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Coffee in Middle East

The Impact of Coffee on Middle Eastern Trade and Economy

This article takes a deep dive into the historical and cultural roots of coffee in the Middle East, tracing its origins from Ethiopia and Yemen to its widespread popularity throughout the region. Readers will learn about the trade routes that formed and the role of the Ottoman Empire in controlling coffee commerce, as well as the European colonization and its impact. The article also discusses the economic growth spurred by coffee, its social and cultural implications, and the challenges faced by the industry today. Finally, it explores the future prospects of coffee trade, technology, and tourism in the Middle East, emphasizing sustainability and specialty coffee.

Middle Eastern Trade coffee

Early History of Coffee in the Middle East

Origin of coffee in Ethiopia and Yemen

The origin of coffee is believed to date back to the 9th century in Ethiopia, where it grew wild in the forests of the Kaffa region. According to one legend, a shepherd named Kaldi discovered coffee when he noticed his goats were more energetic after eating red berries from a certain tree. Intrigued, he tried the berries himself and experienced a similar energy boost. Kaldi shared this discovery with a local monastery, and it wasn’t long before the news of this energizing drink began to spread.

Around the 15th century, coffee cultivation and consumption began in Yemen, then part of the Ethiopian Empire. Yemeni traders obtained coffee seeds and started to grow the coffee plant in the region surrounding the port city of Mokha. This marked the beginning of organized coffee cultivation, transforming the beverage from a regional forest crop to a global commodity.

Role of Sufi monasteries in popularizing coffee

In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Sufi monasteries played a significant role in the popularization of coffee throughout the Middle East. The energizing effect of coffee was embraced by Sufi mystics, who used it as an aid for concentration and staying awake during long hours of prayer and religious rituals.

Sufi monasteries in Yemen began to roast and brew the coffee beans, and other monasteries in the region soon followed suit, such as the one in the city of Taiz. Pilgrims and travelers, who visited these monasteries, tasted the invigorating drink, and played a significant role in spreading awareness of coffee throughout the region.

Ottoman Empire’s adoption of coffee

The popularization of coffee reached the Ottoman Empire’s capital of Istanbul in the mid-16th century. Coffee was introduced by the merchants and travelers who brought it with them from Yemen and Egypt. The Ottomans quickly adopted coffee as a popular beverage, and it earned a unique status within the empire due to its association with Islam and Sufi rituals. Coffee consumption soon became an integral part of daily life, from the court of the sultan to the modest household.

In the Ottoman Empire, the art of coffee making was refined and expanded. The first documented method of brewing coffee in the empire entailed roasting and grinding the beans, then boiling them in water. The drink was then sweetened with sugar and sometimes flavored with spices like cinnamon or cardamom. The grounds were allowed to settle before the coffee was carefully poured into small cups.

Rapid spread of coffee houses across the region

With the increasing demand for coffee, coffee houses began to appear throughout the Middle East in the 16th century, starting in Mecca and Medina and spreading to major cities like Damascus, Cairo, and Istanbul. These coffee houses, known as qahveh khaneh in Persian or kahvehane in Turkish, quickly became popular social gathering spots for men to discuss politics, business, and literature, while also enjoying music, games, and sometimes even performances.

These coffee houses played a vital role in fostering public debate and intellectual exchange across the region. The rapid spread of coffee houses throughout the Middle East and beyond is a testament to the profound impact this simple beverage had on the cultural, social, and economic life of the region.

By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe, and from there, it continued to spread globally, becoming one of the world’s most loved and consumed beverages. The history of coffee in the Middle East is a fascinating tale of exploration, innovation, and cultural exchange, which has transformed an energizing drink of Ethiopian origins into a global phenomenon enjoyed by millions of people today.

Trade and Commerce of Coffee in the Middle East

Formation of coffee trading routes from the Middle East to Europe

The origin of coffee can be traced back to the Kingdom of Sheba, which encompassed Yemen and Ethiopia. Coffee first gained popularity in the Middle East during the 15th century, where it was consumed for its stimulating effects and medicinal qualities. Its distinct taste and potential for generating profit made traders eager to spread its availability. As a result, coffee trading routes were established between the Middle East and Europe.

The first known shipment of coffee to Europe arrived in the port city of Venice in 1615. This shipment did not only comprise green coffee beans but also, Mocha beans, which were harvested and processed in Yemen. Trade routes were initially established through the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea, followed by longer, more established routes across the Mediterranean Sea through the Levant and the Ottoman Empire.

