You probably know that coffee has been around for hundreds of years, but do you know how coffee got its start? Well, according to the popular Ethiopian legend, the discovery of coffee traces all the way back to one goat herder, Kaldi. Kaldi lived on the Ethiopian plateau in the ancient coffee forests with his goats. One day, he noticed that his goats became very energetic after eating berries from a certain tree. They had so much energy that they couldn’t even sleep at night. Kaldi shared this odd news with the abbot at the nearest monastery, who made a drink with the berries. He found that this drink kept him awake and alert during the long hours of evening prayer. The abbot shared this news with the other monks and the discovery began to spread.
The word moved east to the Arabian Peninsula, where the discovery eventually spread worldwide. The Arabian Peninsula was the first cultivate and trade coffee. By the 16th century, coffee had traveled to Persia, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. Coffee houses were formed to create a social hotspot where people gathered for the atmosphere and the coffee. These public coffee houses also offered entertainment such as music, performers, and chess. People met to talk about news and to exchange information, so coffee houses were also referred to as “Schools of the Wise”. Pilgrims frequently visited the holy city of Mecca, so the techniques and benefits of this new berry quickly spread to Europe.
By the 17th century, coffee was becoming increasingly popular in Europe and across the continent, but it was not accepted without controversy. Some people viewed this new, mysterious beverage as the “bitter invention of Satan” out of fear and suspicion. The Pope was asked to try it and decide whether this controversial beverage was safe. After trying the coffee, the Pope gave it papal approval because it was so satisfying.
Soon after, coffee houses were the social centers across Europe. Coffee began to replace the common breakfast drinks at the time, beer and wine. People found that if they drank coffee in the morning rather than alcohol, they started the day energized and work quality improved tremendously. By the mid-17th century, there were more than 300 coffee houses in London. These high end coffee shops attracted like-minded people, such as merchants, shippers, brokers, and artists. Many businesses were formed in these specialized coffee houses and flourished with the wealth of knowledge that was shared.
Although coffee houses gained lots of popularity, tea continued to be the favored drink in the New World. That is until 1773, when the colonists revolted against the tea tax imposed by the British. This event forever altered the American drink of choice to coffee. Competition among countries to cultivate coffee began in the 17th century. The Dutch were among the first, aside from Arabia, to attain seedlings. Their first growing efforts failed in India, but succeeded in what is now Indonesia. Eventually, their plants began to thrive and the Dutch developed a productive coffee trade industry. They even expanded the cultivation of coffee plants to the islands of Celebes and Sumatra.
In the early 17th century, the Mayor of Amsterdam gave the King of France a young coffee plant as a gift. A naval officer took a seedling from the King’s plant and protected it throughout the dangerous voyage. The little seed survived terrible weather, a saboteur, and a pirate attack all on its way to Martinique. Once the seedling reached its new home, it flourished in the environment and spread its seedlings to more than 18 million trees on the island. This single seedling was the parent of all coffee trees in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Over the years, missionaries, travelers, traders and colonists brought coffee seeds with them to new places. These seedlings were dispersed to varying terrains, so some plants grew and flourished, while others died off quickly. Some nations were even established due to the success of their coffee industry. Now, coffee is grown all over the globe in many different environments. Years of practice has created an abundance of blends, flavors and preferences for every culture. By the end of the 18th century, coffee became one of the world’s most profitable export crops. After all, it is currently the most sought after commodity in the world aside from crude oil.