Effects of Coffee and British Imperialism on the Global Economy from 1870 to 1910 Essay

The 19th century global economy was significantly influenced by the coffee trade which was largely supported vast British Empire and investments. Coffee increasingly became one of the most valuable commodities in the international trade particularly between 1870 and 1910. The global trade during those periods was characterized by heavy European consumption of raw materials which were mainly produced in the European colonies particularly in the British Empire. Towards the mid 19th century, the global economy was substantially influenced by the rapid increase in the consumption of coffee in Europe and the United States and this lead to more developments in the production and trade of coffee. Production growth was not only witnessed across the vast British empire but was also evident in the Latin Americas particularly in Brazil.

With the expansion of the British colonies in Africa, Asia as well as in the Pacific and Indian oceans, the British Empire came to dominate the international trade particularly the production and consumption of coffee which was key elements of the 19th century global economy. On the other hand, the ex British colonies such as in the Americas also asserted significant influence on the global economy with regard to the production of raw materials and export industry. The rise of coffee as one of the major commodities of international trade in the 19th century can be traced to the British colonial production of coffee in the Americas, Asia and Africa as well as in the Indian Ocean. The unprecedented production of coffee which was witnessed in these colonies as well the increased demand for coffee in the European countries resulted in the domination of the international market by coffee merchants and traders. The global economy of the time had not however reached the stage of market capitalism. The market size was comparatively smaller and coffee was primarily used as a luxury drink.

The small size of the coffee market from 1870 to 1910 was generally attributed to the fact to the inefficient colonial production methods such as the use of coercion as opposed to the application of new technology. By the end of 1910, the British coffee colonialism had significantly declined most probably because many of the colonies gained independence. Coffee continued to play a greater role in the global economy but the role of the British Imperialism was increasingly replaced by the newly independent countries such as Brazil, Caribbean and the Spanish America. This paper focuses on the role of the British imperialism and the coffee trade in the global economy of 19th century particularly from 1870 to 1910.

The contributions of the coffee industry to the Global economy of 19th century

Although initially regarded as a luxury product, coffee rapidly gained popularity in the mid 19th century to become a mass necessity particularly in the United States and the European counties such as Britain, France and Germany. One of the major factors that contributed to the explosion of the global demand for coffee was the industrial revolution. For example the industrial revolution not only increased the purchasing power of the ordinary persons due to the improved economies but also resulted in increased efficiency and reduced costs of coffee production thereby making it cheaper and affordable to many people in Europe and United States. After slave trade was outlawed in the 1850s, industrialization played a key role in the coffee production in several parts of the British Empire as well as in the Latin America.

A number of infrastructural developed which occurred during the period were largely attributed to the coffee production and trade. In many colonies as well as former colonies that produced coffee, railways were constructed to aid coffee export. For example railways were importantly used to link the coffee growing areas in the inland with the coastal parts of the country. By 1874, Brazil had already constructed nearly 800miles of railways network. This was further extended to cover approximately 6000 miles towards the end of 1889. Generally industrialization particularly the development of railways transport substantially enhanced the importance of coffee in the global economy by expanding its production and the efficiency of its transport to the market. During the entire period the terms of trade which were used by a number of countries participating in the coffee production and export were quite favorable due to the high demand. Unlike other tropical commodities of the time, coffee’s experience in the global market was significantly different and unique. The success of the key market players heavily depended on the available labor resources, the strength of the states as well the type of competing crops. The British colonies which formed the largest empire in the 19th century regarded coffee as a National project and therefore all colonial state resources were often directed towards coffee production.

The history of coffee production dates back to the early 1700s when the coffee seedlings which probably originated from Ethiopia were taken by French men to Madagascar and the Reunion islands before it eventually spread to the other parts of the world such as Latin America, Caribbean as well as many other countries in the British empire. With the growing number of consumers, the demand for coffee eventually necessitated the establishment of large coffee plantations in several parts of the world. Many people began to use coffee not only for the physical consumption but also as a social beverage. It was largely grown in the colonies where as a luxury good, coffee was primarily meant for export as opposed to domestic use.

The production of coffee soon spread to the new colonies in Asia, Oceania and Africa where growing coffee was often achieved by the colonial administrators through coercion and forcing their subjects to grow coffee. The Colonia states also levied taxes at the ports during the exportation of the coffee products. There were also sales taxes which were mostly collected at the municipal levels of the colonial administration. There was however little record keeping and the tax collection systems during the time were mostly inefficient ands this resulted in the occurrence of smuggling as well as other forms of tax evasion practices. Additionally matters were further complicated by the fact that there were no viable international standards used in the coffee trade and the quality of the coffee products were largely determined by taste and appearance. As a beverage which only required few additives, consumers were able to determine the quality of their coffee through taste. Quality was significantly important particularly in the Luxurious European markets where high quality coffee products were regarded as a symbol of social distinction.

