Study Guides

Coffee- an American Story

Coffee has played a key role in the American story . From independence to to the civil war , where it was a rationed pick me up for weary soldiers , to the assembly lines of World War 2 where the “coffee break” was introduced, the coffee bean has always been at the centre of American social inter course .


The  Boston Tea Party  – and why Americans prefer Coffee 

The mid-1600s saw coffee brought to New Amsterdam( soon to be New York)with the first reference to coffee in America being from 1668, when coffee flavoured with cinnamon, sugar or honey was being drunk in coffee houses.

In colonial America, coffee was largely only popular among New England’s religious and conservative thinkers. Coffee’s main rival at the time was tea, which was not as popular in the colonies as in England because of King George’s taxes on tea. The victories in the French and Indian Wars had been costly for the British Empire and King George III and his government looked to taxing the American Colonies as a way to reestablish control over the colonial governments that had become increasingly independent while the Crown was distracted by the war.

A series of actions followed that infuriated the colonists . These included the Stamp Act in 1765, the Townsend Act 1767 and the Boston Massacre 1770. The attempt to tax tea brought the water to a boil. The colonies refused to pay the levies required by the Townsend Acts claiming they had no obligation to pay taxes imposed by a Parliament in which they were not represented.

In response, the British hatched a clever plan: they gave the struggling East India Company a monopoly on the importation of tea to America and reduced the duty the colonies would have to pay for the imported tea. The Americans were to get their tea at a cheaper price than ever before. However, if the colonies paid the duty tax on the imported tea, they were, unintentionally, acknowledging the Parliament’s right to tax them. Ironically, the British thought that the colonists would rather pay the tax than deny themselves of afternoon high tea. Yet when the tea-laden ships arrived at Philadelphia and New York, the ships were not allowed to land; in fact, the colonists, aware of the looming tax trap, consigned the cargo to a warehouse where it remained for three years before it was sold to help finance the revolution.

In Boston, the arrival of three tea ships ignited a furious reaction, not only because of the tax, but because of the monopoly of the East India Company ships, the only ones allowed to carry and sell tea, bypassing and undermining independent colonial merchants and ships.

The tea trade monopoly put the East India Company in a position to undersell all other merchants and drive them into ruin. The royal governor of Boston, Thomas Hutchinson, however, was determined to uphold the law and maintained that the three ships (the Dartmouth, Eleanor and Beaver) should be allowed to deposit their cargos and duties should be honoured, thoroughly under estimating the anger of the locals.

The crisis came to a head on 16 December, 1773 when as many as 7,000 agitated locals milled about the wharf where the ships were docked. A mass meeting at the Old South Meeting House that morning resolved that the tea ships should leave the harbor without payment of any duty. A committee was selected to take this message to the Customs House to force release of the ships out of the harbor, yet the Collector of Customs refused to allow the ships to leave without payment of the duty. The committee reported back to the mass meeting and a howl erupted from the meeting hall.

It was now early evening and a group of a dozen men, some disguised as Indians with blankets and headdresses, assembled on a near-by hill. Crying war chants, the crowd marched two-by-two to the wharf, descended upon the three ships and dumped the cargos of tea into the harbor: tea chests at a value of about £18,000.

Most colonists applauded the action while the reaction in London was swift. In March 1774, Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts, which among other measures closed the Port of Boston. The British government’s efforts to single out Massachusetts for punishment served only to unite the colonies and drive them towards war with the Crown. The fuse that led directly to the explosion of American independence was lit.

Hence, it is fair to say that the Boston Tea Party forever changed America’s relationship to both tea and coffee, and is somewhat responsible for America “becoming a nation of coffee drinkers instead of tea drinkers, like the English”.

Coffee drinking in America had until then grown slowly, with coffee houses being clustered mainly in port cities, and coffee prices well beyond the means of most colonial families. Though the prices of coffee had dropped the century prior to the Boston Tea Party, coffee consumption was still relatively low at this point, with an average of a cup or two of coffee per person a year. Nevertheless, socially coffee became the over time associated with the idea of freedom and rebellion from the British rule, and as tea was shunned, coffee took its place, and never left, though access to the commodity hard. Over time, coffee became as politically charged as tea.

Before the Boston Tea Party and the Declaration of Independence, most of North America’s coffee came from the British Colonies in the Caribbean: Jamaica, Granada, Saint Vincent, and Dominica.  But following American independence, Parliament banned shipments of British colonial produce in U.S. vessels, and did so precisely when American interest in the commodity was on the rise. Relief came with the outbreak of war between Britain and France in 1793, which allowed expansion of America’s trans-Atlantic trade and domestic production.


