Class Recap: Evolution of Specialty Coffee by Caleb Savage

What is Specialty Coffee and what makes it so special? Today we dove deep into the history of coffee production and consumption to learn more about the drink we love! We sampled coffees of various styles as we walked through the history of coffee consumption in the United States, using Mark Pendergrast’s “Uncommon Grounds” as our guide. Here's a quick recap:

While we don’t know precisely when coffee first began being cultivated intentionally, we do know that by the first printed mention of coffee in the 10th Century, coffee had been grown in Ethiopia and Yemen for hundreds of years. By way of colonialism, religious missionaries, and trade, the coffee plant made its way first to India, then to the Caribbean and Latin America, on to South America and, back to Africa throughout the 1700s and 1800s.

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Meanwhile in the US, coffee grew in popularity in spite of the temperance movement and various movements throughout the health and religious communities to ban caffeine. As the Industrial Revolution took off, so did the mass production of consumption of coffee. Prior to the 1880s, most coffee drinkers roasted and ground their coffee at home for each cup. Technology and manufacturing meant that small, regional roasters who existed in more urban communities could expand their operations and compete at a national level.

Prior to the 1880s, most coffee drinkers roasted and ground their coffee at home for each cup.

Economic instability and a heavy demand for coffee at the lowest price helped degrade the quality of coffee, with some roasters using inferior coffees that lacked the flavor and body of Arabica coffee for a higher yield at a lower cost.  Enter Specialty Coffee.

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Tired of coffee that lacked flavor or quality, new, independent roasters popped up offering coffees based on origin with a focus on preparation and quality. This emphasis provides more opportunities for farmers and producers to gain exposure and improve the quality of their offerings. Further, this new market makes coffee similar to other growing craft industries like beer or wine.

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William Morgan Cain by Paul Zimmerman

Though specialty coffee in Oklahoma City has emerged only within the last decade, OKC has a long tradition of progressive coffee culture dating back to the 1920s. 

You've probably seen Cain's coffee on the shelf at the grocery store. You may have turned your nose up at it's two tone label or pre-ground boasting but beyond the "Flavr Seal" is a fascinating story of OKC entrepreneurship and trailblazing for the modern coffee industry at large. 

William Morgan Cain was an Oklahoma civic leader and a coffee pioneer. After spending a portion of his twenties sailing around the world's trading ports with the US NAVY, he founded Cain's Coffee Company in 1919, after the end of World War I. Seeing the coffee and tea ports in Brazil, it seems, inspired the entrepreneurial spirit in Cain. In a time when OKC was largely driven by travel, agriculture, and energy, Cain sourced green beans from South America and roasted them on site in Oklahoma City. He grew his company, providing coffee for grocery stores and restaurants across Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri. 

Known for his dedication to local charities, especially those focusing on healthcare for Oklahoma City residents, William Morgan Cain spent the majority of his life in the public eye. A campaign for mayor, several civic awards for service, and chairman positions for both city government and city hospitals took up his time when he wasn't focusing on building the largest coffee supply company in the midwest, even spurring the early success of fellow OKC coffee giant, Neighbors Coffee Company. (Earl Neighbors was his second in command for nearly 30 years.) 

Cain's Coffee was bought by Nestle in 1961, who sold to Sara Lee as part of their Superior Coffee line in the 1990's. Sara Lee closed the Oklahoma City plant in 2003, laying off nearly 100 employees, and finally sold Cain's to Farmers Coffee Co. as part of a bundle of coffee producing companies for $45 million in 2008. 

William Morgan Cain died in 1983, after a lifetime of local industry and civic leadership.