The beautiful brown beverage that brings us to life in the morning, picks us up when we’re down, gives us a big hug tells us that everything’s going to be ok has a fascinating history.
The history of coffee goes back about 600 years. It’s not exactly ancient, but it’s old!
Every day, as we visit our favorite coffee shop, or brew coffee at home with our favorite brewing method, we hardly even give a second thought about the origins of coffee. It’s just something we’ve come to know and enjoy.
But, I’m sure you’re reading this because you’re a curious mind who wants to learn!
Coffee and the art of coffee brewing has grown in leaps and bounds over the last 50 years or so.
But from start to finish, legend to hard facts, let’s learn more about where black gold came from!
The Legend – The Beginning
There are different legends about how coffee, or the energizing effects of it, were discovered.
Even though the earliest substantiated evidence of coffee being consumed and enjoyed as a beverage from the roasted beans of the coffea plant (aka coffee) are from Yemen and the Middle East, we know that it was originally discovered in Ethiopia.
One popular legend says that it was discovered by an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi.
In 850 AD, Kaldi discovered the effects of plant when he noticed that his goats ate the berries from it and experienced energizing, bounce-off-the-walls effects.
After he observed how much energy the coffee berries gave the goats, he decided to try chewing the berries himself. He noticed that he got a kick from the berries too.
After these findings he reported to a monk at a local monastery. The legend differs here too.
Some stories say that the monk disapproved these strange new berries and threw them into the fire. They then released a pleasing aroma, so they decided to roast them and enjoy a fine beverage.
Other stories say that the one at the monastery made the berries into a drink and this kept him up through the hours of evening prayer. Either way, after the monk or abbot at the monastery discovered this elixir of life, it spread throughout the Middle East, and in turn throughout the world.
The story of Kaldi is just a legend though, and there isn’t a great deal of evidence that the story is true.
What We Really Know About The Origins
Aside from the legends, what we really know about the beginnings of coffee, and specifically the regular consumption of coffee and trade, is that it began in the Arabian peninsula in the 15th century.
Coffee was exported out of Ethiopia to Yemen. From Yemen, it spread to cities in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and others. The drink was often used in Sufism, Islamic mysticism, for prayer and devotions.
Even in the 16th century in the Middle East coffee shops became popular, with people going to drink coffee, socialize, see performers and musicians, and exchange words of wisdom.
They became known so well for being hubs of social intercourse that they were nicknamed “Schools of the wise”.
In Islam, coffee was controversial from the start. Some loved it’s revitalizing, energizing effects, while certain prominent imams of Islam, and priests of Ethiopian Orthodoxy, condemned it and made efforts to ban it from religious order. But in the midst of controversy, coffee pushed through and prevailed.
In 1511, coffee was forbidden as something to be partaken of the religion of Islam by Imams from Mecca. But in 1524 this was revoked and coffee made its way further through the world…
Coffee Advances To Europe
During the 1600s, the beverage found its way to Malta.
Turkish Muslim slaves were experts at making coffee and were often hired out to make coffee as they went through Malta and into Europe. This was Europe’s introduction to coffee, and it became a popular drink especially among high society of Malta.
Coffee was first brought to mainland Europe via Italy, through the city of Venice to be precise.
In Italy, as in Malta, it was a high-priced item and only the wealthy were able to enjoy. The first European coffee house to open in the main part of Europe was in Venice, in 1645.
From Italy, it went to Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands and England. Eventually, coffee replaced the then common morning beverage of the time – beer or wine. I think they all agreed that coffee helped them get their day going better than alcohol.
Coffee shops were springing up all over Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were known even then as a place to socialize and exchange ideas.
In 1763 there were more than 200 coffee shops just in the city of Venice.
The Dutch were responsible for much of the early coffee production outside of Ethiopia and the Middle East. They are also credited for quite a bit of the early coffee trade throughout Europe as they established coffee plantations in Sri Lanka, India, and Asia.
The Pope Gives His Stamp Of Approval
As coffee ventured through Europe, the delicious, mysterious beverage was met with skepticism and controversy, particularly by clergy members of the Catholic church and by Protestants. It became labeled by some as “the devil’s drink”.
Also adding to the disapproval and suspicion was the fact that coffee’s first origin was the Muslim world. It was also occasionally deemed a pagan drink.
When clergy from the Catholic church tried to condemn and ban the drink, it was brought to pope Clement VIII for a verdict, hoping that he would denounce the beverage also.
