Hundreds of years ago, an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi became notorious for his trip of goats. It was well known that his goats jumped higher and ran faster than any other goats. Everyone wanted to trade their best rugs or cooking pots for a Kaldi super goat. But when the traders brought the new goat into their trip, it became impossible to distinguish the super goat from all their regular goats.
It soon became apparent that the goats were indeed more enthusiastic and robust, but only after eating the fruit from a specific shrub that grew wild on Kaldi’s land. Kaldi took the red berries to the nearby monastery as a gift. The monks poured hot water over the cherry-like fruit to create a beverage that left them alert and focused.
Soon, this natural stimulant was shared across continents. By the 15th century, it became standard to remove the fruit’s pulp, leaving only the bean. These beans were then roasted and brewed to create what we now think of as coffee.
Coffee quickly became the ubiquitous way to start the day all over Europe, except in London, where tea drinking was still fashionable. So while settlers brought this lively libation to the United States in the 17th century, it ‘s consumption lagged dramatically behind tea because the settlers were mostly British.
Until King George III and the Boston Tea Party. You see, Britain was deeply in debt at the time. George imposed a series of taxes on American colonists to help pay those debts. In 1773, American colonists, frustrated and angry at the King for imposing the so-called “taxation without representation,” defied British rule by dumping 342 boxes of British East India Company tea into the Boston harbor. This amount of tea would be worth more than a million dollars today.. Following that revolt, the colonists refused to drink tea and switched to guzzling coffee instead. Drinking coffee became nothing short of a patriotic duty.
Consumption during the Civil War exploded. In the late 1860’s, companies like Folgers, Maxwell House, and the Hill Brothers became household names by selling pounds of pre-roasted, “portable” Arabica beans to cowboys and gold miners on their way west.
By 1922, America had become the world’s chief coffee consumer, slurping down more than half of the world’s coffee. An average of 20 pounds of coffee were consumed each year per adult.
During WWII, the United States government limited coffee imports to divert all ships toward the war effort. FDR, a famed coffee enthusiast, was said to drink over a gallon of coffee each day and took coffee off the rationing list in 1943. Teddy Roosevelt is credited with coining Maxwell House’s famous “Good to the Last Drop” slogan after being served their coffee at Andrew Jackson’s home in Tennessee.
In 1971, the first Starbucks opened in Seattle, initially selling only bulk beans (it would be another decade before they actually served brewed coffee). In the 1980’s, Starbucks was looking at bankruptcy. So they adopted a buy low, sell high policy and chose to brew Robusta beans. Until Starbucks, everyone was drinking Arabica beans. Arabica grows best in mountainous, tropical areas, making it hard to produce. Robusta grows in a much wider variety of climates and is therefore cheaper to produce. Starbucks bought the cheaper beans, then roasted them darker than Americans were used to in an attempt to get the richer, smoother flavor of the Arabica bean. They “sweetened” the deal by dumping in milk, sugar, and syrups to create drinks more dessert than beverage. To point, a Grande Caramel Cocoa Cluster Frappuccino contains 450 calories, 17 grams of fat, and 68 grams of sugar.
I don’t frequent Starbucks because I take my coffee black (except for those rare occasions I add a slug of Bourbon). So without the sugar and dairy, it is too acidic for me, with a weird sawdusty after-taste. But I am willing to give credit where credit is due. Starbucks had a brilliant marketing plan in building brand loyalty. They created their own vocabulary (short, tall, grande, venti), offered free WIFI, and designed dining rooms that felt like inviting living spaces to leave the customer feeling like part of a special community.
Many locally-owned coffee houses went belly up in the early 90’s, but I don’t think Starbucks is (completely) to blame. That was due to an overly saturated market, increased rent and overhead, or mismanagement. But we can thank Starbucks for the current grass-roots coffee movement.
The best coffee comes from the freshest roast, and Winchester has several small, independently-owned cafes boasting sustainable, locally roasted, fair trade Arabica brews. My favorites are Creative Coffees, The Cupcake Apothecary, and The Daily Grind (fun local fact: The Daily Grind’s latte on wheels logo is named Buzz).
If November isn’t November without your Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, then you do you. But consider the power of spending your money to support local infrastructure, rather than line the coffers of an already-rich company.
Java is now a $36 billion industry in America. By the time you read this, almost 2 billion cups of coffee have already been consumed worldwide today. Before you take the next sip of that heavenly brew, take a moment to thank those hyper Ethiopian goats.