Venice played a pivotal role in the European coffee trade, as it was among the first European cities to embrace coffee culture fully. This was possible due to Venice’s status as a leading trade center in the Mediterranean region. Other European cities, such as Amsterdam, London, and Marseilles, soon followed suit, establishing direct trading links with Middle Eastern markets. By the 18th century, coffee was being consumed on a global scale, significantly impacting the trade and commerce between the Middle East and Europe.

Role of the Ottoman Empire in controlling coffee trade

The Ottoman Empire played a crucial role in controlling the coffee trade between the Middle East and Europe. The Ottomans occupied key territories, such as Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula, through which coffee beans were either produced or transported. Additionally, they controlled important trade networks and shipping routes in the Levant. As a result, the Ottoman Empire was able to exert a significant level of influence on the coffee trade.

Coffee houses, known as “kaveh kanes”, were a social and commercial phenomenon in Ottoman cities. As coffee consumption grew, so did commercial opportunities for traders who quickly realized the revenue potential of this new commodity. The Ottoman Empire established a regulatory framework for the coffee trade, known as the “Ottoman Coffee Code.” This code governed the cultivation, sale, distribution, and export of coffee beans within the empire. It established a trading monopoly for the Ottomans, who sought to maintain full control of the lucrative coffee trade.

The emergence of the Dutch, French, and British coffee companies

European powers, such as the Dutch, French, and British, saw immense potential in the growing coffee trade. To break the Ottoman monopoly and secure their share of the global coffee market, they established their own coffee companies. Among these were the Dutch East India Company, the British East India Company, and the French Compagnie des Indes Orientales. These companies began competing with Middle Eastern traders, ultimately leading to a rapid expansion in the global coffee market.

The Dutch, in particular, played a significant role in breaking the Ottoman monopoly on the coffee trade. In the late 17th century, the Dutch managed to smuggle coffee plants from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, where they began cultivating their own coffee. This successful endeavor allowed the Dutch to establish their own coffee trade routes, making them one of the world’s leading coffee exporters. The French and British followed suit, planting coffee in their colonies in the Americas and Asia, further expanding global coffee production.

Impact of European colonization on Middle Eastern coffee exports

While European colonization brought about the expansion of the global coffee market, it also had a considerably detrimental impact on Middle Eastern coffee exports. As European powers expanded their colonial empires, they increasingly relied on their own sources of coffee, which could be cultivated in their colonies at a much lower cost.

European colonization allowed European powers to dominate the coffee market, leading to a decline in the demand for Middle Eastern coffee. The main exporters in the Middle East, such as Yemen, found themselves struggling to maintain their former status in the coffee trade. By the 19th century, with the majority of coffee production centered in Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean, Middle Eastern coffee exports had significantly diminished.

In conclusion, the trade and commerce of coffee in the Middle East laid the foundation for the beverage’s global popularity and expansion. The establishment of coffee trade routes between the Middle East and Europe, the influence of the Ottoman Empire on the coffee trade, and the emergence of European coffee companies all played a pivotal role in the evolution of the global coffee industry. However, European colonization and its endeavor to secure control of the coffee trade led to a decline in Middle Eastern coffee exports, leaving a lasting impact on the region’s trade and economic development.

Growth in Middle Eastern Economy due to Coffee

The Middle Eastern economy has been significantly impacted by the coffee trade. Coffee, which originated in the region, has been an essential commodity for centuries, contributing to economic growth and development. The growth of this economic sector can be attributed to income generated from coffee exports, the evolution of modern coffee producing countries, technological advancements in coffee production, and employment opportunities in the coffee industry.

Income generated from coffee exports

Countries in the Middle East have long been known for their coffee production and exports, generating substantial income for the region. Coffee was first cultivated in what is now Yemen in the 15th century and has since grown to become the world’s second most popular beverage after water. Coffee exports, primarily from Yemen and the Arabian peninsula, played a significant role in the Islamic Golden Age’s economic growth, with cities like Mocha becoming major trading hubs for the growing coffee demand in Europe and Asia.

It is estimated that the global coffee industry is valued at over $100 billion, with Middle Eastern countries continuing to benefit from exports. This income has allowed governments to invest in infrastructure, education, and social services, helping to improve living standards and overall economic stability.

Evolution of modern coffee producing countries

Today, the Middle East remains a significant player in the global coffee industry. Countries such as Yemen, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates have embraced their coffee heritage and have diversified their economies by developing their coffee sectors. The government of Yemen, for example, has invested heavily in modernizing coffee cultivation, harvesting, processing, and marketing, enabling Yemeni coffee to maintain its high-quality reputation.

Turkey, known for its unique brewing method and strong coffee culture, has also enhanced its coffee sector by investing in better farming techniques and marketing strategies to appeal to global consumers. Similarly, the United Arab Emirates has become a hub for specialty coffee roasters, attracting international attention and investment in their coffee industry.

