COFFEE: A DARK HISTORY…

Coffee: A Dark History
by
Anthony Wild

Coffee is the world”s most valuable trading commodity after oil. p. 3

Instant coffee is 85 percent of the market in the UK. p. 3

Whilst there was a perceived threat of creeping Communism in the coffee-producing countries of Central America , it was in the best interests of the USA to support the International Coffee Agreement in order to help defuse social unrest in its backyard: but with the break-up of the Soviet Union this raison dӐtre evaporated and the ideological driven policies of laissez-faire capitalism was given full reign. p. 5

The most recent manifestation of this tendency was the announcement that a new Genetically Modified coffee is in development that would allow the ripening of coffee beans on to the bushes to be triggered chemically, obviating the need for the labor-intensive process of harvesting the bushes repeatedly by hand as they produce a mixture of flowers, unripe cherries and ripe cherries. p. 10

It is possible to kill oneself with a caffeine overdose: about 10 grams, or the equivalent of a hundred cups of coffee rapidly consumed, will do the trick for an adult, making Balzac”s daily consumption of 60 cups decidedly risky

The cheap, coarse-flavored Robusta coffees that are dragging world prices down contain twice as much caffeine as higher quality Arabicas. p. 12

Lloyds of London, the maritime insurance company, emerged from the interests of the clientele of Lloyds Coffee House who gathered there to exchange news and gossip concerning the movement of ships. p. 14

Kopi luak is a fine Sumatran coffee, much valued in Japan, made from beans gathered from the dung of Paradoxurus hermaphroditus, the common palm civet, which skulks around the plantations at night selecting on the finest, ripest cherries. The beast digest the skin and the pulp of the cherry, the mucilage and the parchment surrounding the bean, and even the final obstacle, the think silver skin. In so doing it achieves exactly what modern wet and dry processing technology seeks to emulate – that is, the complete separation of the core coffee bean from all its protective layers. The civet cannot digest the hard beans, however, and they pass through its system: they are picked out of the civet”s dung because the flavor imparted by the digestive process is highly prized once the beans are cleaned and roasted. p. 20

…caffeine is nothing more than a natural insecticide, and the high caffeine levels protect the seed from unwanted attention. Hapless insects who ingest too much find their nervous systems go into overdrive. p. 21

Remarkably, for a plant that is now cultivated throughout the tropical world, coffee has not been shown by archaeology to have been domesticated before the 16th century. p. 25

It would appear that while caffeine is not to be found in the hair of the decease, traces of cocaine and nicotine are. p. 27

There have been claimed sightings of coffee in the Old Testament, including in the presents that Abigail made to David, the red potage for which Esau sold his birthright, and in the parched gain that Boaz ordered to be given to Ruth. p. 28

The general character of Sufi practice involved the communal singing of poetry; the ritual repetitions of the divine name; a veneration for saints, many of whom were shaykhs, or former leaders of Sufi order; and the ritual visits to the tombs of such saints.

Spread by proselytizing shaykhs, by the 12th century Sufism had reached Yemen. There, in the late 15th century, it would appear that the Sufis were the first to adopt coffee drinking. Not only did coffee assist in enabling devotees to stay away during their night rituals, but the transformation of the coffee bean during roasting reflected the alchemical beliefs in the transformation of the human soul which lay at the heart of Sufism. Coffee worked both at a spiritual and a physical level. p. 31

Thus the fundamental ritual of Islam was a significant encouragement to the science of navigation, and the concomitant spread of faith and commerce. p. 36

The presence of Sufis in south China seem to have influenced Japanese Buddhism, leading to Zen Buddhism, which, like Sufism, focuses on masters and illustrative tales from their lives. p. 37

The coffee industry today is curiously coy about the fact that the current way of preparation is one of only many ways, and that coffee can also be a tisane or tea: an infusion of dried vegetable matter in hot water. p. 41

Weight for weigh, tea contains twice the quantity of caffeine as Arabica coffee, but as the volume of vegetable matter used is much less than half, the net effect is less caffeine in the final beverage. p. 42

On the face of it, taverns and coffee houses were both potentially places where political dissent could arise, being meeting places where open debate between strangers was inevitable. However, it is the nature of coffee to clarify and order thought, and in the nature of alcohol to blur and confuse it. A tavern might generate heated discussions, but it is likely that the contents of the debate would have been forgotten by the following day. p. 55

Indeed, it could be said that the introduction of coffee to England led to the a second brain explosion like that which has rocked our Ethiopian ancestors. p. 87

…some drink it with milk, but it is an error, and as such may bring in the danger of leprosy. (The warning against the use of milk is of Islamic origin, and accounts for its absence in Arabian coffee drinking today.) p. 88

The idea of a police force was the creation of an archetypal Coffee House Man, Henry Fielding. He was a novelist and magistrate in the 1740s at Bow Street in Covent Garden, the heart of London”s literary scene. p. 93