The mass global consumption of coffee as a luxury beverage was particularly enhanced by the western imperialism particularly the British who acquired the largest share of colonies. With the high taxes which were often charged on the coffee exports, coffee remained a luxury beverage that was primarily used for social distinction. Coffee was mainly a preserve of the rich and peasants never used coffee due to its restrictive prices. Things however changed after the Napoleonic wars which saw the beverage being made available to the ordinary residents and urban workers.

A number of factors caused coffee to become one of the most important commodities for international trade. First and foremost, the rapid increase in popularity and consumption of coffee in the Europe and the United States resulted in a huge demand for coffee making it one of the highly sought commercial products of the 19th century. Another possible reason for the heroic role of coffee products in the global economy from 1870 to 1910 was the increased production which was witnessed in several places particularly in Brazil, Caribbean and other European colonies. The coffee demand eventually became so powerful that the purchase of coffee grew at a faster rate that the income in several developed countries of the time. Although the British themselves did not consume much of the world’s coffee which was produced, they played a vital role in its production and trade since most of the coffee production took place in the British colonial empire.

How the British Imperialism shaped the global economy from 1870 to 1910

The establishment of the British Empire as well as their control of global trade had a profound impact on the global economy particularly from 1870 to 1910. The great influence of the British imperial power over the many nations of the world in several regions including the Americas, Asia, Oceania and several parts of Africa only ensured that they not only controlled the global trade but also enabled them to have significant influence on the social, economic and political development of the countries and regions under their sphere of influence. The British rule and control was particularly more evident in areas which opened way to commercial production and trade and this further strengthened the power and economy of the British Empire. Through their vast empire, the British soon came to dominate the international trade particularly the production and consumption of coffee which was a key commodity of global trade from 1870 to 1910.

The primary reasons behind the British imperial expansion were diverse and varied but key among them was the fact that with the industrialization which was taking place in Europe, the British needed new lands to supply their industries with the raw materials. These raw materials included mineral resources as well as Agricultural products such as coffee, tea, sugarcane and tobacco. On the other and, the British were also competing with the other European powers for new markets for their industrial products. They therefore felt that by acquiring more colonies in different strategic parts of the world, they will be able to control the global economy and benefit their industries in terms of markets, raw materials as well as labor source. This was largely achieved after the imperialism enabled the British merchants to monopolize international trade in several regions of the world which were under their influence.

The commercial interests of the British were particularly evidenced by the fact that the 19th century British navy fought a series of wars in areas of strategic commercial significance such as Suez Canal, Cape Town as well as other important ports in Africa, Asia and Indian Ocean. They soon gained control over most of the words export ports and regions favorable for agricultural production. After the scramble and partition of Africa as well as several other parts of the world, the British not only searched for trade opportunities but they also sought raw materials to support their industries back at home. They consequently took control of the economy of most of the regions of the world particularly Africa by encouraging immigration of the white settlers from Britain to come to their colonies and help the colonial administrators in agricultural production such as coffee growing. The British imperialism therefore had a lasting legacy on the global economy.

As one of the most powerful imperial powers in the 19th century, the British imperialism was largely based two main economic foundations which included huge foreign investments and the use of UK banking systems as the key brokers of the global economy of the time. These economic foundations explained the nature of aggressive imperial policies which the British adopted in an attempt-t to maintain her hegemonic role in the global economy. In this regard, the ideals of the imperial domination were largely supported by the strong desire of the British to secure their role in the global trade by dominating the words sources of natural resources and agricultural goods. Consequently the British imperialism influenced the global economy of 19th century in a number of ways. One of the many ways in which the British imperialism impacted on the global economy was through keeping low tariffs. For example in much of the British colonies as well as in Britain itself, the British adopted the laissez faire economic principle where by the trade tariffs imposed were significantly lower as compared to the other European powers of the time. The low tariffs together with the fact that the British control many regions of the world significantly increased global trade between 1870 and 1910.

Another way through which the British imperialism influenced the global economy was the fact that the British heavily invested in overseas colonies such as India, Australia, Canada and other strategic regions. Without the British investments, much of the global trade would have not existed. The imperial administration also provided security to the investors and this further encouraged the global trade throughout the entire period. For example there were a number of legal guarantees for the investors as well as tax relieves for those who risked investing in the international trade. Many analysts concur that nearly three quarters of all the investments invested in the African colonies were undertaken by the British. The British investments were also used in the industrial development and technological advancements which further lead to increased production of various commodities of global trade such as coffee, sugarcane and tobacco. All these factors explain why the British were able to significantly increase their overseas investments between the periods of 1870 and 1910 which consequently resulted in improved global economy.


In conclusion, the 19th century global economy was significantly influenced by both the British imperialism and Coffee trade. Between 1870 and 1910, the global economy was substantially improved by the rapid increase in the consumption of coffee in both Europe and the United States and this lead to more developments and improved global economy. On the other hand, British imperialism contributed to the global economy through huge foreign investments and the use of UK banking systems as the key brokers of the global economy.


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