History of Coffee: Where Did Coffee Originate and How Was It Discovered?
The history of coffee is a fascinating story. The bean has travelled the globe for centuries, being smuggled out of strict countries, stolen from royalty and has changed entire nations and economies. It’s remarkable how one small bean taken from tiny trees in Ethiopia could become the 2nd largest commodity traded in the world today.
Ever wondered where coffee came from, where this little bean got its start? Get ready to be taken on a journey through time and across continents.
Where Did Coffee Originate?
Where did coffee originate? Well, that’s the easy bit. At the very beginning, it came from Ethiopia. But how the bean made it to every corner of the globe? That’s what we are going to dig into.
After a slow discovery in Africa, coffee went west into Europe to be discovered and coveted by the newer civilizations as well as east into Asia where it was planted and harvested.
There’s a lot to cover, so grab a cup of coffee and read on.
How Was Coffee Discovered? – Ethiopia And The Dancing Goats
The most popular origin story of the beloved bean starts with Kaldi and his goats (1) in 700 AD. Kaldi, an Ethiopian (formerly Abyssinia) goat herder stumbled on his goats acting quite strange.
They were dancing. This definitely wasn’t normal. He discovered that they were eating red berries and concluded that this fruit was the cause of this odd behaviour.
After stumbling upon this magic fruit, he shared his findings with a monk, who was ecstatic to find something that would help him stay awake all night as he prayed.
Another story, however, claims that Kaldi shared these beans with a monk who disapproved of their use and threw them into the fire.
The result was a wonderful, pleasing aroma which became the world’s first roasted coffee. Shortly after this, the beans were ground and boiled to produce what we know today as coffee.
Across The Waters – Onto The Middle East
Though the story of Kaldi cannot be proven to be true, one thing is certain: coffee came from Ethiopia.
Another thing we know for sure is where it went next. Coffee made its way north, across the red sea into Yemen in the 15th Century.
The port at which the beans first arrived was called Mocha.
Due to coffee’s growing popularity and the shipment of coffee from the port city, Mocha became synonymous with coffee.
So any time you hear the term “mocha,” when talking about coffee, you now know where that term originated.
Coffee was grown in Yemen and became well known in Egypt, Persia and Turkey.
It was known as the “wine of Araby.” The beverage started to become a little too popular as coffee houses started to open up all around Arabia. These coffee houses were known as “Schools of the Wise” (2).
These were the places you went to share and hear information. They became the epicentre of social activity.
However, in the early 1500s, the court at Mecca declared coffee to be forbidden due to its stimulating effect. A similar thing happened in both Cairo, Egypt and in Ethiopia.
All of these bans were eventually lifted, but coffee faced its fair share of persecution before that.
Riots broke out in the Arab streets until justice was returned to the coffee drinking people.
Into Europe And Asia
The course of history changes when the coffee bean spreads both east and west: East into India and Indonesia and West into Italy and onto the rest of Europe.
Asia’s Place In Coffee History
Arabia was the gatekeeper for coffee.
If a country wanted coffee beans, they purchased it from Yemen. The authorities liked it that way and did everything to ensure that nobody could take fertile beans out of their control and plant the trees themselves.
Alas, along comes Baba Budan, a Sufi saint from India who was on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1670.
Upon his return, Baba Budan smuggled some fertile beans back to India where he began coffee cultivation.
These beans began large scale coffee farming in Southern India which is still producing plants today.
In the late 1600s, the Dutch finally started growing coffee.
Decades earlier, the Dutch had smuggled coffee plants from Yemen in an attempt to grow the beans in Holland, but due to the cold weather, their cultivation scheme failed miserably.
This time, however, friends in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) sent coffee seedlings to the Dutch Governor of Java, Indonesia.
While multiple natural disasters wiped out their first attempts at coffee cultivation, in 1704 more seedlings were planted and coffee from Indonesia became a staple.
Java becomes another household term for coffee.
Eventually, the coffee plant made its way to both Sumatra and Celebes, drastically increasing Indonesia’s coffee-growing capacity.
