The coffee historian

Coffee is a global product that influences millions of lives. From crop to cup, its production faces challenges ranging from environmental conservation to economic equality. An expert on the global history of coffee, Professor Jonathan Morris is working with the industry to understand its heritage and ensure its sustainability.

“I knew that if we were going to tell the story of coffee then we needed to include its rich history. Jonathan was able to provide the broader social and human perspective to why we, as an industry, are where we are today.”

When Nestlé Nespresso looked to generate a debate on how the international coffee industry could collectively meet its challenges and improve the coffee value chain, it found a natural partner in business historian Jonathan Morris.

Research Professor in Modern European History, Professor Morris provided a social and human perspective to Nespresso’s industry-defining book, The Craft and Science of Coffee.

The ambitious publication brought together the academic and applied worlds of coffee to tell its story, from the chemistry of roasting, grinding and brewing through to the many choices available to today’s consumer.

In the book Professor Morris explores how tastes in coffee have changed over time yet are shaped by meanings created in the past. He argues that an emphasis on quality has enabled today’s consumer to use coffee to express their personality. This is crucial to the industry - paying for quality equates to sustainability, ensuring consumer protection and improving the livelihoods of farmers around the world.

The value of heritage

Using history and heritage to tell the story of coffee opens up new channels of communication for the international coffee industry.

Professor Jonathan Morris,
University of Hertfordshire

Professor Morris has continued his collaboration with Nespresso by designing a new staff training programme, run by Nespresso and Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW).

“I attended a Heritage for Business presentation and found a whole new commercial opportunity. The new venture used my company heritage to great advantage, showing through film the depth of knowledge and expertise my company had to offer in its operating business sector.”

Aimed at Nespresso’s international experts – their ‘coffee ambassadors’ – the module on ‘Coffee History’ explains how coffee consumption has evolved. Using the medium of history and heritage, the course material offers a rich seam of stories and new knowledge for the ambassadors to pass on to Nespresso’s global network of representatives.

The value of heritage to the coffee industry was first shown by Professor Morris in his project The Cappuccino Conquests, A Transnational History of Italian Coffee, which gathered oral history from industry workers in Italy, Switzerland, the UK and USA.

Drawing on this research, Professor Morris created a video celebrating the 25th anniversary of Mulmar Foodservice Solutions, a Hatfield-based Anglo-Italian importer of commercial espresso equipment. The video used the company’s heritage to show the depth of knowledge and expertise it had to offer in its sector.

As an authority on the history of espresso Professor Morris adds value for many industry players. He is Associate Professor of the MUMAC Academy in Milan, the cultural and training arm of the MUMAC coffee machine museum, established by Italy’s largest manufacturer of commercial espresso machines. He assisted Faema with the launch of its new E71 espresso machine, creating a programme of historical presentations demonstrating how it incorporated Faema’s rich heritage.

He is also a member of the Scientific Committee supporting a bid to have Italian espresso listed by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mankind. His research will be cited in the final application, which is likely to be presented in 2019. He recently worked with World Coffee Events creating Café Chronology, an installation and lecture programme celebrating of the history of the Italian Coffee Bar staged at the HOST, Europe’s largest trade exhibition.

In his latest book, Coffee: A Global History, he looks beyond Europe, back to the 15th century Muslim coffee trade and analyses how coffee has come to be grown commercially on four continents and consumed with relish in all seven. The book was launched at the conference of the International Coffee Organisations, and its arguments about routes to more sustainable prices have been discussed in the coffee trade press.

Jonathan Morris headshot

Jonathan Morris

Jonathan Morris is a research Professor in the History group, and Director of the Heritage for Business unit located within the UH Heritage Hub.

He is a historian of consumption, with particular interests in commodities, food, marketing, retailing, and the processes of transnational transfer.

His specialist area is the history of coffee.