The History of Coffee

The Discovery of Coffee

Historic Origin of Coffee Shrouded in Mystery and Legend

There is no precise account of the origins of the coffee plant or of the first human consumption of the revered bean, though there is general agreement among historians that coffee was first discovered in the mountains of Ethiopia (Abyssinia).

We can thank a goatherder named Kaldi, according to one legend, for discovering coffee’s unique properties in the 8th century A.D.  This goatherder from the Kaffa region of southwestern Ethiopia noticed that his goats were more animated and lively after eating some wild red berries.

Kaldi then ate some of the berries himself, and sure enough he also felt increased energy.  Soon these unique properties of coffee became known to some monks at a nearby monastery, and they too began consuming the beans that helped them meditate and pray for longer periods of time.

Other monasteries also began using the berries for the same purpose—and so the spread of the coffee over the globe had begun.

The Kaffa region is still a major coffee growing area today. The coffee trees there are perhaps the only known “native” coffee trees.

Another traditional legend about the first discovery of coffee involves an Arabian mystic named Omar who was exiled to the desert by his enemies. Omar faced imminent starvation until he made a broth from the berries of coffee trees and was able to stay alive. Residents of the nearby town of Mocha thought Omar’s survival was a religious sign.

The Mocha region continues to be a major coffee source today. Mocha is also well known as the place where the first coffee beans that became popular in Europe were produced.

Suave molecules of Mocha stir up your blood, without causing excess heat; the organ of thought receives from it a feeling of sympathy; work becomes easier and you will sit down without distress to your principal repast which will restore your body and afford you a calm, delicious night.
Tallyrand (1754-1839)

Timeline of the History of Coffee

The Spread of Coffee Over the Globe

8th-9th Century—Coffee trees are discovered in either Ethiopia or Yemen.  The properties of the coffee beans cause the plant to quickly gain in popularity.

10th Century—Previous to this time coffee is eaten by nomadic Ethiopian tribesmen (of the Galla tribe) who wrap the ripe berries of the plant in animal fat which they form into round balls that they carry on their journeys for use as a food and stimulant. Coffee berries are also mixed with cold water and left to soak (similar to how sun tea is made).

c.1100—Coffee trees are cultivated on the Arabian peninsula. After the Arabs learn to boil water they begin crushing the green coffee beans.  Eventually they roast the beans and grind them up to produce an even higher quality beverage.

“In a word, coffee is the drunkard’s settle-brain, the fool’s pastime, who admires it for being the production of Asia, and is ravished with delight when he hears the berries grow in the deserts of Arabia, but would not give a farthing for a hogshead of it, if it were to be had on Hampstead Heath or Banstead-Downs.”

Thomas Tryon (1634-1703), The Good Hous-Wife Made a Doctor (1692)

The Spread of Coffee Through Arabia

1258—In Ousab, Arabia, the patron saint and legendary founder of the port city of Mocha in Yemen is introduced to coffee.

13th Century
—The first coffee houses in the villages and towns of Arabia are known as “qahveh kaneh.”  They become places where people gather to talk, listen to music, gamble, and play games such as backgammon.

Coffee drinking continues to grow in popularity throughout the region, and the area’s rulers begin to see the coffee houses as a threat to their power because people exchange ideas there.

Soon the rulers try to shut down the qahveh kaneh (coffee houses) in order to avoid plots and uprisings against them, but instead the coffee houses become increasingly popular and thus very difficult to restrict.  Eventually coffee drinking becomes a regular part of Arabian life, and coffee is consumed in people’s homes.

1350—Craftsmen of Egypt, Turkey, and Persia create special ewers made of pottery which they use for serving coffee—these are the first coffee pots.

14th Century—The Arabs, having formerly gotten all of their coffee from Ethiopia, are finally able to smuggle coffee plants out of Ethiopia and cultivate their own coffee plants in the area that is Yemen today.

The Arabs closely protect their coffee plants as the beans become widely popular.  The Arabs even boil the coffee berries to make the seeds sterile so no one outside of the borders can cultivate the plants.  Nevertheless some of the fertile green beans are eventually smuggled out of the area by pilgrims who commonly visited at that time, and soon the plants begin to thrive in other areas.

1475—Ottoman Turks introduce coffee to Constantinople. A coffee shop called Kiva Han opens in Constantinople, and later two more open. Turkish law states that a woman may divorce her husband if he doesn’t provide here with a daily quota of coffee.

