Posts Tagged ‘colonisation’

Coffee and slavery

April 16, 2021

The dark colonial past of coffee that changed coffee from a luxury few could afford to the commodity we know today.

The negroe is that creature that we are forced to keep in his natural state of thraldom to obtain from him the requisite services; because … under a different condition he would not labour. — coffee grower P J Laborie, The Coffee Planter of Saint Domingo, 1798

How much would you pay for a cup of coffee? Ten dollars, thirty-six dollars?

A conversation I have occasionally had in a coffee shop. Buy in high quality coffee, serve as a guest coffee at five dollars a cup. Would the clientele be willing to pay for something special?

A couple of years ago, Taf Coffee, a pour over five euros for two cups of coffee, for coffee from the estate of Ninety Plus.

Stewart Lee Allen, The Devil’s Cup:

In the late 1600s, Louis XV reportedly spent the equivalent of fifteen thousand dollars a year to feed his daughter’s coffee habit. By 1740 the price had fallen to 15 cents a cup, and even the lowliest lumpens could afford a buzz.

It was only a matter of time before coffee spread from Arabia into the Ottoman Empire, and from there into Europe.

The first recorded coffee in Europe, was in Venice, one of the great city-state trading nations, the estate of a murdered Turkish businessman in 1575 included coffee making equipment.  The first coffee shop opened in 1683, by 1759 the Venice City authorities placed a limit of 204 coffee shops, breached within four years.

Coffee used to be a luxury few could afford. It was colonisation and slavery that turned coffee into a commodity.

Coffee seedlings or beans were smuggled to India; from India, the Dutch established plantations in Java. The Dutch kept the local elite in power,  tribute was paid in coffee, subsistence farmers on Java were forced to work the plantations to the neglect of their own crops.

The French established coffee on the island of Bourbon, now Réunion, also in their Caribbean territories starting with Martinique.

Stewart Lee Allen in The Devil’s Cup discusses in some detail, French naval officer Gabriel de Clieu, smuggling plants stolen from the King, given to the King by the Mayor of Amsterdam, taking seedlings to Martinique, his heroic efforts to keep the plants alive when water was rationed on the ship.

The British established coffee on Ceylon. Ceylon is now known for tea, when the British established coffee, using Tamils shipped in from India, by the late 1860s Ceylon had overtaken Java as the world’s leading exporter of coffee. Coffee leaf rust then struck.

Trees over a hundred yeas old have been found in Sri Lanka, the remnants of the old coffee plantations established by the British, the best coffee cherries selected, seedlings grown, new plantations established. I have tasted the coffee from these trees, I have a few coffee beans roasted in Sri Lanka, are hoping to ship over green beans and roast in England.

Africans captured and traded African slaves, British-made goods offloaded, slaves loaded onto the slave ships.

The conditions were atrocious. On the two lower decks barrels, the deck between and below the main deck, slaves lined up in shackles. If a slave fell sick tossed overboard as of little value.

The slaves were shipped to the Caribbean, for sugar and coffee plantations. Sugar plantations on the low lying coastal plains, inland small coffee plantations in the mountains.

A guide to growing coffee on Saint Dominique The Coffee Planter of Saint Domingo by the coffee grower P J Laborie in 1798 describes all stages of coffee growing, from clearing the land to bagging the beans. He even describes the process for washed processing of the coffee cherries, ‘West Indian process’, using water channels then pass through a series of graters. The dark side of the guide, what to look for when buying slaves, how to treat the slaves.

The negroe is that creature that we are forced to keep in his natural state of thraldom to obtain from him the requisite services; because … under a different condition he would not labour.

P J Laborie gives advice on what to look for when buying slaves, features such as an open clear countenance, a clean and lively eye, sound teeth, sinewy arms, dry and large hands, strong loins and haunches and an easy and free movement of the limbs. On purchase the slaves had to be purged of any diseases, forced to drink ‘ sudorific potions’, usually sea water, to rid them of disease, and the ‘unpleasant but necessary’ act of branding.

New slaves had to be ‘seasoned’, introduced slowly to the work, light labour, weeding and gardening, before working sunrise to sunset on the plantations. Laborie preferred young slaves as could be formed to ‘the Master’s own ideas’. Discipline was maintained with a whip wielded by a trusted slave. Laborie details the knots on the whips and advises keeping the whips clean to avoid spread of disease from one slave to another.

The Dutch acquired Suriname from the British, they did a swap with New York. The Dutch had acquired what was then known as  manaháhtaan in 1624 from its inhabitants Lenape Native Indians in exchange for beads, knives, trinkets and guilders.

In Java, the Dutch used forced labour of local sustenance farmers, in Suriname they imported slaves.

Suriname is where man’s inhumanity to man reached its zenith.

In 1738, a slave ship sailing up river in Suriname hit a storm, around 700 slaves on board, the captain told the crew to lock the hold to stop the slaves escaping whilst the crew took to the lifeboats, 664 died when the ship, went down. the crew survived.

