2020 has been quite the clusterf**k. As the pandemic has forced many of us to spend more and more time at home, us coffee aficionados were still able to stay properly caffeinated via—a now booming—home delivery economy. But as exhausting as 2020 has been, a new opportunity for societal change has been born.
We are currently witnessing a watershed moment for civil rights occurring globally. As resistance to police violence in the United States, broader calls for racial, economic, and societal justice have sprung up around the world. We feel that this is a valuable opportunity for the specialty coffee industry as a whole to do some soul searching because coffee as an industry is a product of colonialism—full stop. That is not to say people within the industry are not critical of coffee’s imperial legacy, for example Bartholemew Jones of Cxffee Black Roastery, aims to reclaim coffee for the black community as it “has the potential to be the most important business for building generational wealth across the diaspora.”* It is with this spirit that our article series—return to origin—hopes to recenter the stories of producing nations and decolonize our coffee mentality.
Our intention with this series is to explore the colonial and imperial legacy surrounding the commodification of coffee so that we as an industry—producers and consumers alike—can better understand the systems of exploitation and structural racism that still exist in coffee’s supply chain. Armed with such knowledge, we can not only love coffee, but love THE PEOPLE who produce it. By understanding how coffee became a commodity of destructive and exploitative imperialism, we as an industry can help make it into a product of reconstructive atonement.
While specialty coffee has made significant steps towards this atonement, the coffee industry was founded, sustained, and perpetuated by exploitation. Full stop. It is true that this exploitation still happens to this day. The coffee industry is currently worth 200$ billion, and projected to be over 237$ billion by 2025. Yet, less than 10% of that wealth stays in producing countries. It doesn’t have to be this way. Being an informed member of a community that we enjoy so much being a part of can allow us all to make better choices to uplift us all, particularly the communities of BIPOC people in producing nations.
To that end, this series will be open ended—we have no “ending” envisioned. Rather, we will discuss different aspects of the industry that will allow us to be better informed consumers. For example, we will talk about the history of how coffee went from a local ingredient to make cakes to a global commodity. Or how this commodity contributed to the rise and fall of empires through the exploitation of human beings. But most importantly, we will be elevating the local producers and communities who create and sustain this amazing plant. Rather than only discussing how colonial powers acted upon these communities, we will also discuss how these people actively engage within this industry.
* The CxffeeBlack Podcast, “How Europe Stole Cxffee from Africa," 3:00.
Image credit: coffeegeneral.co.nz
Charles joined Rabbit Hole in the Fall of 2020 as a creative consultant. He has been both a professional photographer, videographer, and writer. After completing his MA on the History of Racism, he strives to be socially engaged in all aspects of his personal and professional life. When writing, he follows the mantra of Dr. Cornel West: “bear witness and speak truth to power.”