The Coffee House in America

Coffee houses  had always been the hotspots for the business community and political think tanks. When America was colonized, the coffee houses soon followed. The role of the American coffee houses was the same as in England: The Tontine Coffee House (1792) in New York was the original location for the New York Stock Exchange, because so much business was conducted there. Coffee, and coffee houses for that matter, serves as an excellent example of the way in which “social, economic and political forces interact globally whenever addiction is aroused, whether for tobacco, sugar, diamonds, gold, pepper, petroleum, cocaine or…caffeine”.

The coffee house revolution spread across America, from the port cities inland over the course of the 19thcentury. At first, the port cities on the west and east coast had been the coffee hubs due to their proximity to the harbours and coffee roasters; only when packaging was developed and instant coffee patented, did coffee start making its way inland.

Boston and New York on the east coast, and San Francisco and Seattle on the west coast, seem to always have taken the lead in the establishment of new coffee places and coffee trends, though coffee experts say that the Bay area has always been ahead of everyone else in terms of quality coffee (and quality food for that matter).

Port cities naturally had a high influx of immigrants, and immigrants from Holland such as  Alfred Peet and Italy would leave their mark on American coffee culture more so than the Americans.

Although in the 1930s, already 98% of American families were coffee drinkers, what the Americans considered good coffee and what the Europeans considered good coffee, were two entirely different things, light years apart. One of these immigrants who introduced the Bay area to espresso, was Giovanni Giotta (‘Papa Gianni’), who had immigrated to the United States in 1951 from a small fishing town near Trieste, arguably the best place to find good coffee houses in Europe, with refined Italian quality and aroma.

To battle the homesickness for espresso, Giotta opened his own café and Caffé Trieste is said to be the first espresso house on the West Coast. The café in San Francisco’s North Beach quickly became popular, due to the large number of Italian immigrants. Known as ‘The Espresso Pioneer’, both in Italy and in America, by bringing espresso and cappuccino to the West Coast, he introduced Americans to hitherto unknown quality and enjoyment of coffee.

Today, Americans drink less coffee than back in the 30s but thanks to people like Alfred Peet, Papa Gianni, Jerry Baldwin and WJ Freeman, Americans brew, drink and roast it better. Whether it’s the diner’s “gimme a cuppajoe” to “skinny cap with wings”, America’s coffee culture is as rich and varied by now as the European’s, and they seem to have well caught up in regards to finesse, quality and style.


Coffee and War 

Coffee was a vital ration for the Union army during the Civil War. The soldiers valued coffee over almost any of their other rations because of its nature as a stimulant. They drank it to wake them up in the morning and found it a soothing drink to have before they went to bed. Union blockades meant that the Confederate soldiers had no coffee beans, so they used peanuts, chicory, okra, wheat, corn, bran, acorns, rye, peas, sweet potatoes, and dried apples to make something similar.

Coffee was also included in the ration packs of American soldiers in World War II. It influenced the increased number of diners and restaurants in the Post-war period, which aimed to accommodate the returning soldiers’ desire to drink coffee.


The American Diner 

“Coffee – the favourite drink of the civilized world” – Thomas Jefferson

Sitting in a diner, looking out from the inside, is a quintessential American experience that has been stamped into the collective consciousness through numerous paintings, songs, films and art posters. It usually comes with a booth that sits four people, a Formica counter and a ‘cup of joe’, as diner patrons call their coffee.

A diner is to the American culture what the pub is to the British, and the coffee houses to Continental Europe. The first diner opened in 1872 in Rhode Island, a night lunch wagon that served food for night shift workers and those gambling until late. The formula of ‘open all hours’ combined with serving cheap and homemade food proved a hit. In general, diners seem to be a distinctively northeastern phenomenon in the United States; in those areas true American Diners are located usually either in the downtown area or just off a major road leading into it. On the west coast, in comparison, diners are more likely found on highways in between towns, merging with another American institution – the truck stop.

If towns have more than one diner, there will be unresolvable arguments about which one is the ‘good’ one, as people are very loyal toward ‘their’ diner. A true American Diner will be family-run or at least locally operated, and the group of immigrants associated with running diners will be interestingly the Greeks, to which the Greek salads and other starters pay tribute. With a distinct exterior structure, classical diners are most often characterized by an exterior layer of stainless steel, tile floors, and large glass windows and neon signs; though each decade of the 20th century added its own interior touch from Art Deco to neon 50s.

