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History of Coffee

The Spread of Coffee to Turkey and the Ottoman Empire

In this article, you will learn about the fascinating history and journey of coffee from its origins in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to its introduction and subsequent spread throughout the Ottoman Empire and Europe. Discover the first accounts of coffee in Ethiopia and Yemen, its popularity in the Islamic world, and how travelers and merchants played a crucial role in its global diffusion. Dive into the unique coffee culture of the Ottoman Empire, where coffeehouses emerged as centers of social interaction, politics, and intellectual exchange. Furthermore, explore the controversial regulations and bans imposed on coffee and coffeehouses by religious authorities, and their ultimate failure in stifling the beverage’s growing influence. Finally, trace the continued spread of coffee throughout Europe, highlighting the roles of Venice and Marseilles in the trade and how the Ottoman Empire significantly influenced European coffee culture.

coffee spread turkey

Origins of Coffee in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula

The history of coffee is rich and complex, with its origins rooted in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. From a humble beginning, coffee has evolved into one of the most popular beverages globally, and it has significantly impacted various cultures and societies throughout its history. The cultural and economic reverberations of coffee cultivation have shaped the world we know today, so it is worth exploring the genesis of this significant drink.

Discovery of coffee in Ethiopia

The origin of coffee can be traced back to Ethiopia, where the Coffea arabica plant, from which we get the coffee bean, is native. The story of coffee’s discovery dates back to the 9th century, with a popular legend involving a goat herder named Kaldi. It is said that Kaldi noticed that his goats became quite energetic after eating the bright red berries of a particular plant. Curious, Kaldi tried the cherries himself and experienced the same invigorating effect.

Kaldi decided to share this discovery with a local monastery, where the monks decided to make a drink out of the berries. It was then that the monks reportedly realized that this energizing beverage could help them stay awake during long hours of prayer and contemplation. Word of this powerful plant and its stimulating effects quickly spread throughout the region.

Although the legend of Kaldi is widely known, there is no definitive historical evidence to confirm the story. However, it is believed that wild coffee plants were first cultivated in the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia, where the local Oromo people used them for centuries before the story of Kaldi was even told. The Oromo people would crush the cherries, mix the pulp with animal fat, and shape the mixture into balls that were consumed as a natural energy source.

Spread of coffee cultivation in Yemen

The early spread of coffee cultivation can be traced to Yemen, in the Arabian Peninsula. It is believed that Arab traders and explorers visiting Ethiopia first encountered coffee in the 15th century. They observed the energizing effects of the local brew and decided to bring the beans back to their homeland.

Yemen became the world’s first significant site of coffee cultivation outside Ethiopia, where the fertile soils of the Yemeni highlands proved ideal for growing the arabica plant. The people of Yemen soon developed their distinct coffee preparation techniques, including roasting the beans and brewing the drink we recognize today. The Arabic term used for the drink was qahwah (قهوة), which would evolve over time to become the English word “coffee.”

The Yemeni port city of Mocha became a major center for coffee trade in the Arabian Peninsula. From Mocha, the unique and sought-after coffee beans spread throughout the Middle East, where it gained immense popularity in the Islamic world.

Popularity of coffee in the Islamic world

Coffee played a significant role in Islamic culture during the late medieval period. Coffee houses, known as qahveh khaneh, began to appear across the Islamic world, where both locals and travelers would congregate to enjoy coffee, engage in conversation, play board games, and listen to music and poetry.

Coffee consumption aligned with Islamic religious practices, as the drink contained no alcohol and could help practitioners stay awake during late-night prayers. Due to its stimulating effects, coffee was initially met with skepticism and even prohibition by some conservative Islamic scholars. However, it eventually gained wider acceptance, and the popularity of coffee continued to grow.

Coffee’s rise in the Islamic world coincided with significant developments in science, literature, and the arts. These advances were essential in transferring knowledge to Europe during the Renaissance period. The spread of coffee was also influenced by the prominent trade routes of the Ottoman Empire, where the beverage quickly became a vital export and social fixture throughout the empire.

