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The Story of Coffee Part 2

5 March 2014 | Added by Paul Bilkey

The first literary reference to coffee being drunk in North America is from 1668 and, soon after, coffee houses were established in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and other towns. The Boston Tea Party Of 1773 was planned in a coffee house, the Green Dragon. Both the New York Stock Exchange and the Bank of New York started in coffeehouses in what is today known as Wall Street.

In 1720 a French naval officer named Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, while on leave in Paris from his post in Martinique, acquired a coffee tree with the intention of taking it with him on the return voyage. With the plant secured in a glass case on deck to keep it warm and prevent damage from salt water, the journey proved eventful. As recorded in de Clieu's own journal, the ship was threatened by Tunisian pirates. There was a violent storm, during which the plant had to be tied down. A jealous fellow officer tried to sabotage the plant, resulting in a branch being torn off. When the ship was becalmed and drinking water rationed, De Clieu ensured the plant’s survival by giving it most of his precious water. Finally, the ship arrived in Martinique and the coffee tree was re-planted at Preebear. It grew, and multiplied, and by 1726 the first harvest was ready. It is recorded that, by 1777, there were between 18 and 19 million coffee trees on Martinique, and the model for a new cash crop that could be grown in the New World was in place.

But it was the Dutch who first started the spread of the coffee plant in Central and South America, where today it reigns supreme as the main continental cash crop. Coffee first arrived in the Dutch colony of Surinam in 1718, to be followed by plantations in French Guyana and the first of many in Brazil in the state of Pará. In 1730 the British introduced coffee to Jamaica, where today the most famous and expensive coffee in the world is grown in the Blue Mountains.

The 17th and 18th centuries saw the establishment across Brazil of vast sugar plantations or fazendas, owned by the country’s elite. As sugar prices weakened in the 1820’s, capital and labour migrated to the southeast in response to the expansion of coffee growing in the Paraiba Valley, where it had been introduced in 1774. By the beginning of the 1830’s Brazil was the world’s largest producer with some 600,000 bags a year, followed by Cuba, Java and Haiti, each with annual production of 350 to 450,000 bags. World production amounted to some 2.5 million bags per year.

 

To be continued

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