Black Coffee

Narration writers: Irene Angelico and Harold Crooks

Intro to the Intro:

“$2 for a cup of coffee. $.01 goes to the grower.”


Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds:
“Coffee is the second most valuable legal traded commodity on the face of the Earth, after oil.”
Helen King (narrator): “People around the globe drink 5 billion cups of coffee a year, half of them at breakfast.”


Helen King (narrator): “The essential morning beverage, coffee delivers the largest dose of the world’s most widely taken legal drug.

“From the bean to the cup, coffee provides a livelihood of sorts for over 25 million people. 100 million more depend on coffee for their survival.”


Haji Hussen Mohamad recounts Ethiopian coffee discovery myth about Kaldi the goat herder.


Beans are brought from Ethiopia, across the Red Sea, to the Arabian port of Mocha, in Yemen.


Bennett Weinberg, author of The World of Caffeine:
“The truth is that nobody knows where the word ‘coffee’ came from.”

Helen King (narrator): “As coffee houses become the gathering places of the poor, coffee also gains a reputation as a trouble-making social brew.”

Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds: “In 1511, the governor of Mecca, whose name was Kair Bey heard that people were doing lewd and terrible things in the coffee houses, but worse than that, they were saying bad and funny things about him. They were making up satirical verses about him. So, he decided that he would ban the coffee houses.”

Helen King (narrator): “As the Turks conquer the Arab world, they inherit coffee and coffee culture.”

Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds: “Eventually, an Indian named Baba Budan–this is probably true–he taped some seeds around his stomach, underneath his clothing, and smuggled them out and began to grow some in India.

Then the Dutch got hold of some fertile seeds and began growing them in their greenhouses in Amsterdam.”

Helen King (narrator): “From Holland, the Dutch transport the precious coffee plant to their colony in Java. There, they enslave the natives and force them to cultivate coffee.

By 1683, Mocha and Java are the most sought after beans and coffee is poised to conquer Europe.”


Ian Bersten, author of Coffee, Sex and Health: “The Turkish men went to coffee houses where they drank coffee without women. They also went to bath houses without women. And some of the Turkish regiments had homosexuals in them. And, consequently, the connection of coffee as the Turk’s drink meant that there was an association that coffee made you effeminate. And that was an attitude that was brought over to Venice.”

Florian, the first cafe in Venice, opens in 1720.


Ernesto Illy, chairman of illycaffe: “The Neapolitan people are impatient. And one guy had a friend in Milano. He said, ‘Listen, can you make it a little faster? I have to wait six, eight minutes to have my cup of coffee. Put some pressure on top.’ And the guy put some pressure. And this was the beginning of the espresso.”

Helen King (narrator): “The French are enamored with coffee, but they don’t know how to make it. Procopio dei Coltelli, an Italian, seizes on this opportunity. In 1686, he opens cafe Le Procope.”


Anthony Rowley, historian [translated by the documentarians from French]: “Everyone drank, men and women of both high society and the lower classes. They drank a great deal. And they drank even more in Germany, Holland and England. In France, under Louis XIV and XV, in the 17th and 18th centuries, a man would drink on average 7 to 8 litres of wine per day and about half a litre of pure alcohol per day. And he’d work 14 to 15 hours a day. Everyone drank, even children.”

Ian Bersten, author of Coffee, Sex and Health: “I believe Europe was under an alcoholic haze for decades. Then, all of a sudden, coffee started to come in and you found a new place where people could drink and communicate and join together without the alcohol.”

Helen King (narrator): “Newly sober and alert, Europeans can finally take stock. Around the marble top tables of their cafes, the French discuss events of the day and consider what might be done about them.”

Anthony Rowley, historian: “After the fall of the Bastille, Camille Desmoulins met with his followers at the Cafe de Foy where he made his famous declaration. Taking a leaf from a tree at the Palais-Royal, he said, ‘We should all do as I do, wear a cockade on our hats to recognize one another.’ And from that time, the Cafe de Foy became the cafe of the so-called cocardiers who later would be called the Revolutionaries.”

Helen King (narrator): “Although there are many who claim to have opened the first coffee house in Europe, it is actually a Jewish immigrant from Lebanon who deserves the honor for opening The Angel in, of all places, England. Nowhere else does the coffee house have the effect of a liquid torrent pouring over the country.”

Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds: “It was the British oddly enough because we think of them as being tea drinkers primarily. But, they became the big coffee drinkers. By 1700, there were 2000 coffee houses in London alone. And every single coffee house had its specialty. The writers would go to one. The bankers would go to another one. And the seafarers would go to another one. It was this ferment of intellects. They were called penny universities because, for a penny, you could get a cup of coffee and you could have these fantastic conversations.”

“There was the British East India Company which had a monopoly on tea from China and they wanted to sell that. So, by the end of the 1700s, England had become primarily a tea-drinking country.”

Helen King (narrator): “In 1700, Europeans are consuming half a million pounds of coffee. A hundred years later, their consumption has grown to a 100 million.”

“Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu brings the single coffee plant [from Paris] on a voyage across the Atlantic.”

Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds: “There was an evil Dutchman aboard who ripped off one of the leaves of his plant because he didn’t want him, the Frenchman, to bring the plant over. There were pirates who attacked the ship and he had to protect his coffee plant against the pirates. There was a big storm. But, finally he brings his coffee plant over. He plants it in Martinique, it thrives, and, from that single plant most of the coffee that’s now grown in the entirety of Latin America probably descends from that one plant.”

Helen King (narrator): “But just as the desire for coffee stimulates the Age of Reason and democracy, it also imposes colonialism in the Americas. The French, like other European nations, establish large, slave-run plantations to cultivate the precious bean.”

Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds: “After de Clieu brought the tree to Martinique, it spread, particularly in French-owned islands. And one of them was named San Domingo, now Haiti. By 1790, half of the world’s coffee was grown on this one island. Quite remarkable, but under appalling conditions by slaves who had been imported from Africa.

“In 1791, they revolted. The first thing they did was to destroy all the sugar and the coffee plantations. And, as a result of this, Haiti has been the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.”

Napoleon can’t suppress the slave revolt.

Helen King (narrator): “Where coffee has been introduced, it has brought revolution or change. Coffee, which has given so much pleasure to Europe, will bring enormous pain to Africa, where it comes from, and the colonies, where it’s going. The irresistible bean is about to catch fire across the ocean and it will transform the economies, ecologies, and politics of all of the Americas.”

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