It’s hard to imagine a world without coffee. For most of us, it is a daily necessity, the elixir that gets us up in the morning and makes us joyous and productive. For over a thousand years, coffee has served humanity well, from giving the strength monks needed to engage in nighttime devotions, to accompanying merchants and traders on their long journeys, to providing inspiration to artists and writers, and fueling workers worldwide.
The history of coffee begins, as all great stories do, with a legend. Or three, to be more precise… People tell the story of a Moroccan Sufi mystic who, on his travels, saw energetic birds, unusually full of life. He tasted the beans from which the birds had eaten and felt energy and vitality flowing through his body.
The second tale is Omar’s, a disciple from Mocha who was exiled and left starving in the desert. He found the berries of a coffee plant and ate them. They were too bitter, so he roasted them, but then they were too rough, so he boiled them. The liquid he drank sustained him for days and when he returned to the city with the beans he was made a saint.
The third one is the tale of Kaldi, the goat-keeper who noticed that his goats were very active after eating berries from a bush. He ate some as well, enjoyed the feeling, and brought them back to a monastery. Here, a monk disapproved of them and threw them in the fire. The aroma that spread brought more monks together and they investigated the mysterious beans. After picking them out of the fire and putting them in water, they realized the liquid could help them stay awake during nighttime prayers, and they saw it as a spiritual stimulant.
Something mystical surrounds the beginnings of coffee, but the first trustworthy record of it comes from the middle of the 15th century, from Yemen. Sufis imported coffee from Ethiopia and used it as a stimulant for concentration as well as a spiritual intoxicant in their rituals. From there, it spread to Mecca and Medina, Cairo, Aleppo, and Constantinople. Coffee houses became popular around monasteries and religious universities, and then they spread further.
The coffee house was the place to meet and socialize, to enjoy the beverage and to discuss ideas, thoughts, books, and art, for hours on end. It was also the place where people would go to enjoy high-quality entertainment, from dance and theatrical performances, to live music and all sorts of games. The coffee house became the gathering place of the intellectuals.
Europe, the Americas, and the World
Coffee supposedly arrived in Europe through slavery and trade posts in Malta and Italy, but it soon became a luxury resource and was enjoyed in every big city on the continent and in England. Like alcohol and tobacco, it faced its own share of criticism and skepticism, being denounced by people of the Catholic clergy as a drink of the devil. It was, however, tasted by the pope who claimed that it was not a devilish drink and cleared its use. Coffee houses spread quickly all over Europe and soon the wonderous beverage reached the Americas, through the Dutch and British colonists.
The story of coffee in South and Central America takes place in the 18th century. It is the story of Gabriel de Clieu, who managed to bring a stolen coffee seedling from France to Martinique despite a tumultuous journey. This seedling grew into a thriving plant, that spread out over the next 50 years into one of the biggest coffee plantations in the world. Francisco de Mello Palheta is the other name that made South American coffee possible, being the one to have brought coffee to Brazil.
In Asia, coffee was introduced early on, in the 17th century in India and the 18th century in the Philippines. India’s coffee industry is most prominent in the South Indian states, with Chikmagalur being its birthplace. Indian coffee is also known as Monsooned coffee, because of the special preparation process it undergoes. The Philippines are particularly famous for growing all four types of coffee beans, thanks to the specific climate of this country.
Merchants and traders carried coffee beans all over the world, and the circle was complete when the British colonialists planted coffee in East Africa, in Kenya, right next to Ethiopia. Today, coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world and estimates say that by 2019 the consumption will reach 9 million tons. Brazil is leading the coffee production game, followed by Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia.
Coffee is enjoyed in many different ways today. Learn more about different types of drinks, preparation techniques, and specialty coffee and find great coffee shops on Goffee!