The ‘cup of joe’ served is an indispensable part of the American diner experience. Though usually way too dark, bitter and brewed hours before being finding its way into your cup, it is a symbol of the coffee revolution that hit America in the 20th century, when a luxury commodity became the drink of the everyman, in a place (the diner) that attracted them all: the professor, the worker, the stripper, the soldier and the housewife.

There are always two retired people at the counter andthey will never speak to each other or anyone else;someone who represents the law and someone running from the law. It’s bit like the diner was invented so that everyone would have a place to go to for every major life event: proms, weddings, funerals and the aftermath of a bank robbery.

An artifact of the first-wave coffee movement, the good old-fashioned drip diner coffee is at the other end of the high-calorie specialty coffee innovated by Starbucks and The Coffee Connection, yet no less popular.

The American diner has rituals related to coffee that no other coffee house or café in any form has: free refills, usually provided by large waiters pottering up and down the isles with large coffee jugs in their hand, and the permission to turn your coffee cup upside down to indicate you have had enough.

Though taking America by storm since its inception, a diner served a distinctively different purpose than a coffee house. Where the coffee house was originally a place to conduct business or engage in political conversation, the diner was a place to enjoy a cheap and good meal, alone, with friends or with family, contemplate life and watch the world go by. It served as a home away from home, a place where the feeling of loneliness could either amplify or dissolve, depending on whether or not you had a nice chat with the bloke behind the counter. There could either be deafening silence or roaring laughter around you.


Peets versus Starbucks 

When Alfred Peet opened a small coffee store on the corner of Walnut and Vine Streets in Berkeley, CA, few noticed that a revolution was brewing. But, Mr. Peet had other plans. Originally born in Holland, Alfred Peetgrew grew up in the coffee trade and moved to America after WWII.

Appauled by what was considered ‘coffee’ in America, he opened his first Peet’s Coffee & Tea store on 1 April, 1966. His coffee was unlike what Americans had defined as coffee so far: small batches, fresh beans, superior quality, and a dark roast that produced a coffee that was rich and complex. By 1969, Peet’s Coffee & Tea had become a gathering place for coffee devotees, called Peetniks, and a magnet for artisan food crafters. The world’s first ‘foodies’ congeragated in the storefronts around Peet’s Coffee and the area soon had a name – The Gourmet Ghetto. The artisan coffee movement was on its way.

Alfred Peet’s influence grew and he inspired a new generation of entrepreneurs, including the founders of Starbucks. Over the last four decades, Peet’s Coffee & Tea has grown due to an ever-increasing number of coffee lovers in the Bay area, and across America. Despite the expansion, Peet’s Coffee has an unrelenting commitment to quality and strives to raise the bar for the American coffee industry.

Its owner, Jerry Baldwin, is one of the original founderof Starbucks, who went on to buy Peet’s in 1984, after Howard Schultz had taken over Starbucks. He now owns it longer than its namesake. For 25 years, he has been carefully shepherding every aspect of the business, from staff training to floor design, and of course, the sourcing of coffee and the roasting. He is also an expert winemaker, producing an award-winning Zinfandel under the family label. In short, he is a guy who knows his stuff.


The Starbucks Story 

The story of Starbucks is not just the story of coffee. It is the story of the American dream in a coffee bean – from dishwasher to millionaire, from an idea to an empire.

Back in the beginning of the 1970s, English teacher Jerry Baldwin, history teacher Zev Siegel, and writer Gordon Bowker, got inspired by Peet’s Coffee and Tea in Berkeley, CA to also start a business of their own – selling coffee beans.

As they happened to be friends with Alfred Peet, the founder of Peet’s, they got his business advice and his blessing, and scraped together $8,000 of their own money plus a loan to embark on their coffee bean adventure. Siegel had worked at Peet’s for a year before the three friends opened their first coffee roaster and retailer shop in Seattle, Washington, on 30 March, 1971.

The HQ of the Starbucks giant has remained there until today. The first Starbucks cafe was located at 2000 Western Avenue from 1971–1976. This cafe was later moved to 1912 Pike Place Market; never to be relocated again.

The founders named Starbucks after a shipmate in Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick; in fact they almost named it “Pequod” after that particular shipmate’s boat. They also added the logo of a siren to evoke the sensuality of the sea.

