Latte or Pumpkin Spice?

Latte or Pumpkin Spice?

Nov 10
Richard Vogen, Director, Planning and Research Development

Every Thursday morning, a marketing and communications team assembles to discuss relevant marketing issues, projects, and strategies for the College of ACES. This most recent Thursday, the first debate was about the quality of the pumpkin spice flavored Joe. Fueling the conversation was the ubiquitous beverage that seemingly keeps the whole university running, early in the morning until late at night. 

Coffee beans are actually berries…Who knew? They come from evergreen plants in the Rubiaceae family. Cultivation of coffee bushes is said to have originated in Ethiopia, sometime before the 15th century. And the earliest reliable evidence suggests that roasting and brewing coffee first occurred in Sufi monasteries of Yemen around the middle of that century, before Columbus sailed. Coffee consumption later spread through the Arab world and into Europe, with lots of mercantile, political, and cultural intrigue, becoming one of the most traded agricultural commodities in the world. The Dutch East India Company introduced coffee to the island of Java in Southeast Asia, where it found a suitable subtropical environment for cultivation, and coffee plantation also spread to other parts of Africa and Latin America. Coffee is second only to water as a popular beverage and almost two-thirds of global consumption is in the United States, Germany, and France. Coffee is truly a global business and a fascinating example of a complex agricultural supply chain with all kinds of economic, social, and cultural implications.

Coffee is more than that though. The biggest coffee brand in the United States sells the experience, not just the beverage. It’s remarkable to think how far Americans have come in coffee culture over just a few years. I still remember my first taste, in the early 1960’s. My cousin goaded my grandmother to give us some while we were shelling corn on a cold winter morning, steaming hot and laced with sugar. I spit it out! But years later, to cope with late hours of studying, etcetera, on this campus, I learned to like the stuff, even though it was the standard issue Colombian variety peddled by Juan Valdez.

But then…I moved to Vienna, Austria…and “Eureka!” I discovered the joy of Wiener Melange, the Viennese version of latte, served in porcelain cups on silver trays. Nothing here really compares…yet…but the revolution did come to America. Favorite coffee haunts now abound on the Illinois campus, and around town. Surely our students, and faculty, would be at a total loss for survival if they did not have these spots to study, converse, and surf the net.  Demand must be strong, because the lines are long and the baristas are busy. So, the story is that once again, agriculture and the business of food fuel the engines of our very lives.

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” T.S.  Eliot