Coffee has a very fascinating history. Coffee beans have traveled throughout the world for many centuries. In some instances, coffee was smuggled from strict countries and introduced to countries where it was never known before.
Coffee is extremely influential to the extent of changing entire economies and nations. It’s very remarkable how such a small bean grown in tiny trees is now among the largest commodities traded across the globe.
If you’re wondering where coffee originated, this article will guide you through its entire history and how it spread across continents throughout the globe.
The Origin of Coffee
Wondering where coffee originated? Luckily enough, the origin of coffee is known. Coffee is known to have originated from Ethiopia, a country in the horn of Africa. Ethiopia neighbors Eritrea and Djibouti to the North, Sudan to the West, Somalia to the East, and Kenya to the South.
But how did coffee find its way throughout the world? That’s what this guide will discuss in detail. Upon its discovery in Ethiopia, Africa, coffee founds its way to Europe. Newer civilizations in Europe discovered and fancied coffee. It also found its way into Asia. The Asians loved it to the extent of planting it as a cash crop.
Considering there’s extensive information to cover in this guide, grab your favorite coffee beverage and continue reading through the guide.
Who Discovered Coffee and How?
There’re several stories that attempt to explain who discovered coffee and how. Among these stories, the most discussed story on the origin of coffee is about Kaldi, who was an Ethiopian goat herder. The story about Kaldi dates back to 700 AD. During those days, Ethiopia was known as the Kingdom of Abyssinia.
As Kaldi herded his goats, he realized that his goats were acting strangely. They appeared to be dancing, an act that was quite abnormal. He realized that the goats were dancing as a result of eating certain red berries. Kaldi concluded that the red berries caused the strange behavior.
Upon discovering the magic fruit, Kaldi shared the information with a local monk. The monk felt elated for finding a fruit that would assist him in staying awake throughout the night while praying.
Another story argues that Kaldi gave a monk some of the beans. The monk dismissed their benefits, thereby throwing them into a fire. However, the beans released a wonderful and pleasing aroma after being burnt. The burnt beans became the first-ever coffee roast in the world. Shortly after being roasted, they were ground into small particles. The ground coffee beans were boiled in water to produce a brew that we now refer to as coffee.
How Coffee Found Its Way to the Middle East
Although the story behind the discovery of coffee by Kaldi is hard to prove, it’s clear that coffee originated from Ethiopia. Fortunately, it’s also known where coffee went next after its discovery in Ethiopia.
During the 15th Century, coffee traveled north and crossed the Red Sea to enter Yemen. As coffee became more popular, it was shipped through Mocha, a port city in Yemen. In fact, you’ve probably heard about the term mocha coffee. Mocha coffee derives its name from the city of Mocha. Thus, the next time you come across this term in the coffee industry, you’ll easily tell where it originated.
With time, coffee gained popularity in and out of Yemen. As a result, new coffee stores were opened throughout the Arabian Peninsula to satisfy the growing demand for the beverage. Coffee lovers would meet in coffee houses to hear and share information. Thus, coffee houses became perfect venues for social activity, something that still happens today.
Unfortunately, a court based in Mecca banned coffee in the early 1500s. The reason behind the ban was the stimulating effect of coffee. Similar bans took place in Egypt and Ethiopia. Although coffee faced a lot of persecution, the bans were finally lifted. The bans led to riots across the Arab region until coffee lovers got back their right to drink coffee.
How Coffee Founds Its Way into Asia and Europe
The history behind coffee changes significantly when it spread from Yemen and the Arab region into the west and east. It traveled west and found its way to Italy. From Italy, it spread across Europe. It also traveled east and found its way to Indonesia and India.
Coffee Arrives in Europe
Coffee arrived in the island city of Venice, Italy, in 1570. It became popular throughout the city and the entire nation quite quickly. However, it faced some criticism from Catholics. Some went as far as calling the beverage a “Satan’s drink”. In fact, critics urged Pope Clement VIII to declare coffee as satanic. However, upon tasting the drink for further inspection, he wondered why such a delicious drink was as a “Satan’s drink”. Pope Clement found it a better drink than alcohol. As a result, he blessed and baptized coffee. He declared it as a great beverage for Christians.
During the early 1600s, coffee stores were opened throughout Europe, especially in France, England, Holland, Austria, and Germany. Just like coffee houses in Arabia, European coffee houses became great social places where patrons would engage in political debates and stimulating conversations.
