Black Girl Holding White Coffee Cup

The Hidden Truth About Coffee and it's Robust Future

Coffee is one of the most sought-after exports in the world next to petroleum. With the average American spending $1,092 each year, the global coffee industry has grown to such an exponential size and is said to be set to reach $144 billion by the end of this year.  

This coveted bean has a rich history and wonderful origin story, going back centuries to a time when people still drank, wine, mead, and beer as their liquid of choice for most meals.

Despite being the birthplace of the coffee bean, and the source of some of the richest coffee produced, events in history that ended up devaluing and hiding Africa’s contribution to the coffee world have allowed other countries that export the crop to take the mantle and responsibility for its creation, keeping coffees beautiful beginning a mystery to most consumers today. 

So, let's uncover the hidden truth about coffee.

How Coffee’s Africanistic Origins Were Erased from History  

Due to slavery and colonization, Africa was kept from protecting and using one of its most precious exports to further itself, and instead had millions of its citizens forced to perform hard labor in other countries, which included farming and cultivating the very crops that had originated in their own country.  

Throughout coffee’s rise to being a highly-prized and coveted good, Africa was forced to watch from the sidelines as other countries used this valuable commodity to grow their economies and cement themselves as the world’s coffee extraordinaires. This led to Africa having a late start to their participation in the industry.  

Events such as these led to Africa being nearly erased completely from their contributions to the coffee industry, and even though they’ve grown in recent years to be a large producer of coffee, they haven’t quite fully recovered from these events. Coffee’s African roots deserve to be given the proper spotlight and credit they deserve, especially considering the care and work farmers put in to produce a quality crop. 

Coffee: In The Beginning  

Did you know that Ethiopia is the country that coffee originated from? Not only is Ethiopia the origin for this energizing drink, it has become one of the top producers in the world, producing 200,000 metric tons each year! In fact, out of all the countries, it has remained Africa’s biggest exporters of the coffee bea

Centuries ago in Ethiopia, a goat herder named Kaldi noticed that his goats were having a hard time winding down for the night after consuming a strange berry from the trees they often grazed near.  

Knowledge of the drink quickly spread throughout the land, with the Arabica Peninsula being the first cultivating ground for the most popular and common version of the drink, Arabica Coffee.  

Kaldi

Coffee houses, also called qahveh khaneh, began to develop. People would go to listen to music, engage in conversation, and entertain themselves while enjoying a fresh cup of the hot drink.  

Outside of Africa, there was a lot of competition among the Europeans to acquire the coffee seedlings for themselves, that is if they managed to grow it. Eventually the Dutch were able to start a crop in Java, Indonesia. Coffee seedlings were like gold, often stolen, snuck across countries, and used as a bribe. A coffee plant was gifted to King Louis XIV, from which a seedling was taken by a young naval officer, who unknowingly would begin the cultivation of 18 million coffee trees on the island of Martinique.  

France wasn’t willing to share with Brazil, namely Francisco de Mello Palheta, but because the French governor’s wife found him attractive, she gifted him with the coffee seeds hidden in a bouquet of flowers.  

Coffee really has had quite a journey! 

 

 

How Africa Is Contributing to the Coffee Industry Today 

Despite the terrible events that nerfed its contributions from Coffee’s history, Africa has risen to be a top contender when it comes to producing the highly coveted bean, creating some of the richest variations of the product. Even though Africa makes up around 12% of the world’s production of coffee, the well-cultivated exports are highly sought out by many elites and connoisseurs.  

Africa is the source of some of the most unique coffee varieties and beans in the world and has managed to carve out quite a niche in providing their one-of-a-kind produce to consumers.  

Because of Africa’s unique contributions and influence, a small movement for specialty coffee has developed amongst coffee fanatics, and one business in particular has already gotten an early start in facilitating the concept of coffee being a specialty product instead of something you just consume as a habit. 

Earnest and Humble, a coffee company founded by Ernest Nteza, strives to cultivate and process its coffee using sustainable practices with respect to the environmental impact and people connected to the coffee industry.  

Inspired by his grandmother, who died in 2016, Ernest founded his company in 2018 and centered the company around the values his grandmother used to uphold, such as appreciating the differences in people, community, and taking care of others. 