By the 17th century, the global reach of coffee was undeniable, with coffee houses emerging in major European cities, and with time, the drink became an indelible part of the world’s cultural fabric. The initial cultivation and trade of coffee in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula played an essential role in bringing coffee to the rest of the world, forever shaping the course of history.

Introduction of Coffee to the Ottoman Empire

The origin of coffee can be traced back to Ethiopia, where it grew as a wild plant in the region of Kaffa from which the name “coffee” is derived. The cultivation and consumption of coffee began in the Arabian Peninsula and, later, spread to various parts of the world in the 15th century. One of the most significant impacts of coffee cultivation and its widespread consumption was its introduction to the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire, which lasted from 1299 to 1923, was a vast and powerful territory that included modern-day Turkey, Greece, the Balkans, parts of the Middle East, and North Africa.

First accounts of coffee in Istanbul

The first accounts of coffee in Istanbul date back to the 16th century when it was brought to the city from Yemen. Yemen was already a hub for coffee cultivation and trading, and coffee beans were believed to have been brought to the Ottoman Empire by Yemeni traders and Ottoman pilgrims returning from the Hajj. There are also claims that an Ottoman governor, Özdemir Pasha, introduced coffee to Istanbul after trying it during his stay in Yemen.

Coffee quickly gained popularity in Istanbul and the surrounding areas, largely due to its stimulating properties and its unique taste. Sufis, mystic orders of Islam, were among the first in the empire to embrace coffee as a means to stay awake during their long nightly prayers and meditation sessions. Drinking coffee became a routine part of their spiritual gatherings, and the first coffeehouses in Istanbul were established near Sufi lodges.

Role of merchants and travelers in the coffee trade

Merchants and travelers played crucial roles in the expansion of the coffee trade throughout the Ottoman Empire. The merchants were responsible for importing coffee beans from Yemen and then distributing them to various regions within the empire. They also contributed to the emergence of a thriving coffee culture by opening coffeehouses and promoting coffee as a luxury commodity.

As coffee grew in popularity within the empire, travelers from Europe began to take note of this exotic beverage. Various European visitors to the Ottoman Empire documented their experiences with coffee and shared their observations upon returning to their home countries. In the 17th century, European travelers were instrumental in introducing coffee to various European countries, including England, France, and the Netherlands. The beverage’s popularity soared in these countries, eventually leading to the establishment of the first European coffeehouses.

Emergence of coffeehouses in the Ottoman Empire

With the spread of coffee consumption, coffeehouses emerged throughout the Ottoman Empire. These coffeehouses, known as kahvehane or kıraathane, quickly evolved into essential public spaces for socializing, conducting business, and engaging in intellectual and political discussions.

Coffeehouses in the Ottoman Empire were primarily patronized by men from different social classes, who gathered to drink coffee, smoke tobacco, play games such as backgammon, and discuss various topics of the day. In addition to being hubs of discussion and debate, coffeehouses also played a pivotal role in fostering arts and culture in the empire.

The growth of coffeehouses throughout the empire did not come without controversy. Sultan Murad IV, who reigned from 1623 to 1640, saw coffeehouses as potential hotbeds for sedition and dissent, leading him to ban coffeehouses and coffee consumption altogether. However, this ban was short-lived, as coffeehouses and the culture surrounding them continued to thrive in the years to come.

In conclusion, the introduction of coffee to the Ottoman Empire significantly shaped its culture and society, leaving a lasting impact that can still be seen today. Coffeehouses gave way to new forms of social interaction, nurtured arts and intellect, and laid the foundation for modern-day café culture worldwide.

Coffee Culture in the Ottoman Empire

The coffee culture in the Ottoman Empire was not only significant for its unique preparation methods but also for the indispensable role it played in shaping the society’s social, political, and intellectual life. Contrary to popular belief, coffee did not originate from Turkey. It was first discovered in Ethiopia before spreading through Yemen, then to the cosmopolitan city of Istanbul in the mid-16th century. As coffee became more popular, it transcended the barriers of class, gender, and religion, eventually becoming the drink of choice for the majority of the people in the empire.

