A Brief History of Coffee

Legend has it that coffee was discovered on the Ethiopian plateau thousands of years ago by a goat herder! The goat herder, Kaldi, noticed that is goats became so energetic and wouldn’t sleep at night after eating berries from what has become known as the coffee tree.  Kaldi reported his findings to the abbot at the local monastery, who then made a drink from the berries and found that he had so much more energy!

From there, coffee boomed in popularity in large part to the cultivation and trade of it on the Arabian Peninsula. Coffee quickly became a staple in homes and before long coffee shops, known as qahveh khaneh, began opening across the Near East. Much like today, coffee shops became a place for socialization, a venue to enjoy entertainment and a center to gather news.  

By the 17th Century, coffee made its way to Europe. The drink was so foreign that people reacted out of fear and called coffee the “bitter invention of Satan” due to its “power” to give people energy. Clergyman across Europe condemned the drink and its rapidly spreading popularity created great controversy across the region. Pope Clement VIII intervened by tasting the drink for himself and found it so satisfying that he gave it the papal approval!

This fascinating drink made its way to “The New World” in the mid-1600s. Coffee houses began to appear all over New Amsterdam (now New York) and the surrounding cities but the preferred drink of colonists continued to be tea. This all changed with the historic Boston Tea Party in which colonists revolted against the heavy taxes on tea by dumping shiploads full into the harbor. This event forever tilted the American drinking preference towards coffee.

The Dutch were eventually able to move seedlings outside of the Arabian Peninsula and had success growing coffee trees on the island of Java (present day Indonesia). The Dutch coffee industry thrived, and cultivation soon expanded to the islands of Sumatra and Celebes.

Coffee cultivation made its way to the Americas in 1723 thanks to a single seedling transported by French naval officer Gabriel de Clieu. The seedling thrived on the island of Martinique and is credited with the spread of over 18 million trees over the next 50 years. Even more incredible is this seedling is the parent of all coffee trees throughout the Caribbean and South and Central America.

One of the most famous coffees in the world is Brazilian coffee. Its existence is owed to Francisco de Mello Palheta. He was sent by the Brazilian emperor to French Guiana to get coffee seedlings. The French were unwilling to share but the French Governor’s wife, enchanted by his good looks, gave Francisco a large bouquet of flowers before he left – it was filled with enough coffee seeds to begin what is now a billion-dollar industry.

Coffee trees are now planted worldwide. You can find plantations in the most exotic of rainforests and on rugged mountain highlands. Some nations have flourished because of the coffee industry and many made fortunes. Believe it or not, coffee is the second most sought after commodity in the world, second only to crude oil.

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