HermannM

Haitian Coffee & the American Revolution

In Interesting on April 27, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Although much of the talk this week has been about tea, this discussion will focus on the real catalyst of the American revolution… coffee.

At the time of the American Revolution, Haiti was the world leader in coffee production. Some of the coffee was sent to France to be sold in the posh coffee houses of Paris. The majority however, was sent to the colonies. Demand for coffee was inspired in part by anti-British sentiments. Price was probably the stronger motivator for switching consumption from tea to coffee. Whereas Arabian coffee had cost 18 shillings, Haitian coffee was priced at 9 shillings. By 1790 coffee imports were a third greater than that of tea. At the turn of the century, coffee imports outstripped tea by a factor of 10 to 1.

It should be clear why the colonists resisted an increase in taxes on the British tea. Strong demand for the less costly but equally satisfying coffee was a precursor of the “Boston Tea Party.” In fact, had a viable substitute not been identified, the dumping of British tea might never have occurred.

Haiti’s dominance in coffee production funded numerous slave revolts and eventually led to revolution in 1804. Although losing Haiti was a great loss for Napoleon, the resulting effect, in many ways, could not have made him any happier. Constantly at war with its English-speaking neighbor to the north, France needed a break from the fighting without leaving itself vulnerable to attack. Shortly before losing Haiti, Napoleon had sold Louisiana to Thomas Jefferson. The combination of America doubling in size and its securing a suitable cash crop that allowed it to resist British imports, created a third superpower in the world. England’s dominance in world trade would forever be challenged. With a new ally against England, France vacated the Western Hemisphere allowing Napoleon to pursue the unification of the rest of Europe.

So how did Haiti lose its stranglehold on coffee production? Well, in a nutshell, the only thing wrong with Haiti are Haitians. After the revolution, the slaves didn’t want to work anymore. Production slumped causing prices to shoot up. America eventually identified alternative sources of coffee from Brazil. The rest is modern history.


A resurgence in Haiti, however, appears to be underway. In the mid 1990’s Haitian coffee growers embarked on an economic experiment to sell directly to independent roasters in America under an agreement of fair trade. Marketed under the brand Haitian Bleu®, Haitian coffee competes in the premium category and offers a distinctive sweetness not found in beans from Columbia or Brazil.

hatianbleu-custom-2

Today, coffee remains the country’s flagship export and the industry employs one out of every six citizens. America’s support of fair trade is a prime example of business and government working together to help developing nations bootstrap their way out of poverty. It doesn’t necessarily explain the Republican Tea Party, but then again, neither can FoxNews.

I hope you found this to be scintillating Food for Thought!

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