The evolution of modern coffee producing countries in the Middle East highlights their commitment to leveraging their coffee heritage for economic growth while also adapting to the changing global coffee landscape.

Technological advancements in coffee production

The Middle Eastern coffee industry has experienced significant technological advancements in recent years, with regional governments and private sector investments improving coffee production’s efficiency and sustainability. Improved cultivation and harvesting techniques have led to increased yield, while new processing methods have reduced waste and water consumption.

Innovative technology has also been employed to enhance the quality and consistency of coffee produced in the Middle East. For example, advanced coffee roasters, automated brewing systems, and real-time data analysis have all contributed to the optimization of the coffee supply chain in the region.

These technological advancements have transformed the Middle Eastern coffee industry into a global competitor, attracting international investment and creating new opportunities for business and consumers alike.

Employment opportunities in the coffee industry

The coffee industry is a significant source of employment in the Middle East, with thousands of individuals involved in coffee farming, processing, and retail. As the global demand for coffee grows, so too do the job opportunities in the region, providing much-needed economic stability for many communities.

In addition to direct employment on coffee farms and roasting facilities, the coffee industry indirectly supports numerous service-based jobs. Cafes, coffee shops, and specialty stores employ baristas, managers, and supporting staff, while international marketing and distribution companies offer opportunities for marketing specialists, logistics professionals, and traders.

The growth in the Middle Eastern economy due to coffee is a testament to the strength of the region’s coffee tradition and its ability to adapt to the global market’s needs. With continued investment in production and infrastructure, technology, and a focus on job creation, the future of the Middle Eastern coffee industry appears to be bright and promising.

Social and Cultural Impact of Coffee in the Middle East

Arabian coffee houses: a center for community and conversation

The introduction of coffee to the Middle East in the 15th century caused a significant change in social and cultural practices. The first coffee houses, or qahveh khaneh, were established in the Arabian Peninsula, particularly in Yemen and Mecca. These establishments were not only a place to consume coffee but also served as the epicenter of community life, intellectual discussions, and cultural exchanges.

Arabian coffee houses attracted all sorts of people from different classes and backgrounds. They were frequented by poets, scholars, merchants, and travelers, as well as the general public. These social hubs sparked conversations on various subjects such as politics, religion, economics, literature, and science. People shared news, gossiped, played chess, or even enjoyed live music and dance performances.

These coffee houses played a crucial role in fostering a sense of community and promoting cultural exchanges within Middle Eastern societies. They became places where ideas were born, business deals were made, and social relationships formed. This was especially true during the Ottoman Empire when coffee houses spread across its vast territories, bringing people from different parts of the region together.

The role of Arabian coffee houses has evolved over time, but they remain essential social and cultural institutions in the Middle East. Modern coffee shops continue to be spaces where people meet, work, study, and engage in conversations. While some traditional aspects such as storytelling and live performances are not as common in contemporary coffee houses, they still act as meeting places for people from various social and cultural backgrounds to come together and share ideas.

Role of coffee in religious practices and ceremonies

coffee in religious practices

Coffee has had a complex relationship with religious practices and ceremonies in the Middle East. When it was first introduced to the region, it faced opposition from conservative religious authorities who denounced it as a mind-altering substance that should be banned, similar to alcohol. However, many Sufi mystics embraced coffee for its stimulant properties, using it to stay awake during their long night prayers and meditation sessions.

Over time, coffee became associated with Islamic mysticism and spirituality, particularly among the Sufi communities. It was believed to aid in attaining a higher state of consciousness and connecting with the divine. Sufi coffee ceremonies involved the preparation, drinking, and sharing of coffee among devotees, symbolizing spiritual unity and brotherhood.

Despite its controversial beginnings, coffee became an integral part of Middle Eastern religious practices and ceremonies, transcending its initial association with Sufi mystics. Today, coffee continues to be served at various religious events and gatherings, such as weddings, funerals, and Ramadan iftars.

Integration of coffee into Middle Eastern cuisine and tradition

Coffee is deeply ingrained in the food culture of the Middle East. Traditional Arabian coffee, or qahwa, is made by brewing lightly roasted coffee beans with spices such as cardamom, cloves, and sometimes saffron. This unique coffee blend is often served with dates or other sweets as a gesture of hospitality and generosity toward guests.

The brewing and serving of coffee in the Middle East is characterized by various rituals and customs that vary between countries and regions. In some parts of the region, coffee preparation is an elaborate process involving specific tools, such as the dallah, a traditional Arabian coffee pot, and the finjan, a small serving cup. The host typically serves coffee to guests individually, pouring the coffee from the dallah into a finjan while holding it high above the cup, adding an element of performance to the act.

