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Beyond Coffee | The History We All Share

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

Supporting BIPOC doesn’t start with a credit, debit or checkbook, it starts with the beginning, middle and a revelation. Many may believe that they fully understand coffee and it’s beginning but where it started may change your definition of knowledge. I decided to write about coffee’s scathing past which invokes shame, despair and sorrow. So as you can imagine, I wanted to skip over the beginning and get right to the middle and then finally revelation. For Black History Month, the decision to dive into the beginning is my homage to everyone that has come before me, and to the community whom upholds justice and does the right thing in regards to coffee’s cloudy beginnings. So let’s learn about coffee’s beginning.

The history behind the coffee industry did not start in a café in Vienna or Lloyds of London. As legend has it, the goat herder Kaldi stemming from Ethiopia saw his goats acting a bit hyper and strange, they were eating a cherry off of a bush that he was not familiar with. After much curiosity he found himself over at the bush and trying the strange fruit. Excitement made way to heightened energy, joy and an unusual feeling. Kaldi then decided to bring this to the elders and clergy of the community. What was at first frowned upon, became an opportunity for those of faith to engage in longer prayer. Yet with every legend, there is the hard truth of history. In order to not repeat history we must know, understand and rise above our most inner prejudices. The history of coffee has a deeper darker side rooted in fear, colonialism and coffee plantations. Continents and countries affected by colonialism and the coffee trade include South America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. It became a political and economic system created by chauvinistic Europeans to dominate the sugar and coffee crop. The hills from Jamaica did not escape from slave labor, in fact the country was predicated upon its existence. Up until the 1840s Jamaica had become one of the largest coffee producing nations in the world. It wasn’t until slavery was abolished in the United Kingdom that coffee plantations began to close throughout the island. No surprise the production of coffee in Jamaica lessened year after year.

This production of coffee viewed during our origin trip to the Blue Mountains of Jamaica in January of 2022, emboldened our experience and strengthened our knowledge of Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee culture. It’s rich and complex history includes turmoil, slavery and the overcoming of these atrocities. This fight continues in our relationship with the Jamaica Coffee Growers Association. An organization who fights for fair wages for farmers and an opportunity for them to own part of an industry in which their ancestors were once forced to labor. Many people such as our producer Donald Salmon, still engage in the fight to allow farmers to regain more ownership and access to the means of production. In the Clydesdale region of the Blue Mountains you will find co-op farms who compete with big corporations.

Supporters of Ovelle Coffee share in the community of Jamaica and its farmers. We have a Direct Trade initiative which focuses on an opportunity to directly change lives through knowing, understanding and communicating with our producer. Many hands are part of your coffee ritual which is, as we like to call it, crop to cup. Included in our efforts to make a difference today is the hope that it is possible to reshape our future while healing our past. As we reflect on an anti-slavery, anti-racist agenda this Black History Month, let us put on our compassion caps, and Quaker hats to join in on an inclusive sustainable and equitable opportunity to learn from each other.

This revelation may seem to be out of the norm for the coffee community but, we are proud to have Connecticut and our supporters to be part of this journey in faith. Faith for us is not a set rituals or prayers, but a way to look at life. A way to know who you are, how you should act, giving the courage to accept that truth and move forward in love. We do this everyday by maintaining personal relationships with our producers and supplying a quality cup to our customers. Our origin trip was an experience that we will continue to share with you and your support of your local agent of the ever evolving coffee supply chain makes a big impact.

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Thank you for reading! Enjoy a note from the writer:

I wanted to share this blog because I felt it is necessary to discuss tough issues about race, history and our inner thoughts. It is okay to have questions and it is okay to seek answers but it is not okay to remain in beautiful bondage in order to not take an opportunity to heal. We must heal together as no one side can do it alone. Through my Quaker practice, I have learned to find great joy in healing.

“The more you know your history, the more liberated you are.” - Maya Angelou

“Travel is fatal to prejudice” -Mark Twain


Other Resources:

Quaker Attender and Author Sasha Fay

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