In England, coffee houses earned the title “penny universities”. Just one cup of the beverage would allow patrons the chance to learn a lot from public conversations. Some coffee houses became big businesses, with some evolving into coffee chains and others invested in the insurance industry.
Coffee clubs were also opened in Europe, with England’s first-ever coffee club being opened in Oxford. Club members would meet in coffee clubs to come up with innovations and share ideas.
English men loved the idea of visiting coffee houses during their free time. When not working or visiting pubs, they would spend their leisure time in coffee houses. Consequently, women became furious that their husbands would hardly go home and instead chose to visit coffee houses to drink coffee while engaging in political and religious conversations. In 1674, English women initiated a petition aimed at banning coffee to bring their husbands back home.
Coffee was brought to France by the then Turkish Ambassador to Paris in 1669. The French Royal Court, under King Louis the Great, was overwhelmed by the drink. Coffee soon took over as the most favorite beverage in Paris.
Austria’s first-ever coffee house was opened in 1683. During that time, the Turks had attempted to invade Vienna. They had moved into Vienna with a huge supply of coffee. Upon being defeated in their attempt to invade Vienna, they left behind their coffee. The surplus coffee was used to open a coffee shop. Coffees sold in Vienna often had sugar and milk additives.
Coffee Arrives in Asia
Arabia acted as the main source of coffee. Any country that wanted coffee had to buy beans from Yemen. Authorities in Yemen did everything possible to make sure that no one would take fertile coffee beans or seedlings out of Yemen. They aimed to control coffee production in the region.
In 1670, Baba Budan, an Indian Sufi Saint, went to Mecca for pilgrimage. On his way back home, he smuggled fertile coffee from Yemen. He started growing coffee in his Indian home. Over the years, India started growing coffee in large scale in the southern part of the country. Today, India is among the top coffee producers in the world.
The Dutch started coffee farming in the late 1600s. Decades earlier, they smuggled some coffee plants out of Yemen to grow them in Holland. Unfortunately, the cold climate in Holland didn’t allow the plants to thrive. Thus, their coffee farming attempt failed miserably. During this period, some friends based in Ceylon, known today as Sri Lanka, exported some young coffee plants to Indonesia, through their Indonesian governor based in Java.
Unfortunately, attempts to grow coffee in Indonesia were initially faced with challenges. Several natural disasters failed the cultivation. More coffee seedlings were grown in 1704. Fortunately, they thrived. Over the years, coffee traveled to Celebes and Sumatra regions, thereby increasing the country’s capacity to grow coffee. Coffee is now a staple crop in Indonesia. In fact, Java became a popular name for coffee. Today, Indonesia is also among the top coffee producers in the world.
Coffee Arrives in Brazil
Today, Brazil is the world’s leading coffee producer. But how did coffee find its way to Brazil to the extent of becoming a leading producer? In 1727, there was a land dispute between the French and Dutch in Guiana. The then Brazilian colonel, known as Francisco de Melo Palheta, was sent to settle the dispute. However, Francisco’s priority was to obtain coffee from Guiana’s governor by whichever means possible. Unfortunately, the French governor turned down his request.
Francisco seduced the governor’s wife with the aim of getting coffee seedlings through her. His plan worked like magic. The governor’s wife secretly gave Francisco some coffee plant clippings. He took the clippings to Brazil, where they were planted and thrived. Eventually, Brazil became the leading coffee producer globally.
Coffee production started booming in Brazil after 1822. In 1852, Brazil became the world’s largest coffee producer. It has retained this position to date. Coffee arrived in Tanzania and Kenya from Brazil in 1893, just near its Ethiopian birthplace.
Coffee Arrives in the Americas
The final frontier of coffee was the Americas. By then, coffee had conquered Africa, Asia, and Europe. The next stop for coffee beans was further West, where it conquered the Americas.
In the 18th century, a move by the Dutch to show their generosity changed the world of coffee farming forever. The then French king, known as King Louis XIV, received a gift in the form of a coffee plant from the Amsterdam mayor in 1714. Since the Dutch couldn’t grow coffee in Holland due to the unfavorable weather, they kept the plants alive in greenhouses.
The king’s gift was kept under special protection in the famous Royal Botanical Gardens in Paris. Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, a French Navy captain based in Martinique, happened to visit Paris. It remains unclear whether the captain stole clippings from the king’s coffee plant or the king permitted him to plant coffee in Martinique.