Fielding had formed a group of thief takers in 1749… p. 95

… in the figure of Fielding we have a late-flowering example of Coffee House Man: energetic, self-motivated, political, practical, reformist, well-connected, cultured and philanthropic. p. 96

…it produces large volumes of carbon dioxide gas – 12 liters per kilo, or about six times its own size per household pack – in the 24 hours after roasting. p. 194

1 pound of coffee produces 5.5 liters of CO2; CO2 = 44 grams/mole; 231 liters of CO2 = 1 pound of CO2; 231/5.5 = 42; 42 pounds of coffee = 1 lbs. of CO2. So, a family consuming a little less than a pound of coffee/week – about .8 pounds/week – adds a pound of CO2 to the atmosphere in a year. In comparison, a car driven 18 miles a day, five days a week, dumps 4,500 pounds of CO2 into the air in a year.

Enormous quantities of Colombian coffees are exported to the USA and find their way into the ubiquitous, infinitely refillable American breakfast mug, where the coffee is usually so weak as to be unrecognizable, and whatever qualities it may possess are destroyed by the cream. p. 247

If coffee is indeed the drink of revolution, then Max Havelaar, Or The Coffee Auctions Of The Dutch Trading Company is its manifesto. p. 260.

…Western consumers end up with a limited range of low-price, low-quality coffee. p. 264

Gandhi urged the Indian people to eschew the model of Western modernization because the world could not cope with a nation of 300 million (now more than 1 billion, JH) stripping the planet like a swarm of locusts. In the world of coffee, the day of the locust is upon us, and the tiling of the earth has become as precarious an occupation as the sewing of a sweatshirt. p. 264

Thus, while the registered growers of Fair Trade coffees could in principle supply 75,000 tonnes of coffee annually, the demand in 2001 was only 15,000 tonnes. For every bag of coffee for which the growers have received the Fair Trade tariff, four bags of that same coffee have been bought in the bargain basement free-for-all of the market, which is either of the low quality exemplified by Brazil or Vietnam, or has been produced at a cost greater than the price it has been sold for. p. 265

Consider the following (fictitious) scenario.

The owner of the Ahab Coffee house employs ten waiters and waitresses. They live in the damp basement under the shop with their families in squalid, cramped conditions. They have one gas ring among them to cook on, rudimentary sanitary facilities, and they sleep on flea-ridden mattresses on the floor. The children have no access to education, and health care is prohibitively expensive. The waiters and waitresses are paid just enough to prevent them from starving, and their wages are docked if they commit any kind of misdemeanor, real or imagined. They are not protected by any kind of employment legislation, have no contracts and no job security.

The well-heeled clientele of the Ahab Coffee House notice the miserable and careworn condition of the serving staff and complain about it to Captain Ahab, the genial owner. He agrees that it is indeed an appalling state of affairs, but says there is nothing he can do about it, because if he puts up his prices to enable him to improve the workers” conditions, all his customers will go around the corner to his nearest rival and then the staff would all be kicked out onto the streets and even more miserable than they already are.

However, recognizing that there is a genuine concern amongst his customers, he agrees to the following: he will undertake to employ one waitress who will be paid a salary that will enable her to rent an apartment of her own where she can live with her family, who will work on a long-term contract with reasonable hours, and with sick pay, holidays and retirement benefits. Thus Fair Trade, as she is called – her parents were unreconstructed hippies – comes to work at Ahab”s, and the customers are relived to note that she does not have the pallid complexion and sniveling demeanor of the others.

In fact, Fair Trade is quite a hit, and Captain Ahab notes that her cheerfulness attracts a whole new crowd of customers who like to listen to her tales of how her children are doing in school, how she has at last bought a new television, and how her husband”s lumbago is responding to treatment. And because Fair Trade”s sunny disposition and infectious joie de vivre, Ahab”s Coffee House becomes quite the place to go, Captain Ahab buys a new yacht, and everyone is happy – except for the other staff, whose lot improves not one jot, indeed actually worsens as they have to work harder because the place has become more popular. pp. 266-7

New words:

Arabia Felix — in ancient geography, the comparatively fertile region in southwestern and southern Arabia (in present-day Asir and Yemen), a region that contrasted with Arabia Deserta in barren central and northern Arabia and with Arabia Petraea (Stony Arabia) in northwestern Arabia, which came under the suzerainty of imperial Rome.

Hermeticism — A system of ideas based on hermetic teachings. Hermetic: of or relating to the Gnostic writings or teachings arising in the first three centuries A.D. and attributed to Hermes Trismegistus; also relating to or characterized by occultism or abstruseness. And, from the belief that Hermes Trismegistus invented a magic seal to keep vessels airtight.

Entrepôt: an intermediary center of trade and transshipment.

Encheiresis: A Greek word meaning manifestation or development.

Opprobrium: disgrace; infamy; reproach mingled with contempt.

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