Into The West – Coffee Invades Europe
Coffee finally arrived in Venice in 1570 and quickly became quite popular. In 1615, Pope Clement VIII decided that the drink must be satanic.
Upon inspection, however, he gave in to the glory of the beverage, baptized it and declared it a Christian beverage.
As the 1600s rolled on, coffee houses sprung up all over Europe in England, Austria, France, Germany and Holland.
Much like the coffee houses of Arabia, these places became social hubs where one could engage in stimulating conversation and political debates. In England, these became known as penny universities.
For the price of a cup of coffee, you could learn all sorts of things as public conversations carried on. Many of these coffee houses even grew into businesses, such as Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House which became a large scale insurance company.
In Oxford, England’s first coffee club opened. This shop would later be known as the Oxford Coffee Club where ideas and innovation were born and shared. The Oxford Coffee Club eventually grew to become The Royal Society (3).
Coffee houses became the go-to place for English men. If they weren’t working or at the pub, they were at the coffee houses. Women at the time were furious as their husbands were never home anymore, always drinking coffee and engaging in religious and political discussions.
Related: Why Can’t Mormons Drink Coffee?
In 1674, the Women’s Petition Against Coffee was born in an attempt to ban coffee and bring their men back home.
France was introduced to coffee in the 17th century – specifically in 1669 – by the Turkish Ambassador to Paris. In his time with Louis the XIV, the Royal Court swooned over the beverage and Paris was soon overtaken by the beverage.
In 1683, after the Battle of Vienna, Austria’s first coffee house opened – The Blue Bottle.
The Turks, who were attempting to invade the land, were shut down and left behind a surplus of coffee. The victorious officer opened the shop and popularized the practice of adding milk and sugar to coffee.
Coffee Introduced To The Americas
Coffee’s final frontier: the Americas.
Having already conquered Africa and the Indian Ocean nations and sweeping over Europe, the little beans were about to make their way even further west to conquer every nation touching the Atlantic Ocean.
Crossing The Atlantic
In the early 18th century, the Dutch decided to extend their generosity in a way that would change the [coffee farming] world forever.
The Mayor of Amsterdam gifted King Louis XIV of France a young coffee plant (4) in 1714, although the Dutch could not cultivate coffee trees in Holland, they could keep them alive in special greenhouses. This plant was protected in the Royal Botanical Gardens of Paris.
A captain of the French Navy, Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu was stationed in Martinique but happened to be visiting Paris. It’s unclear whether he ended up stealing clippings from King Louie’s [secured] coffee tree or if King Louie himself gave orders for de Clieu to establish a coffee plantation in Martinique.
Regardless, de Clieu took his clippings and set sail for the Caribbean, which happened to have the ideal coffee growing conditions.
It was a long journey and de Clieu struggled to keep his plant alive.
Water was scarce on the boat but he managed to keep the plant alive by giving it his own supply of water and often going thirsty himself.
Upon arriving on the island, he secretly planted it among other plants to keep it safe.
Within 3 years coffee plantations spread throughout Martinique, St. Dominique and Guadalupe. These would be the plants that would eventually populate the rest of the Caribbean and Central and South America.
In 1730, the English Governor of Jamaica, Sir Nicholas Lawes brought plants of coffee to his island. Within a short time, coffee was growing deep into the Blue Mountains, an exceptional growing area for coffee.
Brazil And A Modern Coffee Empire
Brazil grows more coffee today than any other country in the world.
So how did it all get started?
With a Brazilian colonel by the name of Francisco de Melo Palheta. Francisco was sent to Guyana to settle a dispute between the Dutch and the French in 1727. His priority, however, was to get coffee and bring it back to Brazil, whatever the cost.
The Brazilian colonel requested coffee seedlings from the French Governor.
When his request was refused, his seductive back up plan came into play. He worked his magic on the French Governor’s wife and eventually she managed to secretly give Francisco a handful of clippings.
He took these clippings back to Brazil and started the largest coffee empire on the planet.
