An open-air coffeehouse
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A Cup of Coffee - A Special Memory of 40 Years
Yapı Kredi Publications

The Napoleonic System: Asphalt - Paving the Way to Modernism

In 1806, three years after war with England had begun, Napoleon hoping to harm England by blocking its trade with Europe, promoted the concept of French self-sufficiency and established the Continental System. “Initially, we had to acquire colonies if we desired to be rich and we had to settle in India, the West Indies, Central America, San Domingo. Now we must become the producers. “Tout cela, nous la faisons nous-memes!" he said, adding: “We must do everything for ourselves.” With the Continental System he implemented a number of important industrial and agricultural innovations. Napoleon’s research brought success, as for example eliminating the need for sugar cane by producing it from European sugarbeets.

But the Europeans could not produce their own coffee so in its place they settled on chicory. This healthy aqueous alternative herb with blue flowers has a long white root. After being roasted and pulverized it took on the appearance of coffee and produced a bitter taste when boiled. This is why the French developed a taste for chicory during the Napoleonic period and even when the Continental System ended in 1814, they were drinking this medicinal herb mixed into their coffee. The French mix-race Creole people of New Orleans were also enjoying this drink.

From 1814 to 1817, Amsterdam was once again the center of the coffee trade. The price of coffee in American dollars varied between 16 and 20 cents per 500 gr but it had drastically fallen in relation to the the $1.08 price of 1812. At the same time increasing demand in Europe and the United States brought down the price in Java by 30 cents or more.

Some years later, in 1823, another crisis emerged when production shifted to the new plantations. War was pending between France and Spain. The coffee exporters in Europe rushed to obtain coffee. They expected the sea lanes to be closed again soon. Prices on the green beans rose dramatically. But the war did not break out, at least for the time being. Historian Heinrich Jacob wrote: “Something else has come in place of war! Coffee from everywhere!” The beans came from Mexico, Jamaica and the Antilles. For the first time Brazilian production appeared. Prices fell rapidly. They went bankrupt in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin and St. Petersburg. Millionaires lost everything in a single night. Hundreds committed suicide.

The modern era had begun. From then on the price of coffee fluctuated constantly on account of speculation, politics, the weather and the threat of war. During the latter part of the 19th Century, coffee was an international trade good that completely changed the economy, the ecology and the political life of Latin America.

SOURCE: Mark Pendergrast, Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World, Basic Books, 1999

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