Posted in Kafevend Blog

1-It was during the Age of Discovery that coffee, tea and cocoa were brought to Europe, but how did Spain and Portugal decide who would explore where?

a-An east west split: By the beginning of the 16th century, both Spain and Portugal had sent explorers to try and find a sea route to India and the lucrative spice trade. Portugal succeeded, reaching India before the end of the 15th century. Whilst Columbus certainly did not discover a route (having acutally found The Americas), Spain realised there was still money to be made in this new world.

After almost coming to blows over who had the right to explore and colonise (and exploit) these various lands, the two countries agreed to the Treaty of Tordisillas which split the globe to the east and west. When they inevitably met sailing in opposite directions in the Moluccas, they also agreed to the Treaty of Zaragoza which finally split the globe in two between Spain and Portugal.

2-What peculiar drink did Hernán Cortés discover in Central America?

c-Cocoa: During his short (and increasingly perilous) stay in the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan, Cortés and his men observed their hosts drinking a frothy brown beverage. The king Moctezuma II was a particular fan, drinking his from gold cups. The original cocoa drink was not well received by the Spanish palette, as it was cold, bitter and often mixed with chillis. As well as being used to make drinks, cacao beans also served as a currency in the Aztec empire- never has the phrase drinking your money away been more appropriate!

3-Which of these drinks was the first to make it to England?

b-Coffee: Although we see ourselves and are often seen as a nation of tea drinkers, that wasn't always the case. Coffee was the first drink to make its way to England in the middle of the 17th century after Dutch traders brought it back to Europe from the East Indies. Coffee became very popular and hundreds of coffee houses sprang up around the place. Institutions such as Lloyds of London have their origin in a humble coffee house. Coffee has made a big come back in recent years of course as a multitude of coffee chains and independent coffee houses have proliferated on our High Streets- tea's position is certainly looking a bit shaky!

4-Which spices brought out the worst in Dutch colonialism?

d-Mace and Nutmeg: We often think of big corporations as being rather dastardly entities, but the vast trading monopolies that abounded a few centuries ago could be particularly vicious- it probably didn't help that they had their own private armies. The Dutch East India Company, or Vereenigde Oostindiche Compagnie, was brazen in the way it went about securing the Banda Islands where the valuable spices mace and nutmeg could be found. First they fought off competing European interests, which involved laying siege to a few forts in the area. After that they turned on the native population itself, and eventually ended up killing many of them before enslaving the rest to work on the new plantations.

5-Which plant did the Brtish East India Company manage to break China's monopoly on?

a-Tea: relations between the Europeans and the Chinese never went much beyond a cool civility, but as China began to demand rarer items like silver as payment, moods began to turn sour. In order to buy this silver, which they in turn used to buy tea, Britain produced and sold opium to China. The Chinese government obviously wasn't keen on the British doping their population, and seized a ship loaded with the stuff one day to make an example. Britain didn't take kindly to this, and went to war with China. Whilst this was going on, cooler heads were figuring out a way to avoid paying China for tea in the first place by growing their own. After discovering tea in India, the British East India Company went on to establish tea plantations of their own in the country and cut China out of the market.

6-Where does sugar come from?

c-New Guinea: Sugar has travelled a long way over the years. Several thousand years ago sugar was grown in New Guinea and simply chewed to enjoy the sugar rush. Over time sugar made its way from South Asia up to China and India and then westwards through Africa. Europeans finally took sugar across the Atlantic where it formed the basis of the African slave trade. Slaves were brought from Africa to the colonies to grow sugar, which was sold in America and Britain, which provided money to buy more slaves. Not a great chapter in the history books.

7-Which country introduced coffee to Vietnam?

b-France: French colonists introduced coffee to Vietnam in the middle of the 19th century, no doubt witnessing the success of the Dutch East India Company's coffee plantations on Indonesia. It proved a successful cash crop, and still does to this day. However, there are worries over the sustainability of current farming practices as a glut of lower quality robusta is produced. Hopefully though with better techniques being taught and a nudge towards growing arabica, Vietnam can go on as one of the top coffee producing countries on the globe.

8-Why did British Ceylon switch to growing tea?

a-Coffee harvest failed: The British introduced coffee to Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) in the 1830s. Unfortunately it didn't last long, and after just thirty years they were forced to introduce tea as a replacement. The reason for this was due to an outbreak of coffee leaf rust, which devastated the fledgling coffee industry. Since then, tea has grown to become an important part of the island's economy.

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