Development of unique Turkish coffee preparation methods

Coffee preparation in the Ottoman Empire was quite different from the methods applied in European countries. Like most customs, coffee brewing has evolved into a unique ritual in Turkey that tells a lot about its rich history and tradition. The most popular form of coffee in the Ottoman Empire was essentially a powdered version of the roasted beans mixed with water and sugar in a special pot called cezve. The mixture was brought to a boil over a heated bed of sand, sometimes with the addition of spices like cardamom or cinnamon. Unlike in Europe, coffee was not filtered or transferred to another container. Instead, it was served unfiltered in special small cups called fincan, allowing the coffee grounds to settle at the bottom. This unfiltered coffee served as the base for the famous Turkish fortune-telling practice known as tasseography.

Aside from the brewing method, coffee beans were also selected and roasted according to unique Ottoman Empire traditions. Coffee was typically made with high-quality green coffee beans from Yemen or Ethiopia, handpicked and roasted locally in small batches over charcoal fires. The beans were then transformed into fine powder using specialized manual grinding mills. This allowed for the production of intensely concentrated coffee, as the fine granules allowed for the extraction of maximum flavor.

Importance of coffee in social life

The consumption of coffee played a central role in the day-to-day lives of the people of the Ottoman Empire. People from all walks of life, including men and women, enjoyed coffee in different social situations, making it an essential aspect of the empire’s social fabric.

In the domestic sphere, coffee was often served to guests as a gesture of hospitality. Families would gather around to enjoy coffee after meals or during social visits. The preparation and sharing of coffee also held particular significance in marriage ceremonies, where brides-to-be would prepare coffee for their prospective partners and serve it during the engagement ceremony as a sign of their future life together.

Furthermore, coffee played an essential role in the sacred setting of Sufi dervish lodges. As a symbol of spiritual satisfaction, coffee was often served after nocturnal prayer sessions, helping to solidify connections among mystics and enhance their religious experience.

Role of coffeehouses in politics and intellectual exchange

Perhaps the most important contribution of coffee to the Ottoman Empire was the birth of coffeehouses, which served as centers for intellectual exchange and political discussions. These establishments rapidly spread in Istanbul and other major cities of the empire once the consumption of coffee gained widespread popularity. Coffeehouses became public spaces where people could engage in a range of activities like discussing poetry, philosophy, or politics, participating in leisurely games such as backgammon or chess, and sometimes even performances or storytelling sessions.

Coffeehouses in the Ottoman Empire were not limited to a specific social class, attracting elite nobles, government officials, and commoners alike. This made coffeehouses the perfect places for intellectual exchange and provided opportunities for individuals to share their ideas without fear of censorship or discrimination. As a result, the coffeehouse culture contributed greatly to the development of scientific, literary, and political thought in the empire.

On the other hand, coffeehouses were also seen as potential threats to political stability. As they served as meeting points for political and social groups, coffeehouses were often blamed for plotting rebellions, intellectual conspiracies, or religious opposition. Consequently, rulers in the Ottoman Empire periodically attempted to suppress or control coffeehouse activities to prevent possible negative consequences.

In summary, the coffee culture in the Ottoman Empire played an instrumental role in defining the empire’s social, intellectual, and political landscape. With its rich history and unique preparation methods, coffee became an influential element in the daily lives of people from all walks of life, eventually turning into a crucial component of the empire’s identity.

Regulations and Bans on Coffee and Coffeehouses


Throughout history, coffee and coffeehouses have been subject to regulations and bans in various parts of the world. These restrictions were often a result of cultural and religious controversies or concerns about the social and political influence of coffeehouses. This article will delve into the reasons for these controversies, the opposition from religious authorities, and the unsuccessful attempts to ban coffee and coffeehouses in the Ottoman Empire.