But Clement figured he should give coffee a chance before just writing it off without even a small taste. When he had thus tasted the life-giving nectar and experienced for himself, he gave it his seal of approval!
An Ode To Coffee
Even composer Johann Sebastian Bach, a wonderful, prolific Baroque composer, wrote a piece called “Coffee Cantata” in the 1730s. He wrote much church music in his era, but he composed this piece just out of his sheer love for coffee, I’m sure.
You would almost think that some coffee-addicted poet today wrote it, and it just goes to show that they were as crazy about coffee back then as some of us are today!
It’s the story of a young lady, Liesgen, who is quite fond of coffee and pleas with her father over his disapproval of her habit, requesting his blessing instead.
Some lines of the Cantata are as follows:
Herr Vater, seid doch nicht so scharf!
Father, don’t be so hard!
Wenn ich des Tages nicht dreimal
If three times a day I can’t
Mein Schälchen Coffee trinken darf,
drink my little cup of coffee,
So werd ich ja zu meiner Qual
then I would become so upset
Wie ein verdorrtes Ziegenbrätchen
that I would be like dried up piece of roast goat.
Ei! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße,
Ah! how sweet coffee tastes!
Lieblicher als tausend Küsse,
Lovelier than a thousand kisses,
Milder als Muskatenwein.
smoother than muscatel wine.
Coffee, Coffee muss ich haben,
Coffee, I must have coffee,
Und wenn jemand mich will laben,
and if anyone wants to give me a treat,
Ach, so schenkt mir Coffee ein!
ah!, just give me some coffee!
If you’d like to read the full text to the Cantata, you can visit here, where I found the lyrics.
Was this writing autobiographical, was Bach also a coffee addict like so many of us today? Did he drink 10 cups of coffee a day?
Did he have massive headaches without his coffee in the morning? We may never know… but probably.
I digress, but jokes aside, coffee gained popularity wildly throughout Europe in the 1600 and 1700s. Despite the skepticism and wariness, it eventually won the hearts of not only the pope, but also the masses.
Coming To America
Coffee eventually made its way to the New World, after the Pilgrims settled.
Jamestown, the first settlement in the now United States, was founded on May 14, 1607. America started to colonize, and it was in the mid 1600s that coffee was brought to New York, or New Amsterdam as it was called at the time.
Tea was still the drink of choice for many in the newly budding country, as was their tradition from England.
But a turning point came in America’s early coffee culture after the Boston Tea Party in 1773, when the Sons of Liberty protested against England and destroyed an entire shipment of tea from the British East India Company at the Boston harbor.
After the Boston Tea Party, drinking tea became unpatriotic, and many Americans switched to drinking coffee instead.
Coffee Spreads Worlwide
As coffee came to America, it was also being planted and cultivated in many other nations.
Two important destinations in the spread of coffee across the Atlantic ocean are Martinique via the hand of Gabriel de Clieu and Brazil by Francisco de Mello Palheta.
Gabriel de Clieu retrieved seeds from coffee planted in the royal botanical gardens in Paris and managed to transport the seed across the ocean in 1723.
It was a perilous journey with ill weather, pirate attacks and other obstacles, but he eventually made it to Martinique and planted the seed on the island.
About 50 years later there were more than 18,000 trees that came up on the island of Martinique, and eventually coffee spread to Haiti, Mexico and other areas in Central America all from that one seed that de Clieu brought.
Francisco de Mello Palheta was sent to French Guiana by the king of Portugal around the year 1727 to obtain coffee seeds. When he arrived in French Guiana he had difficulty getting seeds, but was eventually able to receive some from the governor’s wife.
These seeds were planted in Brazil and birthed the large coffee industry there.
Eventually, the coffee that de Mello Palheta planted in Brazil yielded coffee plants that made their way to Kenya and Tanzania and started the coffee industry there.
Incidentally, this was about 800 miles away or less from where coffee originally came from, Ethiopia. It had come nearly full circle.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, coffee was planted all across the world and went to Asia and Australia.
Coffee grows along the equator, between the tropic of Capricorn and tropic of cancer. This region is known as the coffee bean belt. It has the ideal conditions for growing coffee, and countries all across the world that lie within in this region grow coffee.
But even by the end of the 18th century, coffee was widely exported and traded worldwide.
Modern Coffee Culture
As we’ve seen, there was already a large coffee culture and coffee shop culture even before Starbucks was on the scene!
