The Hidden Power Behind Goods

Updated: Apr 23

Why buy’s coffee? You may be attracted by the taste, healthiness, or high-quality ingredients. However, I believe there is an intangible appeal to our products that goes beyond these simple factors. That is the meanings behind’s coffee: purchasing our products is an action towards supporting sustainable and ethical solutions, tackling climate change, and benefitting local farmers. In other words,’s coffee is a representation of its vision and mind. I believe a product is more than its physical form.

In my last blog, I introduced my research on the relationship between British tea culture and the changing attitudes towards Asia in the early modern period. There is a similarity between’s coffee and tea in early modern Britain, which had changed its meaning accordingly. Today, let me explore a bit about the point.

When you imagine tea, you might picture an elegant teacup of Earl Grey or English Breakfast tea being sipped on a rainy day somewhere in London. Indeed, tea is heavily associated with Britain and vice versa. However, just a few centuries ago, tea was a novel foreign product in Great Britain. In fact, the Japanese green tea that the Dutch East India Company imported in 1610 is almost certainly the very first tea that entered Europe.[1] Tea in Britain has changed its meanings over time. I would like to introduce a few examples of how, in terms of admiration, internalisation, and identification.

Trade Card ca.1830, Hoare & Reeves, London (Image from V&A website)

Admiration: Magnificent Asian Image

Seventeenth-century Europeans consumed tea with excitement and curiosity because of its associations with advanced mysterious civilisations. As a premise, Asia was much richer than Europe, and during the Age of Exploration, Europeans sought to trade for luxury goods such as spice, porcelain, silk, and cotton. An image of Asia as having an impressively long history, advanced culture, and flourishing economies was formed especially based on the records made by European missionaries who visited China and Japan.[2] When Europeans encountered tea, they perceived the presence of deep cultural meanings beyond the physical drink itself. Tea was seen as a representation of the mysterious and fascinating Asian cultures.[3]

Internalisation: Establishing British Way of Tea

As tea drinking became more widespread in the eighteenth century, it gained new value in socialising. People started to internalise tea as an excuse for assembly. Tea was seen as a tool offering an opportunity to have a conversation and sometimes as a form of ‘conspicuous consumption'. In this case, tea and the luxurious tea equipage played a role to show the owners’ wealth and a sense of taste. In this context, tea was consumed for its role as a decorative object and social catalyst.

Identification: Representation of British Pride

As tea became a universal commodity by the beginning of the nineteenth century, it started to reflect British pride in the context of imperial trade and scientific achievement. For example, Britain's success in imitating Chinese porcelain production, derived from the teacup demand, contributed to the strong association between tea and British pride. As tea became a daily commodity, its role as a representation of British identity became stronger. It was even used as an excuse for exploitation such as the Opium War and tea plantation in India. Sadly, the meaning of tea became a justification for the exploitation of other countries.

Me having tea with Wedgwood teaware: the modern day's famous ceramic ware manufacturer, Wedgwood was founded in the middle of the eighteenth century reflecting a desire and increasing demand for Chinese porcelain

These examples show that the ability of the meaning behind a product to transform human behaviour at the individual, national, or global level in both positive and negative ways. I do not think that’s coffee will somehow bring back the British Empire, but I do believe it will expand a vision of embracing ethics and sustainability to create a world coexisting with nature.

[1] Ellis Markman, Richard Coulton, and Matthew Mauger. Empire of Tea: The Asian Leaf That Conquered the World. London: Reaktion Books, 2015, 22. [2] Longxi Zhang, "Translation, Communication, and East-West Understanding", in [ed.] Chin-Chuan Lee, Internationalizing "International Communication". Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015, 246. [3] Sakae Tsunoyama, Cha no sekaishi: ryokucha no bunka to koucha no shakai, kaihan. Tokyo: Chuko Shinsho, 2017, 36-38.

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