1500—Roasting coffee is common by this time, as is brewing the beverage, and coffee houses continue to appear in Arabia.

1511—Mecca’s corrupt governor Khair Beg [Kair Bey] attempts to ban coffee because he fears it will encourage opposition to his rule, and those who consume coffee are not attending prayers at the Mosque but are instead hanging out at coffee houses. In response, the sultan has him executed and declares coffee sacred.

1534—Cairo religious fanatics denounce coffee and a subsequent hearing ends when the chief judge tries the beverage and then sides with the coffee drinkers.

A PROCLAMATION FOR THE SUPPRESSION OF COFFEE HOUSES:
Whereas it is most apparent that the multitude of Coffee Houses of late years set up and kept within this Kingdom…and the great resort of idle and disaffected persons to them, have produced very much of their time, which might and probably would be employed in and about their Lawful Calling and Affairs; but also for that in such houses…divers, false, malitious, and scandalous reports are devised and spread abroad to the Defamation of His Majesty’s Government, and to the disturbance of the Peace and Quiet of the Realm; his Majesty hath though it fit and necessary, that the said Coffee Houses be (for the Future) put down and suppressed…

King Charles II of England, December 23, 1675. This rule was revoked on January 8, due to widespread citizen protest.

Coffee Comes To America

1600—Dutch traders from New Amsterdam bring coffee to America. Just four years later the British take control of New Amsterdam and rename it New York.  Coffee is already a popular drink among the residents.

New York’s first coffee houses sell ale, wine, tea, and hot chocolate as well as coffee. They also serve food and have rooms for rent, making them more like taverns than coffee houses.

1603—Captain John Smith (see below), in his travel book, refers to the Turk’s drink “coffa.”

1607—The colony of Virginia at Jamestown is founded with the help of Captain John Smith who is said to have introduced the first coffee to North America. However, some historians say coffee had already been introduced to Canada before this time.

Coffee Reaches Europe

1615—The first coffee is introduced to Europe when a shipment from the Yemen port of Mocha arrives in Venice.  Traders and voyagers had long been bringing news of this popular beverage of Arabia back to their European homelands. Coffee quickly becomes popular in Europe where it is known as “the wine of Arabia.”

Venice is the main European source of coffee, and pharmacies in Venice use the coffee beans for medicinal purposes. Soon the Venetians are roasting the beans and brewing the beverage.

When Pope Clement VIII is informed that an Italian merchant is selling coffee, the Roman clergy initially condemns coffee as “the drink of the devil.” The pope’s advisers tell him that coffee, as the favorite beverage of the Ottoman Empire, is part of the infidel threat. To resolve the controversy the pope tastes the new beverage and then instead of denouncing coffee he blesses it and gives it Papal approval.

Coffee houses soon begin to show up in Italy (the first in 1645), spurring the widespread growth of coffee drinks throughout the region.

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1637—England’s first coffee house is opened at Oxford by a man named Jacob, a Jewish immigrant from Turkey.  Soon another England coffee house is opened at St. Michael’s Abbey in Cornhill, London by a man named Pasqua Rosee from Armenia or Greece. These are England’s first recorded coffee references.

Eventually coffee houses are found throughout Great Britain. Coffee houses near universities are frequented by many students and come to be known as “Penny Universities” because the locals would say that for the cost of a cup of coffee (a penny), a student could learn more than from all of their books.

1657—Jean de Thevenot privately introduces coffee to France.

1663—English coffee houses are required to have licenses.

1672—First Parisian coffee cafe opens.

“Coffee leads men to trifle away their time, scald their chops, and spend their money, all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking nauseous puddle water.”
The Women’s Petition Against Coffee (1674)

1675—Vienna is surrounded by the Turkish Army. A Viennese man named Franz Georg Kolschitzky is able to slip through enemy lines and lead relief forces into the city. When the Turks flee they leave behind sacks of “dry black fodder” (coffee) which Kolschitzky claims as his reward and uses to open the first coffee shop in central Europe. Kolschitzky also starts the practice of filtering out the coffee grounds, sweetening the coffee, and adding a bit of milk.

1688—A coffee house owned by Edward Lloyd opens in England, and among the patrons are many maritime agents and merchants—this establishment eventually becomes the famous insurance company Lloyds of London.

