The value of coffee
The value of coffee

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4 Cultures of coffee consumption

Figure 2 Different types of coffee

Cappuccino, filter, skinny latte, espresso, instant, macchiato, Fairtrade, organic, Ethiopian, at home or at a coffee shop? How do you take your coffee? The possibilities seem endless and, as you will learn in this section, different countries have very different traditions when it comes to drinking coffee.

For social scientists, comparison is an important tool for investigating the social world. By comparing how two or more societies have developed a particular way of doing something – in this case drinking coffee – it is possible to learn a great deal about the organisation of that society and the nature of that practice. What seems like a matter of individual choice is revealed to be part of a much wider interconnected web of collective forces. For example, the style of coffee you are used to drinking is very likely linked to:

  • the systems of coffee provision in your country – the supermarkets, coffee shops, coffee machines and technologies that offer and prepare the coffee you regularly consume
  • your country’s historical trading partnership with colonies that produce particular types of coffee beans
  • public policy and legislative systems that regulate things such as the temperature of hot drinks, the levels of caffeine for a drink to be labelled as ‘decaffeinated’ or the prices that can be charged for basic goods
  • the ways different types of coffee experiences are advertised to you through the media, reinforced by cultural references such as popular TV programmes, and influenced by your friends and family.

These commercial, technological, economic, regulatory and sociocultural contexts together create and sustain distinctive cultures of coffee consumption within a country, which in turn shapes the value assigned to this commodity.

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