Coffee also plays an essential role in various Middle Eastern traditions. For example, coffee is an integral part of the engagement ceremony, where the groom’s family presents coffee to the bride’s family as a symbol of their union. Additionally, in many Middle Eastern countries, it is customary to offer coffee during business meetings, social events, and family visits as an expression of hospitality and goodwill.

The social and cultural impact of coffee in the Middle East cannot be underestimated. From its early days in Arabian coffee houses to its significant presence in religious practices and various traditions, coffee has played an essential role in shaping Middle Eastern societies for centuries. Today, coffee continues to be a cherished beverage that signifies hospitality, evokes tradition, and brings people together to share ideas and experiences.

Challenges Faced by the Middle Eastern Coffee Industry

In recent years, the Middle Eastern coffee industry has experienced substantial growth, driven by increased consumer awareness and demand for high-quality specialty coffees. However, despite the considerable potential for further expansion, the industry faces various challenges that could hinder its continued success. In this article, we will discuss four major challenges encountered by the Middle Eastern coffee industry:

Competition with global coffee producers

One of the main challenges facing the Middle Eastern coffee market is the competition from global coffee producers, particularly those in South and Central America, Africa, and Asia. These regions possess an abundance of coffee-growing land, resulting in higher volumes and lower production costs compared to Middle East countries.

As a consequence, large international coffee companies and chains often prefer procuring their beans from regions offering lower prices and larger quantities. In turn, this competition makes it difficult for Middle Eastern coffee producers to penetrate international markets, effectively limiting their growth potential and opportunities for diversification.

Moreover, the rising popularity of specialty roasters and independent coffee shops worldwide has led to increased demand for unique coffee beans and a heightened interest in the story behind the bean. This often results in consumers opting for coffee origins that are more established and well-known compared to Middle Eastern coffees. As a result, Middle Eastern coffee producers struggle to gain international recognition and face challenges in building brand recognition, limiting their ability to increase demand and drive up prices.

Relevance of decreasing land available for coffee cultivation

Another crucial challenge for the Middle Eastern coffee industry is the limited availability of arable land suitable for coffee cultivation. Compared to other coffee-producing regions, the Middle East has a smaller proportion of available land, leading to higher pressure on existing resources and increased competition among farmers.

In addition, urbanization, agricultural land conversion, and conflicts in certain areas have further reduced the amount of land available for coffee cultivation. This challenge poses a significant threat to the future of the coffee industry in the Middle East, as it limits the potential for expansion and growth, ultimately hindering the region’s ability to compete with global coffee producers.

Impact of climate change on coffee production

Climate change has emerged as a major concern for the global coffee industry, with Middle Eastern coffee production being no exception. The region is highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, such as rising temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, and increased instances of extreme weather events.

Higher temperatures and altered precipitation patterns can affect the growth and quality of coffee plants, while extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, can cause direct damage to crops, resulting in reduced yields. Ultimately, these factors can lead to decreased coffee production and an overall decline in the quality and taste of the beans.

Apart from its direct impact on coffee plants, climate change also affects the proliferation of pests and diseases that target coffee plants. This further exacerbates the challenge faced by Middle Eastern coffee producers, who must invest in costly prevention and control measures to protect their crops.

Addressing issues of slavery and fair labor practices in the coffee trade

The prevalence of social and ethical issues, such as slave labor and unfair labor practices, is a significant hurdle not only for the Middle Eastern coffee industry but for the global coffee trade as well. As global consumers become more conscious and well-informed about where their coffee comes from, ethical sourcing and production have become important considerations in purchasing habits.

In the Middle East, smallholder farmers often face difficult working conditions with low wages, making the coffee production process unsustainable in the long term. Consequently, the industry needs to address these issues by implementing fair labor practices and ensuring a sustainable livelihood for coffee farmers.

The Middle Eastern coffee industry must invest in solutions to tackle these challenges if it wishes to capitalize on the increasing global demand for specialty and high-quality coffee. By addressing these obstacles, the region has an opportunity to establish itself as a key player in the international specialty coffee market and sustain its growth for years to come.

Future Prospects of Coffee in the Middle Eastern Trade and Economy

The Middle East has a long history with coffee, dating back to the 15th century when Yemen became the first country to cultivate the coffee beans. Since then, coffee has played an essential role in the Middle Eastern lifestyle and business culture. The region has consistently grown and evolved with the changing trends of the coffee industry. In this article, we will discuss the future prospects of coffee in the Middle Eastern trade and economy.

