Although I’ve already dedicated some posts to coffee (see A damping cup of coffee and Another cup of coffee on coffee habits in the Netherlands and abroad, and Coffee lovers on the way Italians enjoy this drink) none of them discussed into much detail the process that is needed to get you the drink that you so need in the morning. Let’s start the long journey immediately. But let me warn you first. This story definitely has a dark side as well.

The most fun story about the origin of coffee says that the Ethiopian shepherd Kaldi discovered the positive effect of the berries around 500 A.D. His goats – that were eating the berries of a bush – got very active. The shepherd decided to take the berries to a befriended monk. He however refused to believe it and threw the berries in the fire. While the beans were roasted, a delicious flavor of coffee filled the air. This made them act immediately and save it from burning completely. Somehow, someone came up with the idea to solve the roasted berries in a glass of water. Coffee, as we know it today, was born.

From there on it took about 1000 years for the first coffee to cross the borders of the mid-African countries and arrive in the important trading cities of Damascus, Cairo and Istanbul. From there the beans were imported into Europe. The drink became popular very quickly thanks to its arrival in Venice and a Pope that took the role of ambassador of coffee.  

The countries in which coffee bushes were grown increased at the speed of the growing popularity of the drink. The Dutch East Indian Company took it to Indonesia and Java, the French to the Caribbean and soon the Portuguese found a way to introduce it in Brazil as well. By the end of the 17th century, coffee houses were part of each (Western) city and played an important role in social, economic and political life.

During a lecture in occasion of the upcoming EXPO2015, an executive of the worldwide known coffee brand illy stated that business and social responsibility could go hand in hand. This is a relevant subject as it concerns products that are produced in so-called underdeveloped countries and consumed in the developed ones. Unfortunately, our wealthy Western lifestyle is not always reflected in other parts of the world.

While the coffee plants and houses conquered the world, another phenomenon followed soon after; slavery. Like happens often, if there is a market, there is people that make a lot of money and people that suffer. The first ones are usually the ones with the power, the second ones are in less fortunate positions and mostly have no choice but to do whatever they are asked to do. This is the case with coffee, but also with cacao, bananas and other products that grow in the countries around the equator.

So while you can have as many coffee as you can handle during a day, a kid that in our world would still be obligatory to go to school is working his ass-off taking care of the coffee plants for a minimum fee. And there is a huge change that he or she has not ever tried a coffee himself and probably it won’t happen either. Have you thought of that when you complained about the costs of your Nespresso cups or the price of your mega-Starbucks takeaway?

The journey continues. More and more coffee sellers (bars, restaurants, etc.) realize that it is unfair to profit from the people that have no feet to stand on. Buying and selling Fairtrade coffee is a good way to help to improve the circumstance of coffee growers, that usually are small (family) businesses, as stated in an article on Stanford Social Innovation Review. It is a way to respect the people that once were and still are the victims of our endless consumerism. Is it not much fairer to make them enjoy life the way we do?

Were back home. Time to have a coffee now.