American Coffee

The use of coffee originated in Ethiopia and expanded to Arabia and elsewhere, beginning in the fifteenth century. Coffee initially became known in Europe as a commodity that was exchanged between the Muslim traders whom European merchants did business with. Adopted by Europeans in the 1640s, the new drink rapidly grew in popularity. Its advantage over alcoholic beverages of clearing and stimulating the mind made it the symbolic drink of the Enlightenment. Its cost was high at first, but as the price fell, it became popular among the lower classes, not only in imitation of the upper classes but also because its ability to suppress hunger and drowsiness helped people to endure the harsh working conditions common under early industrialization. To satisfy the growing demand from about 1650 onward, the English and Dutch East India companies began to import an increasing amount of coffee from Yemen, the sole producer. By 1720, the trade reached about 2,000 tons annually, 10 percent of the world’s production. As this trade depended on the goodwill of the Yemeni suppliers, Europeans attempted to establish cultivation of the coffee plant in colonies with the appropriate climate. Permanent cultivation was achieved in the Dutch colony of Java (Indonesia) and the French Žle de Bourbon (La Runion) in the 1710s. The resulting output from the East Indies rendered Europe independent of Arabian production, but it did not exceed 3,500 tons annually. A massive augmentation of the coffee supply was accomplished only when coffee was introduced to the West Indies. Growing coffee is labor-intensive, as the berries of the coffee plant from which coffee beans are obtained by peeling and drying do not mature all at the same time and need to be carefully harvested by hand. Therefore, this tropical crop neatly fitted into the agricultural economies of the Western colonies, already based on plantations using slave labor to grow other labor-intensive tropical crops, such as sugar or indigo. The Dutch initiated coffee production in Suriname in 1724, and, by the 1770s, that colony was producing more than 12,000 tons annually. The French, the only other colonial power to be a major force in the coffee trade until the end of the eighteenth century, started cultivation on the small islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the 1720s and 1730s. By 1765, exports from the French Antilles still mainly the Lesser Antilles reached 10,000 tons per year. The most astounding boost in coffee production, however, was the rapid extension of cultivation on Saint-Domingue in the second half of the eighteenth century, pushing French trading volume to 20,000 tons annually around 1770, to 35,000 tons in the late 1770s, and finally to 45,000 tons by 1790. Coffee had become the second most important commodity in the Atlantic trade after sugar. But slave rebellions in Saint-Domingue and the colony’s independence in 1804 reduced its output, and the coffee supply of the Western world dropped. This stimulated coffee cultivation in Brazil and Colombia, which subsequently became the most important coffee producers. The main part of the coffee produced in the colonies was consumed in central and Western Europe; Spain and Portugal did not develop a taste for the beverage at first, and neither did the American colonies. The British had been a coffee-drinking nation in the seventeenth century, but then the government increased taxes on coffee to protect the British tea trade. Hence, the British started preferring tea, and this habit was adopted by the European inhabitants of the North American mainland. At the end of the eighteenth century, a Continental European on average consumed nearly a pound of coffee annually, but a North American consumed barely an ounce. In the conflict between the colonists and Britain leading to American independence, however, tea became a symbol of the British rule and was, as such, rejected. The immigration of non-British Europeans was another reason for the rising demand for coffee. On the supply side, the escape from the Navigation Acts made trade with the near centers of coffee production possible, so that coffee was more readily available than tea. Within 50 years, coffee had ousted tea, and the United States was to become the world’s largest market for coffee. Alexander Engel See also: Agriculture; Inns and Taverns (Public Houses); Slavery, Caribbean. Bibliography Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. New York: Basic Books, 1999. Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants. New York: Pantheon, 1992. Smith, Simon D. “Accounting for Taste. British Coffee Consumption in Historical Perspective.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 27:2 (1996): 183 214. Devastating Disease Wipes Out Half of Central America’s Coffee … River Steamer American – ground coffee Breakfast American Flag Stock Photos, Images, & Pictures …

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