Anthropology of the bean

Anthropology in Practice has a three-part series on coffee. From Boing Boing:

The first part looks at how coffee became a necessary part of our morning existence. The second delves into the history of the coffee bean in human culture. And the third examines the social role of coffee in creating a culture of productivity.

I’ve only read the first. That first installment is a social scientist’s view of how the coffee industry has morphed from what it was in the 50’s to what it is today. It’s brief and, to my eye, fair and balanced (to coin a phrase). It’s really a brief history of the marketing of coffee. I suppose you could read into this bit of coffee history the belief that those of us that believe certain forms of coffee are worth more money than others is simply the product of advertising and keen manipulation. In these matters I am more of the opinion that marketing finds consumers. It doesn’t create them.

Education of what makes one type of coffee worth more than the other is not necessarily manipulative. When it’s done well and done honestly it simply opens up the consumer’s set of choices and presents them with a decision that they must make, an opportunity to decide what it is that they value, about how much something is worth to them. To put it more crudely: if you don’t think the price that any one of the many specialty coffee roasters and purveyors is asking is fair, there is a Starbucks up the street that may be more to your liking and a grocery store a slight bit further down if Starbucks isn’t what you were looking for either. Not to be rude. It’s just that the choice is yours to make. And that’s something to be celebrated.

Update: I’ve read the other two posts – and you can be the judge of course – but lets just say the most compelling of the three just happens to be the first. At the very least it’s a story I have not heard a thousand times before.

Coffee history? Number two in the series? How many times can we re-hash old and unprovable ideas of the when, where, who and how of coffee? Apparently at least one more time.

And the last? Well, here’s a summation: coffee keeps you alert, wakes you, cures the morning/afternoon blahs, etc. etc. There. I’ve just saved precious minutes of your life. You’re welcome.


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