Java jive — coffee impacts history, society and economies

Coffee_1Vida Coffee Co., a coffee shop on the University of Missouri campus, started out as a dream for an MU student coffee enthusiast who was part of the Baptist Student Union. Today, the coffee shop is still run by BSU. This year, Vida is celebrating its fourth anniversary of providing the MU students and staff on campus with coffee, pastries and teas.

For college students, as well as millions of others around the world, a cup of coffee is a dependable source of energy. During finals week, late nights and early mornings are unavoidable parts of MU students’ lives. But coffee, with its effective caffeine kick, is much more than just a stimulating beverage. History, society and economics give coffee a level of importance many do not know about.

There is a legend from the Ethiopian highlands about how coffee was discovered, according to the National Coffee Association of USA. It is said that Kaldi, a goat herder, noticed his goats would stay up all through the night after eating berries from a certain tree. He reported this to the local monastery, where an abbot made a drink out of the berries. The abbot noticed that the drink kept him alert during evening prayer. The news of this stimulating drink spread throughout the monastery and then to the Arabian Peninsula.

The Arabs were the first to cultivate and trade coffee. To keep their monopoly over the early coffee trade, they did their best to guard their production. However, word soon spread about the energizing drink. Europeans immediately wanted to try the unfamiliar black beverage. Coffee then followed them to the New World, where it also became very popular.

From the very beginning, coffee has been a social drink. The first coffee shops were a place for people to engage in conversation, listen to music, play chess and find out the news for the day.

“One king tried to outlaw coffee shops,” said Katrina Trebus-Scantlin, floor manager at Vida Coffee, “because that’s where people went to conspire against the king.”

Significant historical and social affairs, such as The Boston Tea Party of 1733, took place in an early coffee house of the New World. The Boston Tea Party changed America’s preference of drink from tea to coffee.

Today, coffee shops are socially still very similar to the first shops that were built. Coffee shops are still a place of relaxation and conversation, and coffee is still widely popular.

“People like breaks, especially the coffee break,” said Scantlin “It’s a nice way to step away from your day, settle down and reenergize.”

The unique history and social integration of coffee has led to its great economic impact, not only in the U.S., but worldwide. From growing to exporting to waiting for a brewed cup at Vida, the coffee industry employs a large number of people. Approximately 25 million farmers and coffee workers in over 50 countries are involved in producing the global coffee supply. This number does not include those who are employed by companies that sell coffee such as Starbucks and Vida.

“There are specific parts of the world where countries run on their coffee exportation,” said Scantlin. “There are so many farms and whole families that will work on them. It really affects a lot of people.”

On these farms, the workers have to pick the red berries that form on the coffee tree. This work is labor intensive, which adds to its great economic significance to countries that depend on this industry.

“A lot of times coffee is growing on a slope, like on the side of a mountain,” said Barbra Sonderman, MU Greenhouse Coordinator for Biological Sciences Department. “If you’re walking along, hand-picking the beans with a heavy bag over your shoulder, it’s labor intensive. To pick the red, ripe, berries is going to take some time.”

From legend to Vida Coffee Co., the beverage people drink all over the world is much more than a personal energizer. The history is as unique as the tree’s bright red berries, and the social interaction that this beverage fosters is as enjoyable as its pick-me-up. Its economic value is as rich as this plant’s many flavors, and its worldly benefits far surpass a simple cup of morning coffee.

Jessica Weiss

About the Author Jessica Weiss

I love photography and all the adventures that come with getting the perfect shot. I am more proud of my Irish heritage than anything else and frequently complain that I don’t have naturally red hair; after a few months of the same hair color, I dye it because I get bored … but it always stays within the red range. Traveling is my passion, and I cannot wait until I can say I have been to every continent and more than 10 countries. Recently I have developed a new love for both meditation and rock climbing. And, I say sweetie, doll, honey, darlin’ and y’all as if I’m from the south, but I grew up in Elwood, Illinois, and pronounce my –a’s harsh like a native Midwesterner.