What Is The History Of Coffee

What is the history of coffee? Learn about our national drink!

Every morning millions reach for their cup of joe in order to speak civilly, think clearly, drive at all. Coffeehouses cover every corner, offering speciality brews at a premium price for those willing to bear the cost for mood-altering effect of a bitter black beverage. How did we get here?

According to legend, a sleepy goatherd noticed that his flock frolicked merrily while he drowsed. The playful beasts stopped only to nibble at cherry red beans growing on nearby bushes. Fighting his sleepiness, the goatherd nibbled the berries as well, and soon began to frolic as well. When he arrived at home, his surprised (and happy) wife suggested he share this boon with the local imman. Originally skeptical, the imman threw the beans into the fire, and as he began a lecture on the temptations of the devil, a rich aroma filled his home. Other priests entered, drawn by the delicious fragrance. Not a fool, the imman decided that perhaps the beans were sent by God after all--certainly they seemed to draw his priests. Raking the now darkened beans from the fire, he ground them with mortar and pestle, and made an elixir by pouring hot water over them. The priests, awakened to new levels of awareness and taste, remained sleepless throughout the night as they praised God.

Years later, Pope Clement VIII would do something similar--faced by those that wished to declare coffee the 'devil's brew', and thus ban it, he decided instead to 'baptize' the drink, and remove the devil's power from it, thus making it safe for Christians. Arabs brought the roasted beans with them on trade routes (protecting the seeds themselves--no reason to give the Christian infidels the means to produce this wondrous beverage). Venice, the key port of Europe, started the trend in Europe for drinking coffee while discussing business (1640), to be duplicated througout the Continent and England. So popular were they in Britain that Charles II sought to ban them as 'seminaries of sedition' in 1675.



At the time of the Boston Tea Party (1773) in the American colonies, drinking tea became very much unpatriotic. Eager for a replacement, people turned in ever greater numbers to coffee. By the end of the war, the national taste had been turned for ever towards the stronger concoction.

However, it wasn't until fairly recently that American-style coffee was challenged by the European preparations of espresso and it's children--cappacinno, latte, au lait, now offered at speciality coffee houses. Americans have tended to drink fairly weak brews in large cups, while the rest of the world has preferred strong, thick concoctions in small demitasses, mellowed with milk instead of water. Despite importing as much as 70% of the world's supply for decades, we really haven't cared how it tasted so long as it was hot. (Perhaps our tastebuds were ruined by the bathtub gin of Prohibition--coffee sales really boomed during this time.)

For those that can't handle the caffeine content, say a word of thanks to Ludwig Roselius (Germany) who introduced the first non-caffeinated coffee (Sanka) in 1903. By 1906, the first instant coffee (thanks to Englishman George Constant Washington) is created, a feat to be soon duplicated by Maxwell House and Nestle. Maxwell House sent their packages of instant coffee overseas with the GIs in WWII, hooking a generation on the stuff. Except for those lucky enough to taste espresso and its variations while in Europe, bringing back the machines and skills necessary to fuel the rebellions of the Beat generation.

Starbuck's opens in 1971, a small voice for quality, fresh-roasted beans in a nation drinking making do with substandard beans. Other businesses follow suit (and others preceded), but the national success of this Seattle company made premium coffeedrinks available to millions eager for fine-tasting, super-caffeinated creations..

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