One component of worldbuilding that’s often forgotten is background economics.

Take coffee, for example. Coffee originated in Africa. It wasn’t readily available in Europe until after 1616, and didn’t start to be cultivated on a large scale by Europeans until near the end of that century. Chocolate and tea both made it to Europe a little earlier, not much. Yet how many times do characters in fantasy novels, who are living in thinly-veiled Medieval Europe, drink coffee? Or if not coffee, some made-up beverage that is really coffee with a name like caf or cof or possibly c’ff’ee.

I admit most people won’t notice or care, because after all, “it’s fantasy.” But now I’m aware of the historical issue, every time I see it, I’m thrown out of the story. (So I’ve shared it with you! You can share my peeve!) And I think “it’s fantasy” is not a valid excuse. Fantasy needs to be more realistic, not less. If the details aren’t right, the world falls apart.

We, as modern people used to modern travel, forget that many things commonly eaten today all over the world originated in North America. Before that, they were not eaten in Europe. Eleventh-century Italians did not eat food with tomato sauce. They had no tomatoes.

It’s easy to remember things such as copper, silver, and gold coinage. But me, I wonder where does the coffee come from? And if they have coffee, who sold it to them? How did it get there? What are their relations with the people who sold it to them? Or did they steal the coffee?

…Maybe I’ll go have a cup.