By Dr. Steven Topik, University of California Irvine
How did a tree that sprang up in the remote highlands of Ethiopia become a global commodity? In the beginning, of course, was the coffee tree itself. The characteristics of coffee that we find so alluring arose out of its own fight for survival and expansion; they were not imposed by human design. The goal of the bushes and trees in the Rubiacae family, such as the one which botanists call “Coffea”, was to survive and propagate in the drought-prone areas of the African continent and on Indian Ocean tropical islands such as Madagascar and the Macarenes.1 Serendipitously, it so happened that people came to find coffee’s properties useful, and even seductive.