It wasn’t until 1822 that coffee production started to boom in Brazil, and in 1852 the country became the largest producer of coffee and has remained to this day. In 1893, coffee from Brazil was taken to Kenya and Tanzania, close to the birthplace of coffee and cultivated in East Africa.
How America Shaped The Industry Of Coffee
America’s journey with coffee started in the 18th century with the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution. The year was 1773.
A group of patriots, many dressed as American Indians, snuck aboard English Tea ships sitting in the Boston harbour and dumped all of the tea into the ocean to rebel against the English tax on tea!
Thus, tea became extremely unpatriotic and coffee replaced it as the American beverage of choice.
Ever since then, the United States has been the leading importer of coffee (5) and continues to buy far more coffee than any other country.
This countrywide dependency on the beans has been an economic stimulus to many countries throughout South and Central America.
Not only does America import coffee, but it actually grows a little bit of it as well.
Hawaii (not part of America until 1959) was introduced to coffee in 1817 when coffee seedlings were brought by the Brazilians. In 1825, the first official coffee orchard was born, starting Kona’s legacy in the industry.
The Coffee Industry As We Know It TODAY
By the 19th century, coffee was a global phenomenon. It was being shipped and consumed everywhere.
While the bean itself had little land left to conquer, innovations in coffee roasting, packaging and brewing have changed the beverage dramatically in the last 200 years.
High Tech Coffee
The first coffee brewing device born out of the industrial revolution was the percolator.
In 1818 a Parisian metalsmith invented the device which is still used today. Little advancements have been made to improve the device’s original functionality. This percolator made its way to the States in 1865 when James H. Nason patented the first American made percolator.
In 1864 we find the first “modern” coffee roaster.
Jabez Burns of New York invented the first roaster that didn’t need to be held over a fire. He was issued a patent on the machine and became the grandfather of all modern coffee roasting machines.
Though some may consider mass coffee production a downfall in our history, it was a massive achievement at the time.
In 1871, John Arbuckle invented a machine that filled, weighed, sealed and labelled coffee in paper packages. Arbuckles became the largest importer of coffee in the world and even owned the most merchant ships in the world, constantly shipping coffee from South America back to the States.
Then, in 1886, Maxwell House found its start.
Joel Cheek named his coffee blend after the fancy Maxwell House Hotel, famed for the seven different presidents who have stayed there. In 1942, in the middle of World War II, Maxwell House instant coffee became a staple for both soldiers and civilians alike.
The first espresso machine was created in 1901 in Italy by Luigi Bezzera.
It was the first commercial espresso machine that used water and steam under high pressure to brew coffee really fast.
The machine was designed out of necessity as Luigi was just hoping to reduce the time it took to make coffee so his employees could get back to work faster.
In 1905, however, modern coffee knowledge overtook Luigi’s attempts at espresso.
Desiderio Pavoni purchased the patent for Luigi’s original espresso machine, determined to make it better. The coffee produced by the original machine was extremely bitter.
Desiderio concluded that the bitterness resulted from the steam and the high temperatures. He decided the temperature should not exceed 195 degrees and would be exposed to 9 BAR pressure.
40 years later, Achille Gaggia, an Italian, took the espresso machine another step forward by using a piston to extract the coffee at an even higher pressure.
This new advancement produced a layer of crema atop each shot of espresso and the cappuccino finally came about.
In 1908, drip coffee took a leap forward.
A German housewife by the name of Melitta Bentz created the first paper coffee filter using her son’s school papers. A patent was issued and her company was born.
In the 1900s, Nestle was approached by the Brazilian government to find a way to utilize all of Brazil’s coffee waste, as they simply produced too much of it. After years of research, the process of freeze drying coffee to make an instant cup of coffee came about.
The coffee produced is Nescafe and is the world’s leading brand today.
In the 1920s, the US Government enacted Prohibition. No more alcohol! Coffee sales rose through the roof during this time. Then, in 1926, the Science Newsletter declared coffee to be beneficial.
Not only will it give you a boost, but it’s also healthy!