By 1980, that “shipmate” had become the largest coffee roaster in Washington. Enter Howard Schultz. The present CEO of Starbucks, Schultz became a part of the team in 1982 as head of Marketing because of his connection with Hammerplast, a Swedish company supplying Starbucks. His job was to spread the word and magic of Starbucks, searching for new tastes, flavors, campaign ideas, and whatever else boosts business. On a trip to Italy, Schultz sampled the coffee and refined the café culture.

At this point, Starbucks was still a coffee bean hub, not selling coffee by the cup as we know it today. When Schultz returned, Baldwin wasn’t too keen on the idea of serving espresso as Schultz envisioned. In spite of the less-than-enthusiastic feedback, Schultz believed in his idea and left the group in 1985 to start his own coffee business called Il Giornale, after a popular publication in Italy.

Il Giornale was an instant success. Schultz had earned enough money from investors that he bought upStarbucks from Baldwin and Bowker for  $3.7 million. By then, 1987, Jerry Baldwin had already bought Peet’s, and he still works there today.

Schultz had a vision: to consolidate Il Giornale and Starbucks into one business and conquer America and the world from Seattle. The brand new company went public in 1992, brewing coffee and teas by the cup. From then on, it’s coffee history. Starbucks instantly became hugely popular and experienced a massive growth in the first five years, and continued to grow exponentially from there. Between 2007-2008, Starbucks shops were opening every weekday. It is today home in 65 countries and territories with almost 23,000 total stores worldwide, ahead of UK rival ‘Costa Coffee’.

Though Starbucks started as a coffee bean hub, 44 years after its inception its really not that much about coffee anymore. Since growing into the largest coffee chain empire in the world, Starbucks has regularly bought up other coffee companies and bakeries and swallowed their recipes as well as all attached rights for the markets; i.e. Frappuccino from ‘The Coffee Connection’, or pastries from ‘La Boulange’ bakeries; and hence Starbucks offers not just coffee, but frappucinos, pastries, pre-packed lunches and snacks, special water and juices, and tea.

Ironically enough, though starting off as a coffee bean hub, Starbucks coffee ranks consistently as the worst-tasting coffee in blind sampling of consumer magazine, beaten with ease by non-coffee specialists like Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonalds. Coffee critics tend to joke that the enormous amount of flavouring and toppings found in Starbucks coffee is necessary to hide the burned taste of the beans, the coffee itself is usually pitch-black – a good indicator that the coffee beans have been over roasted and have lost most of their caffeine and any refined quality (if there any high quality beans were used to begin with).

Despite its furious growth in the last two decades, the Starbucks coffee chain did suffer from losses during the recession and has been hit by waves of criticism and anti-Starbucks campaigns led by artisan coffee lovers. Due to its enormous market power and consistent strategy of cluster bombing, as well as buying out competitor’s leases in strategic areas in cities (hence driving out artisan coffee shops operating on a much smaller scale), Starbucks has been accused of anti-competitive behavior. Avoiding European taxes by intentionally operating at a loss in European cities, inflated prices for their coffee creations and inferior working conditions with a failure to pay livable wages, have smudged the smiley mermaid logo, despite its marketing campaign to become an ethical company.

Sourcing its coffee beans mostly in Ethiopia, where the $3 for a Starbucks coffee equal the daily wage of a local farmer, Starbucks campaigns for ethical fair trade have been regularly exposed as fluff and cream. After all, coffee is one of the most valuable cash crops in the world, a crop produced for its commercial value rather than for use by the grower, and producing fair trade coffee comes with considerably increase in costs for a pound of coffee, and an automatic decrease in profit unless the consumer pays more.

Nevertheless, the global appeal of Starbucks is a curious phenomenon; after all different countries have always had different, centuries old coffee cultures, rituals and brewing methods, though people seem to be equally drawn to the Pumpkin Spice Latte or Oreo Frappuccino, whether they are in China, America, Brazil, Japan or Italy.


The Third Wave-the growth of Artisanal Coffee Shops

Artisan coffee is also known as the third coffee wave in post-war America; a contemporary movement within specialty coffee that regards coffee as an artisan or craft beverage, like beer or wine, and the processing of it from the harvesting to the roasting to the brewing is treated with the same reverence.

The third wave of coffee demands purchasing a coffee based on its origin and artisan methods of production. A culinary approach to coffee is nothing new to the industry, in fact, it is a re-birth from the days before tin cans and instant coffee hit retail shelves and coffee became a convenient and popular caffeine buzz.

