Coffee: A staple of modern society and human history

29 février 2024

Hands holding freshly roasted aromatic coffee beans.

Coffee is one of the most valuable agricultural commodities and the most widely used socially acceptable drug, yet few people take the time to understand its significance in modern society and human history. Originating from an Ethiopian mountainside a couple of thousand years ago, today’s coffee market sustains roughly 125 million jobs. With its total addressable market estimated at $468 billion, it’s on track to outpace global GDP, fueled by rising per capita consumption in emerging markets.

Medicinal luxury to cultural staple

Initially, coffee in Europe was a medicinal luxury for the elite. As it became more accessible, it gradually became the favoured drink of both blue- and white-collar workers, embedding itself in Western culture. The first English coffeehouse opened at Oxford University in 1650. By 1700, there were over 2,000 coffeehouses paying more rent than any other trade at the time. Coffee’s exploding popularity can be attributed to the historical British reputation for alcohol consumption; coffee presented a healthier alternative that still offered a communal space for socializing – and it helped with hangovers.

Coffee’s political and economic influence

In 18th century Germany, its popularity even led Frederick the Great to ban it to curb the outflow of money abroad and promote beer, Germany’s traditional beverage. This prohibition spurred a flourishing black market and large-scale protests that lasted four years before being revoked. The impact of coffee in England and Germany, however, pales in comparison to its role in shaping American culture and history.

Coffee and the American Revolution

The famous Boston Tea Party is often cited as the tipping point of coffee in the US. Americans were already avid consumers of tea, coffee and beer at the time and most taverns and coffeehouses offered all three options to their patrons. In an act of defiance against King George’s tea tax, Americans embraced coffee as a symbol of independence, significantly boosting its consumption. From 0.19 pounds per capita in 1772 to 1.41 pounds by 1799, coffee became intertwined with the fabric of the nation, a trend that has only grown stronger with time.

Why coffee captures our attention

So, why is Global Alpha excited about coffee? Are we investing in coffee beans? If you’ve been reading our commentaries for a while, you’ll know that we often seek creative and sometimes indirect exposure to secular themes that we favour. Like most commodities, coffee is a volatile and hard to predict market prone to oversupply and weather events – areas outside our expertise. Instead, we are invested in a company that provides tools for coffee enthusiasts to enjoy their drinks precisely as they want to.

Brewing success in the coffee appliance market

De’Longhi SpA (DLG IM) is an Italian global leader in the production of small domestic appliances, with a market-leading position among European coffee makers. The company designs its premium products in-house and its brand appeal is best-in-class, boasting a 35% global market share in the espresso coffee machine segment. It’s fitting that a company like De’Longhi originated in Europe, where per capita coffee consumption is the world’s highest.

Local success to global expansion

De’Longhi’s initial success lent strong credibility to its brands and has helped accelerate its global expansion in the last decade, especially in the US and Far East markets. Historically, the company sold professional coffee makers through its Eversys brand, but in December it announced the acquisition of La Marzocco to accelerate its leadership in the professional segment. The professional coffee-making market alone is a $5 billion industry growing at approximately 5% annually, driven by a long-term shift from making coffee at home to buying it from coffee shops. Starbucks for example plans to expand its current 38,000 stores to over 55,000 by 2030. This acquisition enables De’Longhi to cover virtually the entire coffee machine space, from budget-friendly to luxury household and high-output professional machines.

De’Longhi SWOT analysis


  • Brand recognition in espresso machines (De’Longhi) and food preparation (Kenwood/nutribullet).
  • Strong distribution partnerships globally and owned manufacturing capacity.


  • The household appliance market is highly competitive.
  • Consumer habits and preferences for coffee consumption are continuously evolving.


  • Expansion of the professional coffee segment following the acquisition of La Marzocco.
  • Opportunities for product innovation.


  • Consolidation of the distribution market.
  • Valuation of potential M&A targets.

Brewing beyond the bean

Most of our weekly readers, much like ourselves, are probably coffee consumers, yet many of us spend little time thinking about this beverage we crave each morning. This “taken-for-granted” product represents exactly the kind of space Global Alpha aims to invest in for the long term.

Source: Pendergrast, M. (2010). Uncommon Grounds: the history of coffee and how it transformed the world.

Gestion d’actifs Global Alpha Ltée
février 29th, 2024