In the year 1723, a French merchant ship sat becalmed halfway across the atlantic ocean. For over a month, she drifted with the currents, sails loose and flapping, waiting for a steady breeze. More than two hundred years had passed since Columbus made the same journey, and transatlantic travel was now a matter of course. But sometimes the fate and consequence of a voyage still hinged on seeds. By some accounts, the drifting ship had already faced a troubled passage—outrunning a deadly storm off Gibraltar, and narrowly avoiding capture by tunisian pirates. Now, stuck in that windless equatorial zone known as the doldrums, the ship had run so low on fresh water that the captain ordered strict rationing for crew and passengers alike. Among those travelers, one gentleman felt particularly parched, because he was sharing his small allotment with a thirsty tropical shrub. ... “It serves no purpose to go into the details of the infinite care I had to provide that delicate plant,” he wrote, long after the wind picked up and the ship docked safely at the Caribbean island of Martinique. And long after the descendants of his spindly sapling were well on their way to changing economies throughout Central and South America. The plant, of course, was coffee, but just how a young naval officer named Gabriel-Mathieu De Clieu got his hands on it remains a matter of debate.
The English colonial legacy bequeathed a serious tea habit to Kenya. A super-sweet brew boiled up in milk rather than water, tea is the drink of choice at home and in government offices. As the world’s leading black tea exporter, Kenya brings in about $1bn a year from its production, which totalled 450,000 tonnes last year, nearly 10 times as much as coffee production. But the up-and-coming consumer is plumping for coffee, across the city and into its fringes. ... Suleiman says he goes for coffee because “big men” drink it. Mahiti concurs: “We’ve always had tea, but coffee is something that wasn’t there before: it’s like a sign of success when you drink coffee.” ... “If you want to be identified as someone who’s on an upward track, where better to do that than in a public space where you’re spending only a buck and a half to have a cup of coffee and say ‘I’ve made it, I’ve arrived,’” says Ashley, who explains the company deliberately never hurries customers from tables, even if they nurse their cup for hours to eke out time and free WiFi. “It’s a very inexpensive way to demonstrate your rise up in society.”
Congo is one of the last frontiers in a global scramble for the world’s best-tasting coffee. The rise in demand for specialty coffee, which accounts for one of every two cups sold in the U.S., has encouraged exporters, roasters and retailers to go places where the potential is huge—and so are the risks. ... The many challenges of doing business in Congo include death threats, kidnapping and extortion. Government officials often concoct new taxes on the spot or forge documents to demand more money than what is owed. Last year, at least 175 foreigners and Congolese, many working for aid organizations, were abducted and held for ransom, according to Human Rights Watch. ... Most of the kidnappings happened in areas near where specialty coffee is grown, though no Western coffee prospectors have been abducted. ... Specialty coffee is a fast-growing segment of the approximately $175 billion-a-year world-wide coffee market. Specialty coffee is made from the highest-quality arabica beans, sells at a premium and has gone from the fringe to mainstream. In the U.S., 31% of adults drink specialty coffee every day, up from 16% in 2006, the National Coffee Association trade group estimates. ... Congo’s best beans regularly get at least an 85 and fetch a wholesale price of about $3 a pound, about double the price on the ICE Futures U.S. exchange in New York.
Because: after Howell dropped out of Yale in 1967 (“the whole world was exploding at that point”) and met his future wife, Laurie, and moved to Berkeley and visited the first Peet’s Coffee, changing his conception of coffee shops forever; and after he then tasted a cup of lighter-roasted coffee made by the Bay Area Capricorn Coffees, which changed his conception of coffee further still; but before he moved to Boston and started his café company, the Coffee Connection, where he invented the Frappuccino and pushed light roasts and sourced single-origin beans when the whole world was drinking anonymous dark-roasted muck; and before he sold the whole kit and caboodle to Starbucks for $23 million in SBUX stock in ’94; and before ... He was, at the time, mostly preoccupied with the beauty and power of the psychedelic yarn paintings that the Huichol made as a part of their shamanic religious practices in those remote Mexican mountains. ... mostly they talk about his pragmatically mystical conviction that a higher truth of coffee exists, and that we can figure out how to get to it. ... These are boom times for fancy coffee. You can buy locally roasted bags of expensive Ethiopian varietals in small American towns, and every major city with a recently gentrified neighborhood is now home to at least one coffee bar serving pour-over made with single-origin beans and a small roaster setting up shop in a industrial brown zone near a canal.
Financial markets accommodate both prudent insurers and reckless gamblers. They provide investors with an opportunity to diversify their portfolios, and allow gamblers to bet on future movements in interest rates. The coexistence of the two can allow speculators to make profits by stabilising prices—buying when markets are fearful, and selling when they are greedy. But when the gambling motive overwhelms the insurance motive, speculation becomes destabilising and then risk, far from being minimised by careful management, becomes concentrated in the hands of those who understand least what they are doing. And when regulators perceive insurance when they should see wagering, their actions magnify a crisis rather than minimise it. Such destabilising speculation, mischaracterised by regulatory authorities as prudent risk assessment, is what caused the global financial crisis of 2008. ... The coexistence of insurance and gambling goes back to the earliest days of markets in risk, and the interaction of the two has been central to financial history. But it was four developments in the second half of the 17th century that combined to frame the way we think about risk, and the institutions we have for dealing with it, through to the present day.
Handing over control of a company is always tricky—Schultz, 63, officially relinquished the CEO job on April 3—and doubly so when it involves a charismatic, longtime leader who all but founded the company. ... In Schultz’s case, how does a notorious perfectionist who craves total control apply his perfectionism to the act of ceding control? That challenge is all the more fraught because his most notorious professional failure by far was his last attempt to leave as CEO, in 2000, a slow-boiling disaster that eventually concluded with his triumphant return. ... Beyond covering the planet with coffee bars, Starbucks has two main growth initiatives, which Johnson calls the “most critical things for the future of the company.” Johnson will be in charge of one of them: the continuing development of Starbucks’ digital and mobile operations. ... second key area will fall to Schultz. As executive chairman, he’s leading Starbucks’ push to develop a higher-end brand and “experiential destinations” to entice people who have abandoned malls to stop by a store. That strategy involves a three-pronged attack consisting of (1) the Roastery, a handful of massive, ultraluxurious coffee palaces inspired in part by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; (2) a new brand of rare and single-origin coffee beans called Reserve; and (3) a second line of boutiques—a notch above a regular Starbucks but not quite as over the top as the Roastery—also called Reserve.