The first wave of coffee refers to growing coffee consumption exponentially, and it can be traced back to the 1800s, when entrepreneurs saw a market for providing a coffee that was both affordable and ready for the pot. It meant sacrificing taste and quality to promote convenience and mass production.

The most important development was the invention and patent of instant coffee by David Strang of Invercargill, New Zealand, in 1890, following by the first successful technique for manufacturing a stable powdered product was invented in Japan by Sartori Kato, who used a process he had developed for making instant tea.

Despite the poor quality, the innovations made in processing, packaging and marketing, allowed the coffee industry to skyrocket into a new dimension. Perhaps the most significant innovation came from shipbuilders turned coffee roasters, Austin and R.W. Hills, founders of the Hills Bros Coffee .In 1900, R.W. Hills invented the process of vacuum packaging. The process removed air from coffee tins, resulting in fresher beans. This process changed the way coffee would be packaged to this very day. The source for coffee moved from the local roaster to the retail shelves of grocers from San Francisco to Chicago and eventually New York. In the mid-1800’s, William H. Bovee founded The Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills company in California, where he began producing coffee that was pre-roasted, ground and sealed in small tins. A luxury product previously reserved for the upper class, was made available for every middle-class kitchen.

The poster child of the second coffee wave is probably Starbucks. The second wave refers to the defining and enjoying of specialty coffee; a reaction to the “bad coffee” being marketed under the first wave. People started to want to know about their coffee and understand the unique roasting styles of “specialty beans”. The association of coffee beans with their countries of origin, wild landscapes, new flavours and colours, helped to transition drinking coffee into an experience rather than just a beverage. Espresso, latte and French press became household words in the second wave. Coffee shops became big business;Starbucks suddenly offered the coffee experience to everyone with an enticing new language and a range of new flavours. The social experience of drinking coffee surpassed the interest in any knowledge of sourcing and roasting of the bean.

Enter artisan coffee. As Trish R. Skeie from Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters formulated: “The third wave is, in many ways, a reaction. It is just as much a reply to bad coffee as it is a movement toward good coffee”. Marketing and social experiences are still important, but the interest in the character of the coffee is most important. In the first wave, the consumer led the way. Availability and mass production were the key. In the second wave, the coffee quality increased, but marketing dominated. In the third wave, production and marketing are less important, and the product is center stage.

In 2002, after a decade as a professional clarinet player in the Bay Area, Mr. W. James Freeman realized he was never going to rise to fame as a musician. Instead, he started roasting coffee in a potting shed a few miles from his Oakland apartment, and selling it at a farmer’s market in Berkeley. His tiny stall was named after a 17thcentury Viennese café that had birthed coffee houses in Europe: Alter Hof zur Blauen Flasche. In January 2004, when the Fancy Food Show was nearby at the MosconeCenter, Freeman had 15 people lining up for a coffee – a line that never went away.

He opened his first Blue Bottle Café in Linden Street, San Francisco, the heart of the artisan coffee movement. Blue Bottle Cafés in Oakland and in New York followed. Due to his dislike to ship beans, for both freshness and environmental reasons, he first always makes a big investment in a roaster and then openscafés nearby using those beans. Blue Bottle buys high-end, single origin beans from small producers, and roasts them lightly, imbuing the coffee with a far greener taste than the dark, oily version second-wave Starbucks is known for. And apart from mochas, Blue Bottle doesn’t do flavors, and it definitely doesn’t do peppy shakes.

Though recognized as the artisan coffee in America, Blue Bottle has three main competitors: Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee, Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters and NC Counter Culture Coffee. Other mini-chains are trying to jump onto the band wagon of specialty coffee, but they have yet to reach Blue Bottle’s popularity, taste and style. His 13-store chain is as special as it gets, with each café designed to respond to its neighbourhood, special design and interiors. Whereas some coffees have the 21st century hype words ‘organic’ and ‘fair trade’ scribbled in bold letters across menus and blackboards, Blue Bottle doesn’t mention them at all. It is assumed that the coffee beans are no less than fairer-than-fair trade and the beans are as organic as it gets. Blue Bottle’s vibe is subtle and discrete, based on the model of a restaurant rather than Starbuck’s cheap office version for freelancers. Freeman doesn’t want customers to stare at their computer or talk to the person across their table. His success is achieved when the customer talks to the barista. About coffee, of course.


Destination – United States America

TV Show – The story of Coffee