Beyond Coffee | The History We All Share

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.