Nevertheless, Gabriel took some clippings with him to Martinique. The area had perfect conditions for growing coffee. However, his journey was very tough. It was very challenging to keep the clippings alive. He lacked enough fresh water on his boat for the clippings. Fortunately enough, he kept the clippings alive by providing them his own fresh water. He often stayed thirsty for the sake of the plant.
When Gabriel arrived on Martinique Island, he planted the clippings secretly among other kinds of plants to protect the precious coffee plant. Within three years, large coffee plantations emerged and spread across Martinique, Guadalupe, and St. Dominique. Eventually, coffee populated the Caribbean, South America, and Central America regions.
In 1730, Sir Nicholas Lawes, the then Jamaica’s English Governor, brought coffee plants to Jamaica. Within a few years, coffee spread deeper and found its way to the Blue Mountains, which is an exceptional coffee-growing area.
America’s Place in the History of Coffee
In 1773, the American Revolution and the Boston Tea Party brought about the popularity of coffee in America. During this period, several patriots camouflaged as American Indians boarded ships ferrying English tea in Boston Harbor. The patriots dumped the tea in the ocean as a move to protest taxation on tea. As a result, tea became an unpatriotic commodity in America. Eventually, coffee replaced tea as the favorite American beverage.
Since that occurrence, the U.S leads in importing coffee. In fact, the U.S buys the highest volume of coffee in the world. Its high dependency on coffee has favored the economies of many countries in Central and South America. Besides importing coffee, America grows coffee in small scale.
Hawaii, which was not a territory of the U.S until 1959, started growing coffee back in 1817. Coffee seedlings arrived in Hawaii from Brazil in 1817. The first coffee orchard in Brazil was officially born in 1825. That’s when Kona, a town in Hawaii, earned a name in the coffee industry.
Today’s Coffee Industry
Coffee became a global sensation from the early 19th century to date. Coffee shipment and consumption occur everywhere across the globe. Although the bean lacks more land to conquer, unending innovations in roasting and brewing coffee continue to change the beverage over the last two centuries.
Technologies in the Coffee Industry
- The Percolator
As coffee became one of the most loved beverages worldwide, coffee brewing devices were born, with the first-ever coffee brewing machine being the percolator. The history of the percolator dates back to 1818, when a metalsmith based in Paris, France, invented it. The device is still popularly used today. It has experienced few advancements to improve its original functionality. The percolator reached the U.S in 1865 after being patented by James Nason. He made the first percolator in the U.S.
- Coffee Roaster
In 1864, Jabez Burns, a New Yorker, invented the world’s first coffee roaster that never required being positioned over a fire. His coffee roaster was patented. It became the basis of designing modern coffee roasters.
- Mass Production
As the popularity of coffee grew, its production increased significantly. In 1871, an American coffee roasting entrepreneur known as John Arbuckle designed a special machine that would fill, weigh, seal, and label coffee in individual paper packages of the same quality and weight. Together with his brother Charles Arbuckle, they became the world’s largest coffee importers. They owned the majority of merchant ships globally. They constantly shipped coffee into the U.S from the coffee-growing regions of South America.
- The Maxwell House
In 1186, Joel Owsley Cheek, a wholesale grocer, named his brand of coffee after the Maxwell House. Maxwell House is famous for hosting seven different American presidents and other prominent individuals. By 1942, the Maxwell House brand of instant coffee earned a spot as the staple beverage for civilians and soldiers during the Second World War.
- Making the Espresso Machine
In 1901, Luigi Bezzera, an Italian, invented the first-ever espresso machine. The espresso machine relied on highly pressurized steam and water to brew hot coffee within a very short time. Luigi designed the espresso machine to minimize the time taken to brew coffee for his employees to work more efficiently.
In 1905, newer knowledge in coffee overtook Luigi’s idea of making espresso coffee. Desiderio Pavoni bought a patent for the original espresso maker made by Luigi and improved its design. The original espresso maker brewed extremely bitter coffee. Desiderio found that the bitter espresso brew was a result of the high temperature and pressurized steam used in brewing. He found that the optimum temperature for making espresso should be 195 degrees at most and a pressure of 9 BAR at most.