Reasons for controversial views on coffee

The origins of coffee can be traced back to Ethiopia and the Arabian Peninsula, and it quickly spread through the Islamic world. As coffee gained popularity, however, it also attracted criticism and concerns. There were several factors that contributed to these controversial views.

First, coffee was a relatively new beverage and its stimulating effects were not well understood, leading to suspicions and fears of potential harm. Some people believed that coffee was a form of intoxicant, and this fueled criticism from religious authorities who sought to ban its consumption and production.

Second, the growth of coffeehouses and the culture surrounding them drew attention and scrutiny from those who saw them as a threat to social order. Coffeehouses provided a space for people to discuss politics, philosophy, and other intellectual topics. These spaces became breeding grounds for dissent and revolutionary ideas, which in turn led to concerns about their potential to disrupt established norms and sow discord amongst the population.

Opposition from religious authorities

Opposition to coffee and coffeehouses often came from religious authorities, who saw the beverage as a potential threat to their control over society. In 1511, the Governor of Mecca, Khair Bey, ordered the closure of all coffeehouses and outlawed the drink, arguing that it was an intoxicant like alcohol and thus forbidden in Islam. This ban, however, was short-lived as it was quickly overturned by higher authorities, who argued that there was no evidence that coffee was an intoxicant.

In 16th century Europe, coffee faced opposition from the Catholic Church. Some clerics sought to ban the beverage, which they referred to as the “bitter invention of Satan,” on the grounds that it was a Muslim drink and therefore a product of heresy. However, Pope Clement VIII, after tasting coffee, decided to “baptize” it, effectively giving it the Church’s approval and allowing for its widespread consumption among Christians.

Unsuccessful attempts to ban coffee and coffeehouses in the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire, which encompassed much of the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeastern Europe, saw several attempts to ban or restrict coffee and coffeehouses throughout its history. The ruling elite often viewed these establishments as a breeding ground for political dissent and sought to mitigate their influence.

In the early 17th century, Sultan Murad IV of the Ottoman Empire issued a death penalty to anyone caught drinking coffee, citing its potential to incite revolutionary ideas. Illicit coffeehouses continued to operate despite this draconian law, highlighting the difficulty of enforcing such prohibitions.

In the 18th century, Ottoman authorities targeted coffeehouses for taxation, making it harder for them to operate and discouraging their proliferation. These attempts were met with resistance, as coffeehouse owners and patrons found ways to avoid or evade the taxes.

Ultimately, the attempts to ban or restrict coffeehouses in the Ottoman Empire proved largely unsuccessful, as the desire for coffee and the spaces in which to consume it continued to grow. This long history of regulatory battles surrounding coffee and coffeehouses reflects the enduring cultural significance of the beverage and the role it has played in shaping social and political discourse around the world.

Continued Spread of Coffee from the Ottoman Empire to Europe

The spread of coffee from the African continent to the shores of Europe was a gradual yet impactful process. By the time of the late 16th century, coffee had already found its way into the Ottoman Empire through Yemeni traders who expanded the coffee-drinking culture rapidly throughout the region. From the vibrant cities and robust markets of the Ottoman Empire, coffee would go on to conquer Europe, leaving an indelible mark on its culture and society.

Ottoman influence on European coffee culture

The Ottoman Empire played a significant role in shaping European coffee culture. In the mid-16th century, the Ottomans established the first coffee houses in their capital city, Istanbul. The burgeoning coffee culture was not only limited to the Ottoman Empire; European travelers to the empire were also introduced to the brew. It didn’t take long for the aromatic beverage to catch the attention of the wealthy, educated, and influential, making its way from Istanbul to other key cities like Cairo, Aleppo, and Damascus.

Ottoman coffee houses played a crucial role in the dissemination of knowledge and ideas, acting as places for intellectual discourse, political discussion, and even artistic expression. The enthusiasm for this new drink would inspire Europeans to import coffee beans and establish their coffee houses, where they would discuss art, literature, and politics while enjoying the invigorating beverage.

