History of Coffee: Origin Story, Discovery, & Some Exciting Facts
Irrespective of your geographical location, the popularity of coffee beverages keeps encircling people every minute. Since “there is no smoke without fire”, coffee most definitely has a pleasant origin story and history behind it.
Here, we bring you the history, discovery, and some exciting facts about the world’s most famous breakfast drink – coffee.
History of Coffee
Coffee sprang up in the good olden days. But where exactly did it happen? It turns out that, the beautiful continent of Africa has greatness in it. Coffee’s discovery happened in Ethiopia around 700 AD. It then traveled at the speed of light to reach the outskirts of the globe.
Popular Origin Stories
Coffee discovery is packed with amazing stories that defy common imagination. Looking far back into the AD (Anna Domini) era, one wouldn’t have expected such a discovery to happen just like that.
But once again, history has proved us wrong. It doesn’t take only a scientifically advanced society to discover a revolutionary substance such as coffee. Many tales surround the initial discovery of the drink. They are discussed below:
Kaldi and His Goats
In the story, it states that, back in 700 AD or probably the 9th century, an Ethiopian herdsman named Kaldi chanced upon his goats displaying their dancing skills. At night time, the goats would not sleep. This kind of unusual animal behavior blew the herdsman’s mind away.
As Kaldi sought further answers to explain the mystery, he realized that the goats were feeding on red berries. At that point, the herdsman knew that history was about to capture his name. Kaldi hypothesized that the berries may have had some kind of active substance in them that influenced the turbo-charged behavior of the goats.
Kaldi visits a Monk
After making such a good observation, the herdsman didn’t keep the discovery to himself. He allegedly narrated his experience to a religious monk. It turns out that the religiously devout man of God was badly in need of something that could make him remain awake overnight and say his prayers.
Based on Kaldi’s description of the goats’ reaction to the fruit intake, the monk decided to give the berries a shot. And bingo! He got the sleep-defeating drug he was looking for. And so coffee was discovered in the weirdest possible circumstance. Soon afterward, people began to grind and boil the beans, and the rest they say is history.
In an alternative account, it is said that the monk that Kaldi visited was not so enthused when he was shown the red berries. Believing the berries were from the devil, the monk quickly cast the berries into the fire. However, the intoxicating aroma of the burnt berries proved irresistible to the monk. The monk then ordered his staff to gather the roasted beans, which was later ground and then brewed.
Other stories narrate completely different facts about the matter. For instance, one story suggested that, after the monk had tasted the fruit, he wasn’t impressed with the results, so he kept them on fire. The strong aroma of the roasted beans led other monks to do more experiments, and coffee eventually became a popular drink.
One legend also says that a Moroccan Muslim named Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhi discovered coffee while in Ethiopia. He saw a group of birds fly actively anytime they fed on the crop. His Eureka moment of discovery happened when he ate the bean and realized their effect.
Again, in another account, it’s said that beverage traces it origin to a Muslim by the name of Omar. Omar was banished from Mocha to live in Ousab. One day, a famished Omar decided to try out some beans from a shrub he found. Not pleased with the bitter taste of the beans, he decided to roast them to see if they would taste better. The beans rather became hard. To soften them, Omar then boiled the beans and drank the liquid. Not only had he partially quenched his hunger, he realized that he felt a bit more energetic. Following his discovery, Omar was called back to Mocha, where he was later proclaimed a saint.
Even though the authenticity of Kaldi’s story and others cannot be ascertained, it’s undisputable to state that coffee proudly originated from Ethiopia (then known as Abyssinia).
Some Exciting Facts About Coffee
These exciting facts about coffee truly do justice to the amazing history behind coffee:
Coffee’s Etymology is Debatable
It’s known that coffee came into English usage in 1582 from a Dutch word ‘koffie’, which in turn traced its origin to qahwah or qahwa, an Arab word which means “no hunger”. “Quwwah” also sounds similar to the term that the Turks first used to call coffee – kahve. Then, there is the ancient Ethiopian kingdom of Kaffa. That name has also been linked to coffee.
Well, it appears the real etymology of coffee stems from a number of sources, much like its legendary accounts.