Earnest and Humble Coffee

Ernest operates Earnest and Humble with the strong belief that all humans are connected one way or another and that coffee is the key to forging and strengthening the connection between people, cultures, and communities. Ernest’s business MO is faith-based. Using Earnest and Humble as his ministry, Ernest wants to speak joy and peace to people who are going through trials, and provide comfort. 

"We're seeing the humans behind this beverage of a drink. It creates opportunities for us to know them, to care about the environment, their livelihood, what goes into their cup." Ernest stated.  

Ernest prefers to keep his coffee roasts from light to medium, no dark roasts. This is to reduce the environmental impact and allow the coffee to retain its unique characteristics when it’s processed.  

“We don't roast coffee dark at all. Doesn't matter how good coffee is, if it's roasted dark, it'll taste the same. Doesn't make sense for someone to have a high-quality bean and just burn it--roast it, you know?” 

For Earnest and Humble, their mission is to create specialty coffee that tells a story of its origins and the people who worked to provide the product to the consumer. Ernest notes that coffee isn’t treated the same way as wine, beer, and other specialty drinks.  

“People are naturally curious about wine and its origin.”  

When seasoned wine tasters sample wine, the aroma, notes present in the drink, sweet or sour taste, and other characteristics are noted. The same goes for beer.

“People understand wine can go all the way to $1,000 a bottle. Beer can get expensive too. But with coffee, people have two ideas. It's functional and it's a habit, versus, it's specialty.” 

Ernest wants people to know that coffee has a story as well. Coffee is able to have its own characteristics, notes, flavors, and more, and he wants people to be able to appreciate that and educate them on specialty coffee. Moreover, he wants to put the spotlight on coffee origins coming from Africa and its regions.  

“We're focused on Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania......those origins are the staple coffees we always want to share and tell their story.” 

Coffee Farmers

Ernest wants to help coffee farmers to achieve a livable wage, and strives to build relationships with them to further the growth of Africa’s coffee production. Coffee farmers are constantly taken advantage of, given little to no pay, and overworked to produce the coffee enjoyed by millions of rich elites and regular consumers.  

Earnest and Humble is on Instagram, @earnestandhumbleco. 

Ernest Holding Earnest and Humble Coffee

Why the Coffee Production Process Matters  

If not given consideration, the environment can suffer from the way coffee is cultivated. Coffee usually grows in the understory of tropical and sub-tropical forests. It can be grown in the sun or in the shade, but it has been found that growing in the shade yields more benefits ecologically. Growing coffee in the shade reduces water consumption and soil erosion and can produce a higher quality product.  

However, many companies have opted to use more sun-grown operations to meet the demand for the inexpensive coffee they’ve engineered from altering the bitterness of coffee beans. Using sun-grown methods has led to soil depletion, destruction of agriculture, and an increase in the use of pesticides.  

Many workers do not have the protection needed when handling these pesticides and have suffered from side effects such as rashes, birth defects, and breathing problems. 

Even when actually processing the coffee beans, it is preferably better to use dry processing than wet, since dry processing only calls for the coffee cherries to be left in the sun to dry after being sorted. Using wet processing methods can lead to water consumption and waste.  

Ethiopia is the 5th largest producer of coffee in the world, and is fortunate to have the perfect environment for coffee to grow to its fullest potential. Coffee grows best at a certain altitude and Ethiopia just happens to have the perfect climate and location for its cultivation, with crops growing in the highlands of Yirgacheffe, Limu, and Harrar in Oromia.  

Uganda is another of Africa’s biggest producers of coffee, with the Robusta variation of the bean originating from there and being their #1 cultivated product. In fact, only 20% of the coffee grown in Uganda is Arabica, the most common form. Uganda’s Robusta is some of the finest quality, one of the reasons being that it grows at a much higher altitude than other regions. Altitude is a big factor in how well coffee grows and develops. 

Uganda takes pride in not genetically manipulating their coffee plants, instead taking care to sort through and choose the most elite seeds along with providing rooted cuttings.  

Not only are the coffee seeds of a high quality, the use of pesticides is nearly non-existent for Uganda’s coffee crops, making their coffee organic in the truest sense of the word. Uganda’s Robusta coffee beans are heard and roast well. Many have praised the unique flavor of the Robusta variety, favoring it for espressos and that fact that it froths very easily.  