1735

  • Yemen $13-41 / lb
  • Java $9-24 / lb
  • Suriname $8-26 / lb

1760

  • Yemen $12-80 / lb
  • Suriname $5-01 / lb

Fast forward another 100 years to around the middle of the 1800s and coffee from the Suriname slave plantation has fallen to around $2 a pound.

If we look at the price of coffee on exchanges we see how the price fell from a luxury to a commodity, the impact of colonisation and cheap labour.

If we look at the impact of lower coffee prices on consumption we can see within a hundred years coffee drunk by the elite in opulent surroundings to a peasant woman hawking takeaway coffee on the street.

Café Procope established in 1686 by Italian Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli lays claim to be the oldest and one of the most famous Parisian restaurant or cafés. It was the original European ‘Literary Café’ prototype. Located in the 6th arrondissement on Paris’ Left Bank, and steps from Boulevard Saint-Germain, it retains its former glory and original charm. It was here the literati and men of letters drank coffee, Rousseau, Denis Diderot and Voltaire are just a few of those who frequented the café and heightened its image, that of an authentic opulent oriental coffee house

Café Procope became the model across 18th century Europe for the grand café, Florian’s in Venice, Caffé Greco in Rome.

The Grand Café in Oxford, a Grade II listed building, lays claim to be on the site of the oldest coffee shop in England, 1650 according to Samuel Pepys’ Diary,

According to a number of; sources, including Samuel Pepys, a Jewish entrepreneur named Jacob established the first English coffee house in 1650.The Life and Times of Anthony Wood, Antiquary of Oxford 1632-1695:

This year [1651] Jacob the Jew opened a coffey house at the Angel in the parish of S. Peter, in the East Oxon; and there it was by some, who delighted in noveltie, drank. When he left Oxon, he sold it in Old Southampton buildings in Holborne neare London, and was living in 1671.

Across the road from The Grand Café a greasy spoon cafe lays claim to be the oldest coffee shop, Queen’s Lane Coffee House Oxford, established 1654.

The Queens Lane Coffee House is reputed to be the oldest continually working coffee house – not only in Oxford but the whole of Europe. It first opened its doors in 1654, in the turmoil following the English Civil War, just before the Great Fire of London. It has been serving Oxford without a break ever since.

A century on from the establishment of Café Procope we have a woman hawking coffee in the street to passers-by.

The arrival of coffee shops in England coincided with the English  Civil War and the rise of Protestantism across Europe.  Water was not safe to drink, the people drank beer, were probably not sober from breakfast onwards. Nutrition was beer and bread, in Germany beer soup.

Coffee was seen by Puritans as The Great Soberer.

When the sweet Poison of the Treacherous Grape,
Had Acted on the world a General Rape;
Drowning our very Reason and our Souls
In such deep Seas of large o’reflowing Bowls,
That New Philosophers Swore they could feel
The Earth to Stagger, as her Sons did Reel:
When Foggy Ale, leavying up mighty Trains
Of muddy Vapours, had besieg’d our Brains;
And Drink, Rebellion, and Religion too,
Made Men so Mad, they knew not what to do;
Then Heaven in Pity, to Effect our Cure,
And stop the Ragings of that Calenture,
First sent amongst us this All-healing-Berry,
At once to make us both Sober and Merry.
Arabian Coffee, a Rich Cordial
To Purse and Person Beneficial,
Which of so many Vertues doth partake,
Its Country’s called Felix for its sake.
From the Rich Chambers of the Rising Sun,
Where Arts, and all good Fashions first begun,
Where Earth with Choicest Rarities is blest,
And dying Phoenix builds Her wondrous Nest:
COFFEE arrives, that Grave and wholesome Liquor,
That heals the Stomach, makes the Genius quicker,
Relieve, the Memory, Revives the Sad,
And chears the Spirits, without making Mad;  …

Coffee houses in England were places to meet, penny universities.

Edward Lloyd opened Lloyd’s Coffee House in London in 1687 or 1688, a meeting place for those in maritime occupations, shipping agents, seamen, insurers, bankers. People went to Lloyd’s to hear the latest news.  Lloyd published a newssheet ‘Lloyd’s News’. From this coffee house evolved Lloyd’s of London.

Tattler was founded in a coffee house. The editor Richard Steele gave his address as the coffeehouse Grecian.

 

Documents c 1700 cite the existence of some three thousand coffee houses in London. [see Tastes of Paradise]

One pound of coffee on the Amsterdam Coffee Exchange  in 1735 would have cost $13-41. Today the cost of green beans around a dollar a pound.  In three hundred years, the price of coffee has fallen thirteen fold.

Liverpool, Bristol, Amsterdam, their wealth was built on sugar, coffee and slavery.  When you grab a takeaway coffee from a corporate chain, a bag of cheap commodity coffee off the supermarket shelf, pick up a bar of industrial chocolate at the checkout, you are supporting the post-colonial legacy of slavery.

Please sit and relax in an indie coffee shop with a coffee served in glass or ceramic, buy coffee from a reputable roastery, chocolate from a bean-to-bar chocolate maker, people who care, who treat coffee and chocolate with the respect it deserves.

A History of Coffee a collaboration between James Harper of  Filter Stories podcast and Jonathan Morris, Professor of History and author of Coffee: A Global History.


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