The origin of coffee is traditionally traced back to Arabia. However, the story of coffee begins far before then and there, in the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau.
In The Beginning
A goatherd named Kaldi noticed that a particular tree’s berries rendered his flock unable to sleep! Kaldi reported this to the local monastery’s abbot who experienced similar effects after making the berries into a drink. Word of the abbot’s discovery began spreading east to Arabia, where most folks know this story to have begun.
Coffee in the Near East + Europe
By the 15th century, many public coffee houses — called qahveh khan — had popped up in cities in the Near East. People referred to these as “Schools of the Wise” because patrons engaged here with cultural facets from music and dance to current news, whilst sipping on their “wine of Araby.” Thousands of folks pilgrimage to Mecca each year, which enabled awareness of coffee to spread around the globe.
Europeans who traveled to the Near East returned home with word of an unusual dark beverage, and by the 17th century, the drink had spread to the western countries. Though some folks called coffee the, “bitter invention of Satan,” the drink gained papal approval once Pope Clement VIII intervened. Shortly after, coffee houses became the center of social goings-on in Europe, just as they had in the Near East. Londoners established 300 coffee houses in that city, alone, by the mid 17th century.
Coffee arrived in the New World (initially New York, then “New Amsterdam”) in the mid 1600’s, but citizens favored it less than tea until the Boston Tea Party of 1773. After which, Thomas Jefferson denoted coffee, “the favorite drink of the civilized world.”
Coffee Continues to Spread
In 1714, the Mayor of Amsterdam gifted France’s Louis XIV a coffee tree. A young naval officer, Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, thieved a sprout from the tree to take to his home, Martinique. Surviving jealous passengers, horrendous storms, pirates, and water rations, the sprout made it safely to Martinique and grew into 18 million trees in the next half century. This seedling parented all coffee trees found in the Caribbean, Central, and South America.
In 1727, the Governor of French Guiana denied Brazil involvement in the coffee development. However, the Brazilian representative captured the Governor’s wife with his good looks, so she sneakily sent him home with a bouquet sprinkled with seedlings. This mere bouquet began Brazil’s billion-dollar coffee empire.
By 1800, coffee had become one of the world’s most profitable export crops and transitioned from an indulgence for the elite to quite the pedestrian pleasure. Today, coffee is the second most sought commodity in the world.