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Better latte than never: 5 ways coffee has changed history

23/10/2020 |
2 mins

Where would we be without it? From the humblest cup of instant to the fanciest barista-prepared artisan brew, coffee has become one of the planet’s great uniting forces.

“Coffee has created significant job opportunities and industry,” says the director of the UWA Institute of Agriculture, Professor Kadambot H.M. Siddique. “While the first coffee plantations began in Brazil in the 1700s, in more recent times, nations such as Venezuela, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Indonesia, India and Vietnam have created competition. In 2017, approximately 12.5 million farms were growing coffee beans worldwide, with the global coffee sector providing jobs for about 125 million people.”

But if the magic beans had never been discovered, it’s safe to say the world would be a very different place…

We’d be a lot less social

In the Middle East and East Africa, where coffee first took off, people would flock to coffee houses to drink it – and while they were there, they’d discuss life, listen to music and dance. Coffee houses became known as ‘Schools of the Wise’, and by the time they were established in London they were an early equivalent of the internet – sources of information to be freely shared with everyone.

We’d be a lot less smart

Poor water quality in the 17th century meant most people would drink wine or beer from breakfast onwards…with all the drunken effects you’d expect. When coffee hit the scene, it made everyone more sober and alert – it’s no coincidence that the 17th and 18th centuries saw a spike in music, art, science and technology.

France might still have a king (and England might rule the US)

Because coffee houses were perfect places to meet and talk, they became the perfect places to plot against the powers that be. Both the French and the American revolutions were planned over coffee – not surprising for the Americans, who were also boycotting the hated British tea.

Slavery might still exist in the US

When the Union and Confederate armies faced off in the American Civil War, the anti-slavery Union had an advantage…While a blockade prevented soldiers from the south getting their hands on coffee, the Union north made the most of it to fight more effectively, whether because they were more alert from the caffeine or comforted by its warmth in the harsh conditions.

The entire global economy would change

About 10% of the world’s population relies on coffee production to survive. Without it, the livelihoods of millions of people across more than 50 countries would be lost – and the places of those countries in the world would change enormously.   


Coffee isn't the only thing that's changed the world. Find out more about how the UWA Institute of Agriculture's research aims to improve life for all of us.

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