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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of coffee, from its origins in Ethiopia to its role in the spread of ideas, its part in the slave trade and its social impact.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history and social impact of coffee. From its origins in Ethiopia, coffea arabica spread through the Ottoman Empire before reaching Western Europe where, in the 17th century, coffee houses were becoming established. There, caffeinated customers stayed awake for longer and were more animated, and this helped to spread ideas and influence culture. Coffee became a colonial product, grown by slaves or indentured labour, with coffea robusta replacing arabica where disease had struck, and was traded extensively by the Dutch and French empires; by the 19th century, Brazil had developed into a major coffee producer, meeting demand in the USA that had grown on the waggon trails.


Judith Hawley
Professor of 18th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London

Markman Ellis
Professor of 18th Century Studies at Queen Mary University of London


Jonathan Morris
Professor in Modern History at the University of Hertfordshire

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Available now

55 minutes

Last on

Thu 12 Dec 2019 09:00


Judith Hawley at Royal Holloway, University of London

Jonathan Morris at the University of Hertfordshire

Markman Ellis at Queen Mary University of London

BBC World Service: Coffee: a Hellish Brew

BBC 2: The Coffee Trail with Simon Reeve

History of coffee – Wikipedia



Brian Cowan, The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse (Yale University Press, 2005)

Benoit Daviron and Stefano Ponte, The Coffee Paradox: Global Markets, Commodity Trade and the Elusive Promise of Development (Zed Books, 2005)

Markman Ellis, The Coffee House: A Cultural History (Orion, 2004)

Ralph Hattox, Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East (University of Washington Press, 1985)

Jonathan Morris, Coffee: A Global History (Reaktion, 2018)

Mark Prendergast Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed our World (Basic Books, 2010)

Claudia Roden, Coffee (Faber, 1977)

William Clarence Smith and Steven Topik (eds.), The Global Coffee Economy in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, 1500-1989 (Cambridge University Press, 2003)

William H. Ukers, All About Coffee (first published 1935; Martino Fine Books, 2011)

Anthony Wild, Black Gold: The Dark History of Coffee (Harper Perennial, 2010)


  • Thu 12 Dec 2019 09:00

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