“Coffee in England is just toasted milk.”
Christopher Fry

The Dutch Break the Arab Coffee Monopoly

1690—The Dutch are finally able to smuggle coffee plants out of the Arab port of Mocha and they begin cultivating coffee in Ceylon and the East Indian colony of Java. Up until this time the Arabs had retained control of the coffee supply. The Venetians got all of their coffee from Arabia and had a monopoly of the coffee trade in Europe.

The smuggled Dutch plants were first nurtured and closely guarded in greenhouses in Amsterdam, and then in 1658 transplanted to colonies in East India where they grow very well in the climates of Sumatra and Java. Amsterdam soon gets coffee supplies from the Dutch colonies and becomes the center of the European coffee trade.

“Moderately drunk, coffee removes vapours from the brain, occasioned by fumes of wine, or other strong liquors; eases pains in the head, prevents sour belchings, and provokes appetite.”

England’s Happiness Improved, 1699

1713—French King Louis XIV is given a Java coffee plant (from Yemen) by the mayor of Amsterdam.  The king loves the taste of the coffee and tells his royal court botanist to care for the plant. The descendants of this coffee plant will produce supplies for the entire Western coffee industry (see 1723).

1721
—Berlin’s first coffee house opens.

1723—A young French Navy Captain named Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu on leave in Paris steals a coffee plant and brings it back to where he is stationed in Martinique. De Clieu illegally smuggles the seedlings from the Royal Jardin de Plantes (Royal Hothouse) aboard his ship.

The ship endures hazardous stormy Atlantic weather and is nearly captured by pirates.  Fresh water is in short supply and is rationed, but De Clieu shares some of his valued water supply with the treasured seedlings which are somehow able to survive the voyage.

De Clieu then plants the seeds in the rich, fertile soil of Martinique and has his men guard the precious plants which thrive and multiply.  By 1777 more than 18 million of the coffee plants are growing on the island—these plants are the progeny of virtually all coffee in the French Colonies. Eventually 90 percent of the world’s coffee spreads from this plant.

1727—Brazilian Lieutenant Colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta is sent to arbitrate a border dispute between the French and Dutch colonies.  The lieutenant forms a liaison with the wife of the governor of Guiana who gives him a bouquet in which she had hidden coffee cuttings and fertile seeds.

At this time France had a policy closely guarding its coffee plants so they wouldn’t be cultivated elsewhere. The coffee brought by de Melo Palheta led to the beginning of Brazil’s coffee industry, which became one of the world’s great coffee growing empires.

1732—The “Kaffee-Kantate,” a one-act operetta, is composed by Johann Sebastian Bach as an ode to coffee. Bach’s operetta was also a statement against a movement in Germany at the time to prevent women from drinking coffee (it was thought to make them sterile), and a criticism of the efforts of the upper-class and the royals to discourage commoners from drinking coffee.

“Ah! How sweet coffee tastes!
Lovelier than a thousand kisses,
sweeter far than muscatel wine!
I must have my coffee.”
J. S. Bach’s Kaffee-Kantate

1750—Cafe Greco opens in Rome. This is one of Europe’s first coffee houses.

1763—More than 2,000 coffee shops operate in Venice.

1773—England’s King George imposes a heavy tax on tea, angering the people of Boston, who then dress up as Native American Indians, board the English ships in Boston Harbor, and dump the ship’s cargo of tea into the sea.

The Boston citizens who participate in this “Boston Tea Party” were still very angry over the 1763 Stamp Act crisis, and their renewed protests are the beginning of a major shift from tea to coffee as the predominant beverage of choice among the American people. Indeed, drinking coffee becomes an expression of freedom.

Before this time the wealthier classes were the main coffee drinkers while the less prosperous consumed tea, but with the events of 1773 that completely changed.

1777—Frederick the Great of Prussia bans green coffee imports due to the decline of Prussia’s wealth, though he soon abandons this policy in response to a public outcry.

“It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the amount of money that goes out of the country as a consequence. Everybody is using coffee; this must be prevented. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were both his ancestors and officers. Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer, and the King does not believe that coffee-drinking soldiers can be relied upon to endure hardships in case of another war.”
Fredrick the Great of Prussia (1777)

1822—A prototype of the espresso machine is invented in France.

1865—The coffee percolator is invented by James Mason.

“Physicians say that coffee without cream is more wholesome, particularly for persons of weak digestion. There seems to be some element in the coffee which combined with the milk, forms a leathery coating on the stomach, and impairs digestion.”
The Buckeye Cookbook (1883)

1886—The name Maxwell House is given to the coffee blend created by wholesale grocer Joel Cheek who names the blend after the Nashville hotel where it is served.