Promotion of specialty coffee and revival of Arabica coffee

To stay competitive in the global market, Middle Eastern countries are turning their focus to specialty coffee, which includes Arabica coffee beans. Arabica coffee, indigenous to the region, is particularly sought after due to its delicate, rich flavor and lower caffeine content compared to the more common Robusta beans.

Promoting specialty coffee can help Middle Eastern countries regain their prominence in the coffee industry and improve their economy. To do this, they will need to invest in research and development, encourage more farmers to adopt modern techniques that increase yield without compromising quality, and establish a market that promotes these high-quality beans.

By investing in the quality of coffee production and reviving Arabica coffee, countries in the region can differentiate themselves from other competing markets and position themselves as leaders in the coffee industry once again.

New investments and technological advancements in coffee production

Technology and innovation have always been instrumental in driving the growth of the coffee industry. The Middle East, being one of the most vital regions for coffee cultivation and trading, needs to continue to invest in new technologies and innovations to enhance coffee production.

These advancements can include new processing methods, the use of IoT devices and sensors for real-time monitoring of coffee plants, and investments in coffee farms to incorporate sustainable practices in cultivation. Introducing innovative technologies can help reduce production costs, optimize operations, and improve the quality of final products. This will prove beneficial for the Middle Eastern economies in the long run.

Sustainable coffee farming practices

Sustainable coffee farming practices

As consumers become more environmentally conscious, their demand for sustainably sourced products increases. For the coffee industry to maintain its relevance and competitiveness, it is crucial to adopt sustainable farming practices.

These practices may include measures like intercropping, reducing water consumption by using drip irrigation systems, utilizing organic fertilizers, and implementing pest and disease management techniques. Thus, the Middle East should focus on promoting and investing in sustainable coffee farming practices. Not only will this meet global demands, but it will also help preserve the environment and its resources for future generations.

Positioning the Middle East as a hub for coffee trade and tourism

Finally, the Middle East has the opportunity to position itself as a hub for coffee trade and tourism. By showcasing the region’s rich history and culture related to coffee, countries in the Middle East can attract global tourists looking for authentic coffee experiences.

This can be accomplished through various initiatives, such as establishing specialty coffee shops and cafes that highlight local coffee heritage, organizing coffee-themed festivals and events, and offering tours to coffee plantations and processing facilities in the region.

In conclusion, the future of coffee in the Middle Eastern trade and economy seems promising due to the promotion of specialty coffee and revival of Arabica coffee, investments in technology and innovation, a focus on sustainable farming practices, and positioning the region as a hub for coffee tourism. Implementing these strategies and building on their rich history in the coffee trade, Middle Eastern countries can maintain a competitive edge in the global coffee market and continue to drive their economic growth.


FAQs on the Impact of Coffee on Middle Eastern Trade and Economy


1. How did coffee become an essential import for Middle Eastern trade?

Coffee, originating from Ethiopia, became popular across the Arabian Peninsula in the 15th century. Arab traders spread its consumption via coffeehouses, and it quickly turned into a daily ritual. This led to the establishment of coffee as a key import in Middle Eastern trade (Lyons & Walmsley, 2016).

2. What role did coffeehouses play in the expansion of coffee trade in the Middle East?

Coffeehouses, known as “qahveh khaneh,” were places for social interaction, business meetings, and intellectual discussions in the Middle East. Their popularity contributed to the widespread consumption and demand for coffee, resulting in a significant increase in trade (Hattox, 1985).

3. How did the Ottoman Empire contribute to global coffee trade?

The Ottoman Empire, particularly the port of Mocha in Yemen, became the primary global supplier of coffee in the 16th century. The empire spread coffee culture to Europe, and the taxes collected from coffee trade contributed significantly to the imperial economy (Bates, 2015).

4. Which countries were major consumers of Middle Eastern coffee during its peak trade era?

During its peak trade era, Middle Eastern coffee was consumed by various countries, including European nations such as France, Italy, and Austria. Coffee was also traded to regions like India, Persia, and North Africa (Fernández-Armesto, 2019).

5. How did the global coffee trade change with the involvement of European colonial powers?

European colonial powers’ involvement in the 17th century, especially the Dutch and British, shifted coffee production to their colonies, leading to increased competition, a decrease in Middle Eastern dominance, and a more globalized coffee market (Scherer, 2017).

6. What are the current challenges and opportunities facing the Middle Eastern coffee trade and economy?

Today, the Middle Eastern coffee trade faces challenges from climate change, fluctuating global coffee prices, and market competition. However, opportunities for growth and diversifying local production, improving quality, and developing specialty coffee markets may strengthen regional coffee economies (ICO, 2021).