There were many developments of coffee, coffee brewing and coffee culture in the 20th century.
In 1901, Satori Kato, a chemist living in Chicago, developed the first form of instant coffee. Unfortunately for him it wasn’t instant success.
It later caught on when another version of instant coffee, called Red. E Coffee, was patented by a certain George Washington out of New York.
In World War I, soldiers who didn’t have access to hot water to make instant coffee just opened up the packets and poured them directly into their mouths, chewing the instant coffee for energy.
In the 1930s, automatic coffee machines came onto the market. Inez Pierce from Chicago patented the first design for a vacuum coffee maker that fully automated the process. Later, the Sunbeam company improved on her design and created the Coffeemaster line. These models were widely sold in the US in the years following World War I.
Also in the 1930s, in 1933 to be exact, inventor Luigi de Ponti patented the Moka pot, also known as the stovetop espresso maker.
The French press coffee maker was first patented in 1929 by Italian inventors.
We can see that the 1930s were a booming time for coffee brewing and innovation!
The pour over method of brewing coffee was created earlier, however, in 1908 by German entrepreneur Melitta Bentz. Other brewing methods like French press took more prominence in the early 1900s. But as we can see, in recent years the pour over method has again gained great popularity.
Other brewing methods were invented in the 1900s, for example the Chemex, designed in the 1940s by chemist Peter Schlumbohm.
Post Modern Coffee
All these events bring us to the coffee culture we have today.
Starbucks is the most popular coffee shop chain in the world, we have so many different brewing methods, hipster culture and coffee culture have become closely entwined…
Starbucks coffee shop was first founded in 1971 by three business partners. None of them were Howard Schultz by the way, the longtime CEO of Starbucks. He came along in 1982.
He was however, a pivotal part of Starbucks history and their rise to coffee power. It was after a business trip to Italy in 1983 where he was inspired by the culture Italy had created around coffee shops and afterward wanted Starbucks to start selling espressos and cappuccinos.
The rest is, well, history.
Another important moment in recent coffee history was in 2005, when Alan Adler from California invented the AeroPress coffee brewer.
Adler was an inventor for many years, and the Aerobie company he founded produced the flying disc (similar to a frisbee) with the Guinness world record for longest throw of 856 feet.
But in 2005, on a quest for a better coffee brewer, he came up with the AeroPress which has become a major worldwide brewing method.
In the world of coffee today, the most popular coffee brewing methods are automatic drip machines, pour over, French press, AeroPress, and Moka pot.
Where Does The Name “Coffee” Come From?
I’m certainly glad you asked.
The Dutch were instrumental in the planting and distribution of coffee worldwide. The English word “coffee” came from the Dutch word “koffie” in 1582.
But coffee didn’t originate in Netherlands of course. The Dutch word koffie comes from the Ottoman word “kahve”, which in turn came from the Arabic word “qahwah”.
But coffee first came out of Ethiopia, and the word may have come from the word “Kaffa”, a medieval kingdom in Ethiopia from which coffee was first exported.
Some Fun Coffee Records
I couldn’t help but look up some fun coffee records on the Guinness World Records to share for this article.
So if you wanted to know some fun coffee facts and records, here are just a few…
The largest coffee shop in the world is Al Masaa Cafe in Saudi Arabia. It has 1,050 seats.
The largest coffee cup pyramid consisted of 23,821 cups and was constructed in India in 2016.
The largest cup of coffee contains 22,739 liters of coffee and it lies in Colombia, built in 2019.
The fastest time to drink a cup of coffee is 4.35 seconds and is held by German Andre Ortolf who achieved it in 2019.
Liza Thomas of Australia holds the record of most cappuccinos made in one hour… a record of 420. That’s an average of seven cappuccinos per minute.
If you enjoy these and want to read more, you can browse through interesting and silly coffee records on the Guinness World Records site here.
A Video For More Information
If this article doesn’t completely tickle your coffee fancy and you need even more info, you can check out this fun and informative video about the history of coffee. It has some great visuals too!
I really hope you enjoyed this article, and that you learned some interesting and compelling things about the history of the wonderful beverage that we know and love.
It doesn’t cover the entire history, but mostly the things that I find interesting and great to know, and hopefully what you enjoy reading about also!
We’re all writing the history of coffee together, so have fun brewing your coffee and for posterity’s sake, make good coffee at home!
If you have any questions or comments about this article or anything in it, please feel free to let me know in the comments section below and I’ll be happy to hear from you. Coffee cheers!