The Arabian Peninsula was a Coffee Farm
The first known cultivation of the coffee plant took place at the Arabian Peninsula. The plant was widely grown in present-day Yemen and the surrounding Arabia towns around the 15th century. By the 16th century, it had spread to Turkey, Persia, Syria, and Egypt.
Thus Arabia holds the honor of being the place where roasted coffee started springing up on a large scale. This practice took hold of Muslims in the place around the 13th century. The stimulating properties of the bean allowed them to pray without ceasing.
Coffee was banned in Mecca
Coffee’s association with the Arabs has been well established. The coffee houses were even called “schools of the wise”. Several scholars and opinionated individuals would troop into those houses to drink coffee, something they even termed as the “wine of Araby”.
But in 1511, the drink got banned by one Meccan governor named Khair Beg. His fear was that coffee drinking could bring people together to hold discussions and oppose him. In the decades that followed, similar bans were seen in Cairo and Ethiopia.
Luckily, those bans did not last for too long, and coffee was reinstated as the preferred drink across the region.
Ottomans helped with the spread of coffee
The Ottoman sultans’ conquest of Arabia in the 16th century helped in speeding up the spread of coffee. The beverage began moving from the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean. Coffee houses sprang up in places along those routes. By the mid-16th century, the drink had made its way to Istanbul, the prized jewel of the Ottoman Empire and one of the most important cities in the world at the time.
However, some religious leaders and rulers in the Ottoman Empire became concerned about the popularity of the drink and the coffee houses. Many feared that were a revolt to take place in the empire, it most likely would start in those houses as those spots had become thriving places for the discussion of ideas.
An Ottoman sultan by the name of Sultan Murad IV once imposed the death penalty for anyone caught drinking coffee. It turned out the aromatic smell of coffee was simply irresistible, and the ban ended up being lifted.
The fact that coffee, a stimulant drink, is not mentioned in the Quran is one of the reason why it became so popular among Muslims.
Charles II of England feared coffee houses
It turns out that Muslim rulers weren’t the only people who felt threatened by all the discussions that could take place in coffee houses. A good number of European monarchs also had their trepidations over those houses. For example, Charles II of England, having experienced firsthand the brutal effects of a revolution (the revolution that culminated in the execution of his father, Charles I, in 1647), tried to impose a ban on coffee houses. The English monarch saw coffee houses as breeding ground for political unrest and possible sedition.
Europeans Tasted Coffee in the 17th century
Prior to the 1600s, coffee plants were predominantly found in Arabia and Africa. Legend has it that a Sufi saint by name Baba Budan was the one who introduced coffee beans to the Indian subcontinent in the 1670s.
Soon, Europeans traveled Near East and brought home news about coffee beverages. By the 17th century, Europeans had tasted their first coffee. The beans became very popular in major European cities, beginning in Italy.
European powers took to planting the crop abroad because their environment could not sustain its cultivation. For example, the Dutch established a coffee plantation and estate in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) in the early 1600s. There were also coffee plantations in Java, Indonesia.
As for the French, they followed suit in the Caribbean. And so did Spain, across Central and South America.
Many of those European countries established coffee plantations abroad in order to get a slice of the lucrative market of coffee. Prior to that the Ottomans were the leading players in the market. With the Dutch, French and Spanish moving into the market, it took less than a century for Europe to dominate the business, breaking the monopoly that Ottomans had enjoyed for many years.
Coffee was initially seen as “Satan’s Drink”
Upon its introduction in continental Europe, the popularity was met with evil suspicions and banning, as coffee became associated with the devil. In 1615, a Venetian clergymen condemned the drink.
Having travelled predominantly from the Islamic world to Europe, coffee came to be seen as a Muslim beverage in Europe. Safe to say that the religious establishment in Europe at the time was not so pleased about the drink’s rise in popularity.
Initially, coffee was also seen as a threat to wine, which was frequently used by the Catholics in religious ceremonies. That all changed when Pope Clement VIII (1536-1605) took a sip of the drink, which had earlier been termed as “Satan’s drink”.
As coffee houses began to spring up in Europe, people thronged in to those spots to spend pennies on coffee and engage in conversations. The traditional breakfast of beer and wine was quickly replaced by coffee. Coffee drinkers were more alert and energetic to perform to go about their daily tasks.