Within a few years of its introduction to Europe, coffee houses became hubs of social and intellectual activities, closely resembling their Ottoman counterparts. Soon, the influence of coffee on European society was firmly established, and the identities of major European cities became intertwined with their coffee culture.

Austrian adoption of Ottoman coffee customs

The Austrian encounter with coffee can be traced back to the Siege of Vienna in 1683 when the Ottoman Empire faced off with an alliance of Christian forces led by the Habsburg Monarchy. When the Ottomans were forced to retreat, they left behind sacks of mysterious beans in their haste. After discovering these beans to be coffee, the Austrians started embracing and adapting the Ottoman coffee customs, which were already spreading across Europe via traders and travelers.

It’s said that the famous Polish King, Jan Sobieski III, played a role in introducing coffee to Europe after successfully defending Vienna from the Ottoman invasion. Celebrating the victory, the Viennese combined coffee with whipped cream and sugar, giving birth to the Viennese coffee house tradition that endures to this day. Austrian coffee houses became an essential part of the city’s social fabric, attracting a diverse crowd of intellectuals, artists, politicians, and ordinary citizens.

Roles of Venice and Marseilles in the European coffee trade

venice coffee trade

Venice and Marseilles played critical roles in the transformation of Europe’s coffee landscape. Venice, with its strategic location and strong trade connections to the Ottoman Empire, became one of the first European cities to experience coffee. It wasn’t long before Venetians developed a taste for the beverage, and coffee houses began to emerge in the city. Venetian traders were also responsible for exporting coffee and coffee-drinking culture to other European cities, sparking a massive demand for coffee beans and other coffee paraphernalia throughout the continent.

Marseilles was another European port city that partook in the thriving coffee trade, and just like Venice, its proximity to the Mediterranean allowed for easy access to the Ottoman Empire. Marseilles soon emerged as the primary port of entry for coffee imported from the Middle East into France. The French quickly embraced the coffee culture, and the prosperous port of Marseilles played a pivotal role in the spread of coffee to other parts of the country.

As the European coffee trade flourished, port cities across the continent, such as London, Amsterdam, and Hamburg, would also become crucial links in the ever-growing network of coffee importation and distribution. All in all, the spread of coffee from the Ottoman Empire to Europe made a lasting impact on European culture by ushering in social interaction, intellectual discourse, and commercial potential, which would shape European society for centuries to come.


FAQs on The Spread of Coffee to Turkey and the Ottoman Empire


1. When did coffee first arrive in the Ottoman Empire?

Coffee arrived in the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. It originates from Yemen, one of the empire’s provinces, and quickly gained popularity in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) and other regions.

2. How did coffee consumption influence the culture of the Ottoman Empire?

Coffee consumption had a significant impact on the social and cultural life of the Ottoman Empire. It fostered the establishment of public coffeehouses, serving as community gathering spaces for intellectual discussions, news sharing, and various forms of entertainment.

3. What is the role of coffeehouses in the Ottoman Empire?

In the Ottoman Empire, coffeehouses played a vital role in social life, especially among men. They provided venues for conversation, reading books, playing chess, reciting poetry, and even organizing political gatherings, thus facilitating intellectual and cultural exchange.

4. Did the Ottoman government attempt to regulate coffee and its consumption?

Yes, the Ottoman government, at times, attempted to regulate coffee consumption to minimize its potential socio-political risks, such as fostering dissent or unwanted gatherings. However, such efforts proved largely unsuccessful, given coffee’s widespread popularity.

5. How did coffee spread from the Ottoman Empire to Europe?

The spread of coffee to Europe is attributed to increased trade and diplomatic relations between the Ottoman Empire and various European countries. Venice and Vienna, for instance, experienced an early introduction of coffee, followed by other major European cities.

6. How did the consumption of coffee in the Ottoman Empire differ from European coffee culture?

In the Ottoman Empire, coffee was typically consumed black and unfiltered, while European coffee culture evolved with the invention of new brewing methods and the addition of various ingredients such as milk and sugar, yielding a more diverse array of coffee beverages.