“Coffee!” It is a frequently heard word in my home-country. Not from salesmen trying to sell you a pack of roasted coffee, but just from your colleague calling you to take a break at 10am for a cup of coffee or tea. My mom also called for us at the bottom of the stairs everyday at about 8pm to come downstairs for a cup of coffee. Coffee? is also often one of the first things your host will ask you when you are meeting a customer of supplier for business. Coffee is everywhere in my home-country, the Netherlands.
Coffee! I grew up with it. I remember my first experiences of sneaky sipping from my mom’s or father’s cup of coffee when they were distracted and would look the other way. When we as kids got a little older, 8 or 10 years, I don’t remember exactly, we were allowed to drink coffee with mom and dad on Sundays after church. During my university time together with my fellow students I significantly stepped up my coffee consumption to help compensate our going to bed too late and during my time working with a multinational company, the free of charge use of the coffee machine made my coffee consumption grow even further, although that coffee wasn’t always that great.
To be honest, I’m not sure what makes the Scandinavians drink so much coffee (maybe their extremely short winter days requiring a lot of caffeine to stay awake), but the #1 ranking of the Netherlands in terms of coffee consumption per capita might well have to with the long history of the Dutch in coffee business. Since late 17th century the Dutch have been involved with growing coffee in Indonesia through the Dutch East Indian Company. By then, coffee drinking was for the upper-class as the price in the Netherlands was the equivalent of several hundreds of dollars per kilogram. Coffee growing was initially started in Java but spread to Sumatra, Bali, Sulawesi and Timor in the 1870’s.
The Dutch may have been in coffee since the 1600’s, but coffee trees were first discovered in Ethiopia in the 13th and 14th century and coffee was first cultivated by the Arabs in Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula in the 15th century and coffee drinking was even encouraged by the authorities. The many pilgrims from different countries visiting Mecca each year may have played a role in the spread of coffee around the world, but the Arabs tried hard to maintain their monopoly. But the Dutch succeeded and got their hands on seedlings, which they successfully cultivated in the greenhouses in the Amsterdam botanical garden early 17th century. Mid 17th century the Dutch attempted to cultivate them in India and Sri Lanka, but failed. They didn’t give up and sent the plants to Java where they first failed because of flooding, but were successful later. With the Dutch involved with growing coffee in Indonesia and Suriname, these colonies soon became the main suppliers for Europe those days. Today, Indonesia is still one of the main coffee suppliers in the world and the Dutch, faithful to the product they have pushed for so hard, remain one of the top consumers of coffee in the world. Maybe the coffee has really gotten into our Dutch genes over time, but at least we are living up to our past.
You see, you don’t need to be the first in order to be successful. It is one thing to discover a product, but another thing to grow and market it successfully. And for the latter, you got to believe in your product and continue to develop it. That process will take time, many years, and hence requires some sort of serious passion for coffee at a minimum.