Have your thoughts ever lead you to wonder about the origin of coffee?  Where has it come from?  How has it gotten to where it’s at today?  Those are probably questions we ask more of ourselves than we do of our coffee, but our passion for coffee has lead us to ponder these questions and seek some answers about coffee’s past.  The answers are, of course, very long and complex with romantic legends and tales of oppression and triumph.  Here is our abridged version of coffee’s genesis:

No one actually knows exactly when or how coffee was discovered.  Maybe that is part of coffee’s appeal; it’s mysterious and dark nature.  It is widely accepted that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia (or Abyssinia as it was known in ancient times).  The favored legend, or at least most famed, of coffee’s discovery involves a goat-herder named Kaldi and some dancing goats.

The short of the story is that one day Kaldi called for his goats with no response.  After searching, he finds his goats running around and dancing on their hind legs while eating the red fruit and leaves of a particular tree-like shrub.  It took Kaldi some time to gather his heard because of their fevered excitement.  The next day his goats immediately took off to the same patch of shrubs and began eating and dancing again.  Kaldi observed them and despite their fevered excitement they did not die, so Kaldi went and had a taste for himself.  Soon he was dancing alongside his goats.  There are more romantic telling’s of Kaldi’s story, but now you have the jest. Whether there is any whiff of truth to the legend or not, it is quite a poetic story that will long live as the tale of discovering coffee.

From legend we wonder into more solidified history of coffee’s cultivation being spread throughout the world.  We do know that Ethiopia was the birthplace of coffee, and from there the seed has spread across the world.  Yemen was the first country to widely cultivate coffee trees and export the beans from their port of Mocha.  From Yemen, coffee seeds were smuggled into India and then the Dutch managed to get their hands on a coffee tree and spread the cultivation of coffee trees across their vast shipping network, primarily in the East Indies including Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Celebes.  The Dutch later gave a coffee plant to the French government, and one Frenchman managed a triumphant transatlantic voyage with a single coffee tree and brought it to one of the Caribbean Islands.  From there, coffee’s cultivation spread across Central and South America.

During the 1700’s and 1800’s coffee’s consumption and cultivation continued to grow.  One of the world’s first cafés opened in Vienna, and its name was Blue Bottle.  From there, cafés invaded most of Europe.  We all know that the Boston Tea Party propelled our nation to be a country of coffee drinkers, and early American coffee houses enjoyed the benefit and thrived.

Coffee’s history is also stained with great injustices and oppression.  Cultivating, growing, harvesting, and processing coffee was (and often still is) all done by hard human labor.  The primary source of this labor during the early centuries of coffee’s expansive cultivation was from slaves, mostly African slaves.  Coffee’s cultivation throughout the world bolstered and furthered the spread of the slave trade.  Coffee’s past is darkened with horrid and inhumane conditions that slaves lived, worked, and died in.  Coffee plantations were some of the last to loose the chains of slavery, even after slavery was widely abolished throughout the world.

Even in recent modern years coffee’s cultivation and trade has not seen its brightest days.  Coffee is widely grown in most developing third world countries.  Many coffee laborers make $3 or less a day for their work.  The economics of running a coffee farm are harshly against the farm owner, especially in the current commodity market system that offers them little-to-no voice in the trade of their coffees.

Coffee’s roots and history are expansive and varied, but our goal is to help write a better future for the coffee industry as a roaster and retailer of exceptional quality coffees.  Part (certainly not all) of the answer to the coffee trade’s short-comings is paying premiums for coffees of exceptional character and quality.  This is the niche we have tasked ourselves to work in.  We work hard to source and secure the best quality coffees we can get our hands on, and we often pay prices that exceed market and fair trade standards.  We work directly with farmers at origin and through other organizations (such as THRIVE Farmers) so that our purchasing can have the greatest impact at the farmer level.  We also work with a few trusted importers, some of whom grew up in the countries whose coffees they now carry, and all of whom do the rewarding work of traveling to origin year-round to establish and maintain relationships with their growers and pay premium prices for the choicest of lots.  Our goal and mission is to give coffee farmers a voice in the marketplace, and to allow them to reap a profitable reward from their harvest, both for themselves and their workers.

In the coming weeks we will be featuring some of our importer partner’s in a series of [Importer Highlight] blog posts.  We really enjoy the relationships we have built with these companies and wholeheartedly believe in the work they do at origin to improve the lives of the farmers and laborers they work with, and we want share that with you.