Coffee History

  • Coffee History: Brazil

    Hello coffee fans! We're back with yet another coffee history! This week we're looking at a major coffee producing country and its history: Brazil!

    A Storied History

    Coffee in Brazil stretches all the way back to the 1700s. The first coffee plants were planted in the late 1720s in the Brazilian state of Pará. Pará is located in the north-central part of the country, bordered by several other states as well as by the ocean to the Northeast. From there, coffee plants spread south throughout the country, eventually reaching Rio De Janeiro later in the century. This coffee was planted primarily for Brazilians to enjoy domestically. However, over the course of the century, demand for the bean grew through the Americas and in Europe. In the early 19th century, plantations expanded all over Brazil, and soon it was the number one export in the country.

    Over the next century, Brazil became the leading producer of coffee in the world, supplying 80% of the world's coffee beans. Processing in Brazil was primarily done by hand using natural methods. While early processors used this method due to a lack of equipment, it had a silver lining. Because Brazilian coffee is typically grown at a lower altitude than in some coffee producing countries the cherries tend to be a little less sweet. The natural process imparts more of the fruit's character in the bean than a machine washed process. This increase in fruitiness helps Brazilian coffee to develop its unique taste.

    But while Brazil remains a major coffee producer, why isn't it still the coffee producer?

    An Evolution of the Market

    One cause for this is the way the coffee industry has evolved. Early in the drink's history, purchasers were careful as to where they bought beans from. This meant that Brazil's reputation for quality product was key to its expansion in the global coffee market. As the world modernized, coffee began being consumed more in pre-ground and instant forms. This evolution of the industry led to less concern over where the beans came from. On the flip side, as third-wave roasting renewed an interest in carefully sourced coffee, more producing nations began to make a mark. The result is wider diversity in coffee availability. While this may have hurt Brazilian exports, it means more choice for roasters and end consumers, and rising demand for the drink means it will be a part of Brazil's economy forever!

    It's no surprise that we love Brazilian coffee, and we hope you've enjoyed this look at the country's early years producing it!

  • Coffee History in Mexico!

    This week we're taking a look at the history of Mexican coffee!

    Mexico is a fascinating nation with a rich coffee heritage, but how did coffee arrive there?

    flag of MexicoOrigin and Spread

    Coffee was first produced in Veracruz, a state in Eastern Mexico. This occurred late in the 18th century and became a popular crop of the region. Over time, coffee production in Mexico developed and became more and more affordable. By the end of the 19th century much of the production in the country had been moved to Chiapas. Over time Chiapas developed into the primary producing region in Mexico. To this day, most of the country's coffee is produced there!

    Coffee production really took off in the mid 20th century. Due to the low cost of Mexican coffee, it became hugely popular all over the Americas. In the 1980s, coffee production spread across the country. Before the end of the decade, plantations existed in twelve Mexican states occupying 500,000 hectares of land. During this time, coffee became the primary source of income for over two million people in the country. Employment rose around the industry as well in processing, logistics, and exporting of coffee.

    Mexican Coffee Crisis

    In the early 1960s, the International Coffee Agreement was developed to maintain a stable global coffee network. This act help to regulate pricing and quotas to ensure fair trade of coffee around the world. In 1989, the agreement was dismantled, creating problems for overproducing countries like Mexico. While programs like Fair/Direct Trade have developed to protect coffee farmers, these are more recent developments. During the 1990s, coffee prices in Mexico fell drastically. This led to large numbers of coffee farmers forgoing fertilizers and weeding. Because of these cost cutting measures, quality also began to decline, causing price to drop further. By the mid 2000s coffee production had seen an immense decrease and was no longer one of Mexico's most important imports.

    Since then, however, prospects have improved. Thanks to Fair and Direct Trade initiatives and a new generation of quality coffee producers, Mexican coffee is finding its way. We certainly hope that continues, as recent crops have resulted in some delectable roasts!


  • Coffee History: Seattle!

    Welcome to another installment of Coffee History! We decided one very important region to take a look at is our hometown! Join us for a look at what makes this town so very coffee focused!

    Space Needle, Seattle

    The Pick of the Pike

    Seattle has a long history in coffee, going all the way back to 1895. It was at this time that Oscar Delaloyes began pan roasting coffee after finding some beans spilled on the ground. First operating out of a cart, Delaloyes eventually opened Seattle Tea and Coffee In the Pike Place Market. That, however, was just the beginning.

    Alfred Peet, of Peet's coffee, began exploring the world in search of interesting coffee in the 60s. He opened Peet's Coffee in Berkeley, CA, which later supplied beans to the original Starbucks. Speaking of the coffee giant, they were one of several micro roasters to open in the 70s. This was an exciting time for coffee in Western Washington, with roasters popping up across the city, and even as far north as Bellingham. Starbucks opened multiple locations, including a move from their first to their currently advertised "Original Starbucks" in Pike Place Market.

