How the Bean Impacted the USA

Brian Clark Howard – Coffee Infographic

Many of us adore the taste and other sensations of a hot cup of joe, not to mention the comfort and ritual of it, but how much do we want to look behind the bean? For all the talk of caffeine, science actually doesn’t know a lot about its effects on the human body, much less the hundreds of other biologically active ingredients (and their interactions) present in your latte. There’s a lot of debate on how healthful coffee is, and studies often seem to contradict each other.

Coffee also has a complex relationship with culture and the environment. Done “right,” in traditional shade-grown operations, coffee can help preserve valuable semi-forest and forest habitat. It can provide work for rural people and is a primary export of many developing countries.

Done “wrong,” coffee cultivation can result in cleared rainforests, large inputs of pesticides, poisoning of workers, brutally low wages, and degradation of habitats. Many certification schemes have cropped up around the world to give market signals to better producers. I have written extensively about Fair Trade, bird-friendly, organic, Rainforest Alliance-certified, and other programs.

Coffee people are often as passionate about their preferred eco-label as they are about their single-country-of-origin bean or favorite blend, and there are pluses and minuses to every certification. The old adage that coffee “should be triple certified” (planet, people, no pesticides) has largely fallen out of favor, due to the high costs to growers for enrollment in each program and the large areas of overlap among organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and other standards.

Coffee also has a rich cultural history, both in areas where it is grown and in the wider world. Prized seeds were smuggled into remote jungles to jumpstart illicit plantations, and coffeehouses evolved as centers for alternative gatherings. The coffeehouse has often become a lightning rod for debate about globalization, corporate responsibility, and local ownership. (Activists picketing the first Starbucks in my college town once screamed, “Is your coffee worth it?” at me, although they looked bewildered when I told them I had ordered hot chocolate. A week later the large glass windows of the storefront were smashed.)

(Related: “Crafty Ways to Reuse Coffee Bags“)

So although I am now caffeine sensitive myself, and can only enjoy the occasional cup of decaf (I know, sacrilege), I reviewed this new infographic with interest. An acquaintance of mine, Drew Hendricks, does some social media guru work for the company that produced this infographic, and asked if I wanted to run it. He describes the graphic below:

Although native to Northern Africa, coffee has played a major role in America.

First brought here by the British, coffee was once thought of as a mediocre beverage, especially when compared to tea; however, coffee’s popularity in Colonial America skyrocketed after the Boston Tea Party. After this protest on the British tea tax, the drinking of tea was often considered unpatriotic, while the act of drinking coffee became a sign of independence.

Coffee continued to play a role in American culture and society with the creation of the “Coffee Break” during WWII. Having seen the effect of caffeine on the workforce, factory owners began offering workers longer breaks and even supplying coffee.

As represented in this infographic design by Lumin Interactive and Condor Consulting, coffee remains one of the most popular beverages in America, with nearly 80% of the population deemed to be coffee drinkers. Coffee’s popularity continues to increase as coffee houses expand throughout the country.

Brian Clark Howard is a writer and editor with He was formerly an editor at The Daily Green and E/The Environmental Magazine and has contributed to many publications, including,,,, Yahoo!, MSN and elsewhere. His latest book, with Kevin Shea, is Build Your Own Small Wind Power System.

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