Truly, Uganda’s effort in getting Robusta to a more prominent and sought-after position in the public eye is paying off.  

Coffee from Kenya is often seen as one of the best varieties due to the distinct flavor the beans have. This is thanks to black currant, the flavor that grants Kenyan coffee its gift for complexity with its berry undertones and rich flavor. It is one of the reasons a cup of coffee from Kenya tastes so unique. 

Africa is the cradle for coffee’s past, present, and future. Through all its trials and obstacles, Africa has managed to do well in the coffee industry. The time taken to cultivate and care for its coffee exports has been its saving grace in the industry but it can only do so much in a work environment built to use and oppress its workers.  

Exploitation Continues to Drive the Coffee Industry to This Day 

Even though coffee has become the hot commodity we see today, behind every popular good, is a lot of exploitation and greed. Sadly, despite its captivating origins, what was once an enjoyable luxury became a breeding ground for exploitation, cruelty, colonization, and slavery.  

Beneath the success and global profit is the mistreatment and dehumanization of the hard-working people that toil to produce the coffee crops, often being overworked in deplorable conditions. 

African farmers get paid the least out of all countries that produce coffee, despite producing some of the richest quality coffee crops. In fact, due to the exploitative pricing, they’re losing an estimated $1.47 billion every year.  

These farmers do not get paid the wages they deserve for their hard work, often being forced to withdraw their children from school to help make a living for the family.  In Brazil, workers earn less than 2% of the retail price, and experience a high rate of child labor. In fact, 40% of the workers are kids.  

We previously wrote a blog titled “The Forgotten Farmer: From Fair Trade to Abundance” that sheds light on the conditions that African farmers have to toil through. If you want to know more about what’s been going on behind the scenes, you can give it a read. 

Many of them become enslaved to the elite who own plantations that produce coffee crops, working long hours to repay debt and loans used for emergency healthcare, loans, renting land, and more expenses. They are also kept from leaving to purchase essential goods from other places, due to lack of transportation, cost, estate constraints, and excessive work hours. If they need to shop, they are forced to rely on the over-inflated prices of the estate’s shops. 

This leaves them with little money to show for their hard physical labor and leads to an endless perpetual cycle of poverty for these people.  

Yes, the coffee industry has definitely been built upon the backs of enslaved people then and now.  

Even animals have been used to create what is known as the most expensive coffee in the world, through the use of their excrement. The Asian palm civet is a mammal found in Asia, and often these creatures are captured and force-fed the coffee beans to produce the poop used to create the drink. They’re kept in deplorable conditions without clean drinking water, social interaction, and forced to live in dirty living areas. Elephants have also been on record as suffering from the same fate as well, even in so-called sanctuaries where they were intended to flourish.  

How We Can Support the Farmers and Ethical Sourcing 

It is estimated that the demand for coffee will skyrocket in 2030, with consumption rising from a third to 200 million bags. With the growing preference for specialty coffees, Africa could easily become a giant in the coffee industry. With the unique coffee growing environments in its regions and the distinct flavors, notes, and aromas of the coffee beans produced, Africa has the advantage.  

Some of the richest coffee comes from Africa, but the lack of support farmers receive prevents the coffee they cultivate to be spread abroad as well as the knowledge. We’ve spoken about Fair Trade before, and how despite it being in place, isn’t able to fully resolve the inequities faced by farmers and provide them with better regulations to work with.  

The coffee crisis going on has served to increase this difficulty ten-fold, being another trial that keeps farmers from earning a living wage, and often putting them in further debt instead. Ethiopia’s current war, inflation issues, and propaganda has caused a crisis in their society and where coffee is involved, with their production rate steadily dropping.  

Help Coffee Farmers


It’s extremely important to support coffee brands that source from African regions, and choose coffee that comes from ethical companies like Earnest and Humble. 
 

With climate change happening, developing a sturdy infrastructure, sustainable farming, and better trade deals could help so much in opening the way for Africa to improve its economy and livelihood of its farmers.  

If you’re a coffee-lover and you’re reading this, we ask you to please be conscious of where your coffee comes from. Educate yourself on the issues plaguing farmers these days, and offer your support to local Black-owned coffee shops and businesses to provide resources and support. 

With everyone’s help, Africa could indeed be the future of coffee as we know it.