    But roasting is only part of the coffee ecosystem. In 1978, Kent Bakke and John Blackwell began importing La Marzocco espresso machines from Italy. These machines were used in many local coffee shops, including Starbucks locations, for many years. The company still maintains a headquarters in Seattle to this day!

    Through the 70s and 80s, cafés and roasters continue to boom in Seattle and the greater region. Roasters evolve from being nothing more than suppliers to local cafés to actually serving the coffee they roast as well. This entire period is known as "second-wave" roasting, an evolution from the totally utilitarian approach to coffee production of the 19th century.

    Growth and Expansion

    Throughout this second-wave roasting boom, Seattle roasters developed a reputation for dark roasts. later in the 80s and through the 90s, Starbucks continued to expand and grow on the back of full bodied, darker roasts. This led to massive expansion for them, and a strong local roasting scene back home.

    As roasters began to experiment with lighter roasting techniques and higher quality green coffee, the third wave was said to have begun. This obsession with quality can be seen today in Washington roasters like Olympia, Bluebeard, and Elm. During this time, Starbucks also solidified itself as the "mainstream" coffee brand across the country and in Seattle. The company acquired many local competitors such as Seattle's Best. In 1984, Starbucks founder Jerry Baldwin purchased 4 Peet's coffee locations, later leaving Starbucks to focus on work with Peet's.

    In the meantime, micro-roasters and cafés continued to push boundaries in more niche departments. Perfecting specific flavors and discovering the unique properties of beans from different regions became an art and a science. Today it's not hard to find an exquisite cup of Joe in the city, even if other cities like New York are making strides in the micro roasting space.

    We hope you've enjoyed this brief look at the history of coffee in Seattle! Give us a wave the next time you'r here for a visit!


  • Coffee History: Colombia!

    Colombia is the third largest producer of coffee in the world. It's no surprise then that the nation has a rich history with coffee. Join us as we explore the introduction and development of the coffee industry in this wonderful country!

    landscape photo of seashore at sunset

    European Influence

    Coffee isn't native to Colombia. The plant was originally brought over by missionaries from Europe in the 16th century. This led to backlash initially. Most natives resisted the encouragement to grow the bean because of how long it takes for coffee plants to produce their first crops. Because of the 5 year wait, many farmers questioned how they would make a living while their plants matured.

    Eventually, priests were able to convince farmers to grow coffee instead of traditional penance. Before long, coffee was thriving domestically. Between colonist love for the beverage and popularity among natives, coffee had been cemented as a cornerstone of Colombia's agricultural landscape.

    From Domestic Treat to Global Trade

    As the world's economy inched towards globalization, Colombia began to trade coffee with it's neighbors. In 1835 Colombia began exporting coffee to the United States. At this point Colombia was exporting 2500 bags of beans to the U.S. 50 years later, that grew to nearly 200,000. Since then, Colombia's coffee exports have topped 10,000,000. This put Colombia squarely in second place in terms of coffee production in the world.

    While Vietnam is now the number 2 producer, Colombia remains squarely in third. Part of Colombia's success is due to marketing in the late 1950s that included the character of Juan Valdez. This character, appearing with his donkey, created a strong association with certain brands and Colombian coffee. This brand association persisted through the 20th century and solidified Colombia as an exporter of quality coffee.

    person holding beans in dark room

    Characteristics of Colombian Coffee

    Colombian coffee is grown at high altitudes. It often shares farmland with rubber and banana trees. This combination of factors, plus the volcanic activity in the nation, creates excellent soil for coffee plants. The coffee grown in Central Colombia tends to be balanced and rich with a heavy body. This crop tends to be great for medium and medium-dark roasts. By contrast, coffee grown in the Eastern region of Bogota is usually less acidic, but heavier and richer. This tends to create full, rich dark roasts.

    With all of this in mind, Colombian coffee works great in a variety of contexts. The complexity and richness leads to unique and interesting single origins. On the other hand, the versatility and base level of quality in Colombian coffee makes it perfectly suited for blends as well.

    We hope this spotlight on Colombia has added some context to your favorite cup of joe! Join us next time for more coffee history!


  • Coffee History: The Great Italian Coffee Ban

    If you've been following our coffee history series you know that coffee has had a long and storied history. From its discovery and popularization in the Middle East to it's place in kitchens around the world today, times haven't always been easy for coffee drinkers. This week we're taking a look at one of those harder times to get a cup of Joe!

    The Great Italian Coffee Ban

    When coffee reached Italy in the 16th Century it received a frosty reception. When you consider the politics of the region at the time, it's not hard to see why. Italy was the seat of the Catholic Church's power, and the church had extensive power throughout Europe. Because coffee originated in the Middle East, many god fearing Italians took pause at it's arrival.

