History of Coffee
Coffee appears to have originated in Yemen or Ethiopia and certainly has an early presence around the Red Sea about AD 700. Perhaps as a result on the prohibition of alcohol in Islamic regions, by the 13th and 14th centuries coffee had become part of cultural life, particularly in the cities, where coffee shops multiplied rapidly. Coffee cultivation was rare until the 15th and 16th centuries, when extensive planting of the tree occurred in the Yemen region of Arabia. The popularity spread through Europe to such an extent that during the 17th and 18th centuries there were more coffee shops in London than there are today. In that age coffee shops were influential places and were used extensively by artists, intellectuals, merchants and bankers, as well as a forum for political activities and developments. Lloyd’s of London – the worldwide reinsurance forum – started as a coffee shop.
Large-scale cultivation was pioneered by the Dutch in their colonies in the 17th century. The British and French followed, exploiting the tropical climate and peoples of the colonies to start one of the world’s biggest trades. In recent years, the ecology and welfare of growing areas has become much more of a concern. Better trading deals are being negotiated through the Fairtrade movement, and organically grown coffee is set to increase its market share radically. Coffee Plant ltd stocks a wide range of Fairtrade and organic coffees (in practice they are often concurrent). When market value of coffee is low, it is particularly important for those who care to select Fairtrade coffees.
Coffee has always been subject to crop failures, particularly as it is dominated by Brasil where commercial monoculture operates in areas liable to frost and drought. In an attempt to prevent the ensuing violent price fluctuations, as well as to guarantee an income to third world producers, the idea of establishing coffee export quotas on a worldwide basis was adopted in 1962, when an International Coffee Agreement was negotiated by the United Nations. The agreement was renegotiated in 1968, 1976, and 1983. The advent of neo-liberal policies in Washington and Brasil’s insistence that they should maintain a high quota, led to a breakdown, however, and participating nations failed to sign a new pact in 1989.
Since then, green or raw coffee has been at low prices with a fillip in the late nineties. Even Fairtrade and organic coffee is cheap by historical standards. Our prices have not risen for years.