The Revolutionary Power of Coffee: How it Sparked Rebellions and Supported the Industrial Revolution

For centuries, coffee has been a driving force of global change. From sparking rebellions in coffee shops to supporting the Industrial Revolution, this popular caffeinated beverage has had a revolutionary impact on the world. Three hundred years ago, during the Age of Enlightenment, coffee shops became the center of innovation. However, years of oppression and cruelty meant that a sustainable business model was not possible.

In 1791, the horrors of life on plantations led Haitians to rebel, resulting in crop cuts and blocking the production and export of coffee. It was in the 19th century that coffee underwent a fundamental change, boosting the new industrial economies of the West and becoming the centerpiece of the agricultural economies of several emerging countries in Latin America and certain areas of Asia and Africa. On the Dutch-controlled Indonesian island of Java, Javanese farmers were extorted as a tax in kind (that is, coffee was eventually transported back to Europe, and there it spread as quickly as it had a century earlier in the Middle East). This is a factor that is easy to overlook when considering only the commercial exchange of coffee on a large scale. The first British coffee shop opened in Oxford in 1651 and was immediately successful, especially among professors and university students.

During the first decades of the 16th century, the vast majority of coffee cultivation was still carried out in Ethiopia. In the middle of the 18th century Enlightenment, caffeine contributed to the intellectual ferment of the time (and justified authorities' fears that coffee shops were potential sources of pernicious political turmoil). The authorities had to restore order and a legal decision was issued confirming the legality of coffee. The same writers who praised coffee and tea for allowing them to focus their thoughts and write for longer hours also suffered from a terrible lack of sleep. For centuries and around the world, coffee shops became the key to establishing what some philosophers call a “public sphere”, formerly dominated by elites, for a larger mix and class of people. Meanwhile, poets John Dryden, Alexander Pope and writer Jonathan Swift went to court at Will's Coffee House. It wasn't until the 19th century that coffee merchants began to consolidate a classification and naming scheme different from the port of origin technique.

In the Ottoman Empire, for example, where alcohol was banned due to religious restrictions, coffee shops quickly became socially acceptable places for men to meet and talk outside the mosque. In Latin America, after World War II, overwhelming rural poverty and exploitation of workers who harvested coffee, bananas and other global commodities caused regional hotbeds of communist activism. In Oxford, locals had begun to call coffee shops “penny universities” because for just one penny they could access intellectual discussions and sober debates. From sparking rebellions to supporting industrialization, it is clear that coffee has had an immense impact on global history. It has been an integral part of revolutions both political and industrial - all thanks to its revolutionary power.

Benjamín Arrand
Benjamín Arrand

Avid beer maven. Passionate pop culture enthusiast. Passionate tv practitioner. Total zombie practitioner. Total tv evangelist. Hardcore bacon scholar.