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During lockdown, coffee has remained a high-demand product. People in home offices across the Global North are consuming their grounds using such products as a French press and AeroPress; increasing the demand on coffee supplies. Cafés were one of the first consumer outlets to reopen as people queued up two meters apart for their favourite flat white. Coffee’s role in office-based societies is not an enigma. But how does this piquant product affect those who export the “black gold”?

In this seminar panel, we will discuss the history of coffee in producer nations. Much of the literature on this global commodity is centred on European history. By assessing the role of coffee in the twentieth-century history of Kenya and the contemporary history of Mexico, we will reposition the focus of coffee’s history away from Europe and place the producer nations as the central focus. The two papers will use a socio-economic approach to understand how the quest for “quality” influences the history of coffee. The first paper will focus on how quality coffee emerged in Kenya during the colonial era and consequently assisted white settlers’ exclusion of indigenous Africans from the lucrative trade. The second paper will explore the emergence of specialty coffee in Mexico; using contemporary history to appreciate how the coffee trade has changed in the twenty-first century and has contributed to social and economic features in the Global South. Thus, this seminar panel will utilise a commodity history of coffee to unify varied themes that expose understudied phenomena in global history.


Jordan completed the MPhil in World History at the University of Cambridge in 2019/20. He is completing a research stay at Colegio de Mexico from January-March 2021 before beginning his PhD in September 2021. He has worked at the Scottish Centre for Global History, University of Dundee, since July 2020 coordinating the online public history project while researching the emergence of specialty coffee. 

Philip is a candidate for the MPhil in Economic and Social History at the University of Cambridge. He has worked within the coffee industry for several years and his present research investigates the historical construction of quality in colonial Kenya’s coffee production. Philip is also interested in the history of photography and its relationship with Empire. His past research has focused on nineteenth-century Britain’s visualities of China through the work of embedded war photographer, Felice Beato. Since July 2018 he has been a photographic history research assistant on the Reframing Imperial War project(; and since March 2019 he has been a digital collections research assistant on the CIRN project (

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend but booking in advance is required.