The History Of Coffee

Learn the history of coffee, the beverage most people take for granted.

Coffee is the common man's gold and like gold it brings to every man [and woman] the feeling of luxury and nobility. Sheik Abd-al-Kadir "In Praise of Coffee" 1857.

Statistics show that there are over 400 million cups of coffee consumed a year. Very few of those who consume this beverage know its origins and history.

Although the early history of coffee is not known for sure, legend states that this plant was first discovered in Ethiopia. It is said that during 850 AD a goat herder by the name of Kaldi noticed that his goats became friskier when they consumed a berry from a common local shrub. The Kaldi reported his findings to the religious leaders of his village. From the shrub's berries, these monks concocted a beverage that allows them to stay awake for longer hours of prayer. This was such an amazing discovery that word soon spread to other monasteries.

Through word of mouth, knowledge of these amazing berries spread to the Arabian Peninsula. It did not take long for the Arabs to discover a way to cultivate these berries for personal use and financial gain.

Some claim that coffee (or qahwa as the Arabs called it) became popular because of the Muslim religion. It has been said that since the Muslim religion forbids followers to consume alcoholic drinks, the Muslims of the Arab countries turned to coffee. The energizing properties of this beverage were similar to the effects of moderate alcohol intake. But since qahwa did not contain liquor, it became an acceptable substitute. This is why coffee became known as the "wine of Araby".

It was around 1100 that special buildings erected specifically were built for serving the dark beverage. These public coffeehouses began to appear in various cities all over the Arabian Peninsula. Known as qahveh khaneh to the Arabs, these places developed into centers of social entertainment. These early coffeehouses became the place to keep current on important news, engage in stimulating conversation, listen to music, play games, and watch dancers. The qahveh khaneh soon gained a positive reputation from traders, explorers, and those who made holy pilgrimages. Thus the knowledge of coffee spread.



By the 1600s knowledge of coffee had spread through most of Europe. Like almost anything new, the use of coffee caused a great deal of controversy. In some European cities, the beverage was called all types of names, including a "bitter invention of Satan". At one point the local clergy in Venice, Italy condemned it, until the Pope gave papal approval for its use.

Coffee gained popularity regardless of the controversy. In 1652 the first coffeehouse (known as "penny universities" because a penny was charged per cup) was opened in England. It was through English coffeehouses that "tips" became popular. Those desiring adequate service would toss extra coins into a cup by a sign that read: "To Insure Prompt Service." A few years later additional coffeehouses began to be built in England raising the total number to well over 300. This trend continued in other European countries and cities as well. Much like the early Arab qahveh khaneh, these European coffeehouses became centers of social activity. They attracted a variety of patrons from artists to merchants to brokers.

By the mid-seventeenth century the knowledge of coffee had spread to the New World. There has been some dispute among historians as to whether coffee first came to Canada or the United States. The majority of evidence credits an American explorer, Captain John Smith, with introducing the bitter invention of Satan to New World in the early 1600s. It was not until after the colonists revolted against the heavy tea taxes, known as the Boston Tea Party in 1773, that coffee use became more widespread then tea.

Prior to the 1700s the Arabs still had a monopoly on commercial coffee cultivation and transport. As much as the Arabs tried, they could not keep monopoly of the coffee production a secret. This profitable business soon attracted the Europeans. Through various secretive means Europeans slowly gained access to the coffee tree seeds and the knowledge to cultivate this shrub. The Dutch are credited as being the first Europeans to produce coffee for profit. They did this by smuggling coffee seedlings from the Arab port of Mocha and transporting them to the East Indies for planting.

Thirty-three years later, in 1723, millions of coffee tree seedlings were transported to North America for cultivation. Not long after this the Brazilian coffee industry was born, and today is one of the leading producers of this hot beverage.

As the years progressed additional coffeehouses were opened. More efficient methods of production were discovered and new variations of coffee produced. In 1908 the first drip coffeemaker, using blotting paper filters, was created. Thirty years later the Nestle Company invented instant coffee.

Today coffee is the most popular beverage in North America and the rest of the world. Coffee production is a lucrative industry and has risen in rating to one of the world's greatest commodities. It is second only to oil.

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