The Second Wave Of Coffee
During the 1960s coffee went through another revolution. Alfred Peet was a Dutch-American whose father roasted coffee in Holland. Alfred decided to bring his family’s craft to California and in 1966, Peet’s Coffee opened in Berkeley.
Enter the early stage of specialty coffee.
In 1971 Peet shared his coffee knowledge and roasting techniques with a couple of friends.
These friends joined his staff over the Christmas season to learn the ropes off the business in order to open their own stores. With Peet’s permission, they opened a coffee shop in Seattle using the coffee beans he roasted and mimicking his store layout.
The store was called Starbucks.
Within their first year of business, they purchased a coffee roaster and sold their own coffee bean products. They didn’t even sell brewed coffee at the time.
You could only get beans at Starbucks in the early ’70s.
In 1982, Howard Schultz, a salesman who had been selling drip coffee makers, joined the Starbucks team as their Director of Marketing. He was extremely inspired by his trip to Milan, Italy experiencing coffee houses on every street corner.
These cafes served espresso and were a local meeting place for society.
Upon his return, Howard tried to convince the owners to serve actual beverages, but they wouldn’t have it. They simply wanted to focus on roasting and selling quality beans.
In 1984, Starbucks purchased Peet’s, acquiring their original mentor’s business. The next year, Howard Schultz quit Starbucks to start his own coffee company, Il Giornale, focusing on serving quality coffee drinks.
After immediate success, Schultz purchased Starbucks in 1987 for US$3.8 million. He was able to combine the roasting techniques of Starbucks with the Italian concept of the cafe.
Starbucks then went on a rampage, opening thousands of stores with the goal of putting stores in every country.
Whether or not you like Starbucks is irrelevant.
They started something that we can all be grateful for. They led the second wave of coffee in the United States and ultimately the world.
They brought consumers back to the notion that fresh roasted, fresh ground coffee was better than pre ground tins purchased in grocery stores. Starbucks created the modern cafe experience combining freshly roasted beans for sale with the service of brewed coffee and local gathering hubs.
Howard and his team started a fire that not even the behemoth of Starbucks could put out if they tried.
The coffee-brewing industry continues to grow today. Coffee shops are opening everywhere, all the time (6). The latest trend is returning to quality micro roasted coffee beans over mass produced coffee.
Single cup, pour over coffee over endless refills from the burned coffee pot.
All around the world people are expecting better coffee. Many companies today are seeking to improve the livelihood of coffee farmers as most coffee producing countries are still widely underdeveloped.
There is still much more room for improvement in the world of coffee, so our story isn’t over yet.
The Coffee Legacy
So how big had coffee grown throughout its pilgrimage throughout the world?
Today, coffee is the second largest commodity traded on a global scale!
Only oil exceeds the amount of coffee that is traded in the world today. 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year. It’s very likely that coffee consumption will continue for a long, long time.
Coffee has quite literally changed the world.
From ancient monks and goat herders chewing the coffee berries and brewing unroasted coffee, to barista competitions and perfectly poured hearts in our lattes, we all play a part in the history of coffee.
Where will coffee be in 100 years?
Well, I can’t imagine it gets much better than it is today, but I’m sure that spunky little bean will find another way to shake things up.
If you want to know more, here are some cool things to learn about coffee.
- In Kaldi’s Footsteps: A Journey to the Birthplace of Coffee. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2014/10/07/in-kaldis-footsteps-a-journey-to-the-birthplace-of-coffee
- Middle Eastern Coffee Culture and History. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://kopiluwakdirect.com/middle-east-history-culture/
- History of the Royal Society. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://royalsociety.org/about-us/history/
- A Bean That Traveled the World. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/102006087#h=7
- Top Coffee Importing Countries and Regions in the World – World Top Ten. (n.d.). Retrieved From https://www.mapsofworld.com/world-top-ten/top-coffee-importing-countries.html
- Number of speciality coffee shops in the U.S. 2015 | Statistic. (n.d.). Retrieved From https://www.statista.com/statistics/196590/total-number-of-snack-and-coffee-shops-in-the-us-since-2002/