    While time had passed since the era of the crusades, many Catholics still did not trust goods emerging from the Middle East. This was especially prevalent among clergymen. Add to this the fact that coffee had an energizing effect, and the puritanical church of the time panicked at the spread of the beverage.

    This fear of "mind altering" effects was common among all major religions during medieval and Renaissance Europe. It's the same mindset that led to coffee's initial struggles at being accepted in Mecca shortly after its discovery. When its place of origin and effects were combined, members of the Catholic church demanded that the beverage be labelled as Satanic.

    While this fear and uncertainty around coffee did result in a countrywide ban, all was not lost. Pope Clement VIII, it turned out, was a big fan! Upon tasting coffee, the pope remarked that it was a tasty beverage, and deserved to be baptized. Thanks to this blessing, coffee quickly took root in Italy. The rest of Europe soon followed, and coffee became an international favorite!

    Thanks for reading! Remember to make coffee you love!

  • Coffee History: A Revolutionary Beverage

    It's the 4th of July, which means fireworks, grilling, and for us, coffee!

    Coffee was an extremely important beverage during the American Revolutions. We decided it would be a great focus for this month's Coffee History! Read on to see how coffee fueled a revolution!

    The Boston Tea Party

    Tea was a huge part of colonial life, just as it was back in England. Many colonists drank tea as a source of caffeine, which was sought after during hard work days. In an effort to trick the colonies into agreeing to parliament's right of taxation (as well as help the flagging East India Company) the Parliament of Great Britain passed the Tea Act in 1773. This act gave the British East India Company exclusive rights to ship tea to the colonies. Further, the goal was that this would force colonists to purchase tea on which Townshen Act duties were paid. By paying these duties, it served as implicit agreement to further taxation from parliament.

    Understandably, this didn't sit well with colonists. On December 16th, 1773, a group calling themselves the "Sons of Liberty" led by Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and William Molineux took action. The group boarded a ship from the East India Company and dumped chests of tea into Boston Harbor. This act led to the tensions that ultimately ignited the American Revolution years later.

    A Coffee Fueled Revolution!

    While tea did continue to exist in the colonies after the Boston Tea Party, it became symbolic of the crown's oppression. In light of this, many colonists switched to drinking coffee. The primary struggle in drinking coffee was grinding the beans, as hand grinding was a long and arduous process.

    Luckily for revolutionaries, where there's demand, there's supply. Coffee houses sprung up all over the colonies. These coffee houses became headquarters of revolutionary activity, often playing host to secret (and no so secret) meetings of founding fathers. Most notable of these locations was the Green Dragon Tavern. This public house served as the "headquarters of the revolution" and served coffee alongside beer.

    Considering all of this, it's easy to see how coffee became such an important aspect of American life. It still is to this day!


  • Coffee History: The Origin of Coffee!

    The Birth of Our Favorite Beverage!

    Rolling hills in Ethiopia

    Coffee has a long and winding history. It's a drink that has been popular all over the world, brewed a variety of ways over time. For our first Coffee History segment we thought we'd dig into where it all began!

    There's some debate as to where coffee was first consumed, but the most likely answer is Ethiopia. There are legends of mystics observing the vitality of birds that fed on coffee cherries, then tasting the fruit and feeling it themselves. The disciple Omar, of Sheik Abou'l Hasan Schadheli, is said to have attempted roasting coffee beans to consume them without the bitterness of the cherry. When the bean became hard he boiled it, ultimately finding the brown liquid this created to be satisfying. All of this would have taken place in the 13th century CE.

    The first record of coffee beans actually being harvested comes from the same region in the middle of the 15th century. Beans were exported from Ethiopia to Yemen, which was the first example of real knowledge of the coffee plant. These beans were then cultivated in Yemen. This shows that not only was knowledge of coffee harvesting present in Ethiopia, but the skills to cultivate them were transferrable.

    Spread of the Beverage

    By 1554 coffee had spread across the Middle East, and was often used in religious practices. The beverage was strongly associated with Sufism, being particularly popular in cities like Cairo, Aleppo, and Istanbul, where cafes became commonplace.

    Pyramids in Egypt

    But all of this popularity also led to scrutiny. In 1511, coffee was forbidden by conservative, orthodox imams. This was because it was against scripture as interpreted to consume stimulating substances. Eventually, in 1524, this ban was overturned by fatwa. Later bans were instituted in Egypt and Ethiopia as late as the 17th century. Coffee remained a controversial drink throughout the time period.

    Coffee also spread throughout Europe during this period as well. By the 17th century, coffee houses in England became key to the Enlightenment, and coffee was being moved around the world by the East India company. As expected, the drink continued to spread across the globe. Though for hundreds of years it remained a luxury in many areas due to the particular climate requirements of the plant.

    We'll be back soon with more tales of coffee's past!


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