1900—Hills Brothers begins packaging coffee in vacuum tins, and soon many coffee mills and small roasters which had been common in most cities, all but disappear.

1901—The first soluble “instant coffee” beverage (just add water) is invented by Satori Kato, a Japanese American chemist in Chicago.

“The morning cup of Café Noir is an integral part of the life of a Creole household. The Creoles hold as a physiological fact that this custom contributes to longevity, and point day after day, to examples of old men and women of fourscore, and over, who attest to the powerful aid they have received through life from a good, fragrant cup of coffee in the early morning.”
The Picayune Creole Cook Book (1901)

1903—German researchers figure out how to remove caffeine from coffee without damaging the flavor. The coffee importer who provided the beans for this experimenting—Ludwig Roselius—markets the new product under the brand Sanka.

1903—Brazil produces 90% of the world’s coffee.

1906—The modern coffee roaster is invented in America by Jabez Burns.  Electric fans and motors lead to modern coffee roasting and processing equipment.

1905—Italy manufactures the first commercial espresso machine.

1906—English chemist George Constant Washington, who lives in Guatemala, sees a powdery condensation form on the spout of his silver carafe, causing him to begin experimenting. Washington soon creates the first mass-produced instant coffee, naming it Red E Coffee and then marketing it in 1909.

1908—The first drip coffee maker is created by German housewife Melitta Bentz. She uses blotting paper as a filter. Bentz had been trying to avoid the bitterness of over-brewing when she came up with the idea of pouring boiling water over the ground coffee and filtering the liquid to remove any grinds.

Bentz searched for the perfect filter she saw her son’s blotting paper and cut out a round piece which she put in a metal cup. Her coffee filter and filter paper were patented in 1908. Later that year she started the Melitta Bentz company with her husband Hugo. In 1909 they sold 12,000 of their filters at Germany’s Leipziger Fair.

“You can tell when you have crossed the frontier into Germany because of the badness of the coffee.”
Edward VIII (1841-1910)

1920—Prohibition in the United States leads to a boom in coffee sales.

1926—“Maxwell House Good To the Last Drop” receives a trademark registration.

1933—The first automatic espresso machine is invented by Dr. Ernest Lily.

1937—The Melitta Bentz Company patents the coffee filter bag.

1938—The Nestlé Company invents freeze-dried coffee in an effort to help Brazil solve their coffee surpluses.  The new product is called Nescafé and marketed in Switzerland.

“The average American’s simplest and commonest form of breakfast consists of coffee and beefsteak.”
Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad

1940—Seventy percent of the world’s coffee crop is imported into the United States.

1942—A strong demand for coffee by U.S. troops during World War II leads to a shortage and the general public is subject to coffee rationing. Soldiers are issued instant coffee from Maxwell House in their ration kits.

1946—The espresso machine is perfected by Italy’s Achilles Gaggia who uses a piston and a spring-powered lever system to create high pressure for extraction, resulting in a thick layer of crema, the top foamy layer containing the coffee’s best flavors and aromatic properties.

1960—The Faema Company invents the first pump-driven espresso machine.

1962—The Melitta Bentz company patents vacuum packaging.

1969—Coffee heiress Abigail Folger is murdered by the Manson family as she visits her friend Sharon Tate in the filmmaker Roman Polanski’s home. This takes place one week before the Woodstock music festival.

1971—The opening of Starbucks first store in Seattle’s Pike Place Market leads to a new surge of popularity for the taste of freshly roasted, whole coffee beans.

2001—Starbucks has 8,337 locations.

2008—An estimated 25,000 coffee shops (12,000 independent; 13,000 chain) operate in the United States, up from 9,470 in 2002. Adult consumption increased 17% over this time.

2009—The National Coffee Association reports that at-home coffee preparation is up 5%, with 83% of coffee drinkers preparing the beverage at home.  Specialty coffee sales at grocery stores increase 12% (to $1.4 billion) compared to a 3% increase for traditional coffees.

2009, August—Gourmet coffee is consumed daily by nearly 20% of adult ages 25-29, with two-thirds of all adults consuming coffee at least once per week. An estimated 1 in 10 coffee shops closed since January of 2008, including 900 Starbucks and about 2,500 independent coffee shops, yet overall coffee consumption remains steady during this time.

If you like this History of Coffee, then you will love our Coffee Facts.  To experience the world’s very best coffees join our Premium Gourmet Coffee Community!

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