Augustine Sedgewick on the Dark Empire of Coffee

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Many of us are familiar with the negative health effects of coffee, which include insomnia, nervousness, upset stomach, and increased heart rate. Yet, this hasn’t seemed to stop many Americans from reaching for a cup, or two or three, of coffee to help them make it through the day. One estimate puts coffee consumption in the United States at 400 million cups of coffee a day, or more than 140 billion cups a year, making the United States the world’s leading consumer of coffee. Yet, for all the coffee we consumer, we spend little time thinking about how this reliance affects the people who make it.

This episode may have you re-evaluating your relationship with coffee capitalism and the dark empire that undergirds its production. Starting with coffee’s origins in the Middle East, Augustine Sedgewick reveals how coffee spread to Europe and the New World alongside European imperialism, transforming whole societies in the process. Moving forward in time, he explains how the United States used its status as a consumer of coffee to expand its influence in the hemisphere. All in all, the story told here is about much more than coffee, integrating histories of labor, food, business, and imperialism to reveal how global capitalism creates disconnections, as well as connections.

Check out the episode here!

Augustine Sedgewick earned his doctorate at Harvard University and teaches at the City University of New York. He is the author of Coffeeland: One Man’s Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug.

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