America got coffee in the mid-1600s, and by the early 1770s, the drink had become symbol of anti-British sentiment
The British exported coffee to New York City (then known as New Amsterdam) around the mid-1600s. In 1773, in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, Americans began to shift to coffee. This preference of coffee to tea was seen as the diminutive colonies’ way of going against British tradition of tea drinking. Many of them felt that prioritizing coffee over tea would send a message to the British that they could do without tea, which was one of Great Britain’s lucrative earners.
For many people, drinking a substitute to tea symbolized the colonies’ patriotism and commitment in the fight for independence. Moreover, the British had imposed exorbitant taxes on tea in the American colonies.
The preferred beverage during the Industrial Revolution
Ever wonder how some unscrupulous factory owners were able to get long and unhealthy hours of work from their factory workers during the Industrial Revolution? Well, some say historians cite coffee as an explanation. One wouldn’t be wrong to say that coffee did fuel the Industrial Revolution as workers drank copious amounts of coffee in order to stay alert.
A big stimulant during wars
During the American Civil War, soldiers – both Union and Confederate soldiers – indulged in coffee drinking as a means to give them an upper hand on the field of battle.
Coffee was also the preferred choice of drink during the two great wars of the 20th century – World War I and World War II. In the latter, some commanders (on both sides) prescribed other forms of drugs to supplement coffee.
Coffee is very valuable today
After petroleum (oil), coffee takes a firm position as the second most valuable legal commodity in the global trade. It has been estimated that, on each day, the world consumes over 2 billion cups of the popular beverage.
New York residents love coffee so much that their consumption rate is seven times greater than other American cities. There is a reason why Starbucks remains ubiquitous coffee maker in America, as well across the world. Manhattan, New York for example has many Starbucks coffee houses, almost on every block.
Other Interesting Facts about Coffee in the Modern Era
- America’s 25th President Theodore Roosevelt is believed to have taken a gallon of coffee every day.
- Voltaire, one of the greatest minds of our modern era, is said to have drank copious amounts of coffee. The French philosopher drank about 35 to 45 cups a day! Well, if anyone wonders just how he was able to come out with those brilliant ideas of his, the answer might lie in coffee.
- The first coffee house to open in England occurred in 1651. It was at Oxford. It was from this Oxford Coffee Club that the famous think tank and scientific organization, the Royal Society, came to being. Coffee houses became so famous in England that they earned the name “Penny Universities”. All one needed was a few pennies and he or she could be exposed to a whole lot of ideas while sipping a cup of coffee.
- America, on the other hand, saw its first coffee house in 1689 in Boston, Massachusetts.
- Ethiopia, the widely accepted place that gave birth to coffee, sits high in terms of the leading coffee-producing nations in the world. The East African country ranks in the top ten global coffee producers.
- South America’s economic powerhouse, Brazil, sits atop the global coffee production, according to the International Coffee Organization. Brazil’s affair with coffee started around the 18th century. After the French consistently refused to share coffee seeds with other parts of the continent, Francisco de Mello Palheta successfully smuggled a few coffee seeds from French Guiana into Brazil. Kind courtesy of Francisco’s daring act, Brazil currently rakes in billions of US Dollars annually from coffee exports.
- Other leading coffee producing countries in the world are Vietnam, Indonesia, Uganda, Honduras, and India.
- The coffee table gained wide usage in many homes across the world in the early parts of the 20th century.
- The espresso machines that we have come to so much love was the invention of Italian barista Achille Gaggia in the 1940s. As for the decaffeinated coffee, the credit of invention (in 1903) goes to Ludwig Roselius, a prosperous coffee merchant from Germany.
- Don’t many of us just love caffè mocha? But did you know that the name Mocha was actually the name of a very vibrant port city in ancient Yemen? The city’s port was famous for coffee trade.
- Scientists and mission directors of the Apollo 11 program weren’t the only ones that used coffee to stay alert. The first astronauts to touch down on the Moon in 1969 used coffee to stay sharp. More than half a century later, the necessity of coffee is so great that scientists on the ISS (International Space Station) to came up with the ISSpresso coffee machine.
From its origin story in Ethiopia to it being brewed on the International Space Station, coffee has indeed come a long way. From the looks of it, the beverage is poised to remain our preferred drink of choice as we all thrive to remain alert in an ever-changing and hyperactive global environment.