Several decades later, an Italian known as Achille Gaggia redesigned the espresso by adding a piston that increased the pressure used in extracting coffee. The new design resulted in the formation of a crema layer on the top of each espresso shot. That’s how cappuccino was born.
- Drip Coffee
In 1908, more innovations in coffee led to the invention of drip coffee. Melitta Bentz, a German entrepreneur and housewife, invented the first coffee paper filter using school papers belonging to her son. Her work was patented and that’s how she started a company that manufactures coffee filters.
In the 1930s, Brazilian authorities approached Nestle, a multinational food and beverage company, to come up with a way of utilizing the country’s surplus coffee as they were producing excessive coffee that surpassed demand. After several years of extensive research, Nestle discovered that they could freeze-dry coffee to manufacture instant coffee. That’s how instant coffee was born.
Today, Nestle sells its instant coffee under the brand name Nescafe. Nescafe is the leading coffee brand in the world. In 1920, the U.S government prohibited the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcohol. The ban lasted until 1933. During that period, coffee sales increased significantly. In 1926, coffee was declared a beneficial beverage by the Science Newsletter. Besides boosting your energy levels, coffee is healthy and safe to drink in certain amounts.
The Second Coffee Wave
Coffee experienced another major revolution in the 1960s. Alfred Peet’s father, a Dutch-American, roasted coffee beans in Holland. In 1966, Peet decided to move the family business to California. He opened Peet’s Coffee in Berkeley.
In 1971, he shared his knowledge in coffee and coffee roasting methods with friends. The friends took advantage of the Christmas break to join Peet’s staff to learn more about the coffee roasting business. The knowledge would help them to establish their own coffee stores. Peet gave them the go-ahead to open a coffee store in Seattle with his roasted beans and mimicking Peet’s coffee store layout. They called the store Starbucks. Within the first year in business, the friends purchased a commercial coffee roaster. They started selling their own roasted beans. Back then, they didn’t deal with brewed coffee.
Howard Schultz joined Starbucks in 1982 as the store’s Marketing Director. Schultz was a salesman dealing with drip coffee machines. He got the inspiration to brew coffee after visiting Milan, Italy, where he experienced coffee stores on most streets.
Coffee houses in Milan served espresso. Patrons would visit coffee houses for social meetings while drinking espresso. When Schultz returned from the visit, he tried convincing the Starbucks owners to sell ready coffee. However, the owners declined. They only wanted to specialize in selling and roasting high-quality coffee beans.
Starbucks bought Peet’s in 1984, thereby acquiring their mentor’s business. Schultz resigned from Starbucks in 1985 to establish his own company known as II Giornale. II Giornale dealt with the sale of coffee drinks.
II Giornale experienced immediate success. In 1987, Schultz bought Starbucks for a whopping 3.8 million U.S dollars. Schultz combined Starbucks’ coffee roasting business with selling coffee drinks featuring an Italian concept. Starbucks opened numerous coffee stores. Schultz aimed to open coffee stores in most countries to make Starbucks a multinational company.
Starbucks contributed significantly to the second coffee wave in the U.S and the entire globe. They made consumers believe that coffee prepared from freshly roasted and freshly ground beans tasted better than coffee brewed from pre-ground beans.
Starbucks established the modern experience of coffee cafes that combine selling freshly roasted coffee beans and freshly brewed coffee. The cafes also offered perfect spots for people to meet, something that still happens to date.
Schultz and his business partners started a wave that even the founders of Starbucks couldn’t stop. Today, the coffee industry continues growing bigger and getting better. Coffee shops continue opening throughout the world. Recent trends focus on micro-roasted beans instead of mass coffee production.
Today, coffee brewers and consumers are preferring single-serve pour-over coffees rather than refills from burned coffee pots. Every day, coffee consumers across the world are expecting to get better coffee beans and brews. Most coffee companies are now doing their best to make the lives of coffee growers better since most coffee-growing nations are still largely underdeveloped.
The Impact of Coffee in the World and Its Future
Today, coffee boasts of being the second most traded commodity in the world. Oil takes the first spot. Coffee consumption is likely to continue for centuries to come, with billions of cups drunk annually across the globe.
Coffee has changed the globe significantly. From ancient goat herders and monks brewing unroasted beans and chewing coffee berries to global barista competitions, coffee consumers play a major role in shaping the history behind coffee. It’s most likely that coffee will continue getting better in the future.