers to cultivate closer relationships between suppliers and their clients, as well as a more transparent understanding of the conditions at growing sites.

The Coffee Industry Today

According to the National Coffee Association, coffee is now a $75 billion industry in the United States alone. If you include the various products and services produced alongside coffee, such as packaging, creamer, flavorings, etc., the industry creates an economic impact of more than $225 billion. This year is the first in more than a decade in which the number of coffee shops operating in the U.S. has declined, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, these adverse circumstances will disproportionately affect small coffee shops and small roasters most, as the large chains possess enough capital to weather the storm. If you are a fan of small shops or quality roasters, go local to show your support.

In spite of the pandemic, it seems the market for specialty coffee is growing, as consumers seek out not just quality products but novel ones. Companies are innovating in the way coffee can be served, packaged, or delivered. Some of the new trends include cold brew coffee packs, which have surged in popularity in the last few years, and nitro brew coffee, a variant of cold brew served with pressurized nitrogen, creating a drink that is often compared to a dark stout. Whipped coffee, a trend that started in Korea, has been catching on. Specialty brand single serve coffee pouches are also popular, providing the goodness of small batch roasts without the hassle of grinding your own. Lastly, as an adaptation to the pandemic and the growing popularity of subscription business models, coffee subscription services are now delivering quality beans and products directly to the consumer’s door.

So what does the future hold for coffee?

From a consumer standpoint, the demand for coffee seems strong and set to grow in the future as services and products continue to diversify. Unfortunately, the coffee industry is one of the most susceptible to the effects of climate change. Coffee plants require warm, moist environments to grow, which means the coffee industry hugs most of the world’s equator. In these areas, due to rising temperatures, drought, and the increased likelihood of severe weather events, agricultural conditions for growing coffee may soon present severe challenges. Additionally, climate change threatens the species responsible for pollinating coffee plants and may lead to the spread of some pests which threaten crops. As a result, the global industry is working alongside many of the largest coffee-growing nations to develop solutions. Companies are investing large sums of money into developing sustainable growing techniques, creating genetically modified plants that are resistant to harsh conditions, and seeking out new areas in which to plant new fields.

Climate change notwithstanding, the outlook for coffee points to a growing market and a supply chain that is becoming increasingly ethical and transparent. As growers begin to trade directly with roasters, consumers can be assured that they are receiving a high-quality, sustainably produced product, and that is something we can raise our mug to!

Check out our meticulously roasted direct-to-consumer and wholesale coffee beans. Our organic, fair-trade beans are purchased from farms that pay a living wage and offer education and health benefits to their employees.