Posted November 28, 2012 by Matt in General Information

The History of Coffee


e will never know for sure how and when coffee was discovered, but it is believed that coffee and its energizing effect were first discovered by the ancestors of the Oromo people in today’s Ethiopia.

The legend tells about an Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi, who noticed a change in his flock of goats when they nibbled on a certain bush with red berries. After the flock had eaten of this bush, they wouldn’t go to sleep at night. After Kaldi had tried the red berries himself with the same effect, he went to the local Muslim monastery and gave the berries to a holy man. The holy man didn’t like the sound of these energizing berries and threw them into the fire. After a while an enticing aroma came from the fire and the other holy men wondered where the nice smell came from. They got the roasted coffee beans out of the fire and ground them up before adding them to a cup of hot water. And that was the legend of how the first cup of coffee was discovered and made. This legend wasn’t written down before the 16th-century, several centuries after it allegedly happened and can therefore have changed and altered during the its travel through generations.

Grinding Coffee

Two women grinding coffee

There are other legends of how coffee was discovered as well. One tells about a Yemenite traveling across Ethiopia. On his travel he noticed some birds with unusual vitality and tasted a few of the same berries as the birds were eating. He experienced the same vitality as the birds and coffee was discovered.

Another legend claims a Sunni Islam disciple; named Omar discovered the coffee beans and its effects. Omar was known for his abilities to heal people through prayer before he was exiled from Mocha, Yemen. When he was starving in the desert he found this bush with red berries, the taste of the berries were very bitter. To try to make them better he roasted them, but they became hard instead. To make the beans soft again he tried to boil them in water, which resulted in a brown liquid. When the rumours of the brown miracle drink reach Mocha, Omar was invited back to the city where he was made a saint.

Spreading across the world

The coffee bean was probably brought back to Yemen by Yemeni traders who had visited Ethiopia. There the Arabs started to cultivate coffee and its trade. The first credible information about the drink coffee can be traced back to the 15th-century in Sufi monasteries in Yemen. Coffee was useful and popular amongst the Sufis to manage to stay awake during nighttime prayers and devotions.

Historic coffee house

Public coffee house

By the 16th-century coffee had reached the rest of Middle East from Persia in the east to Turkey in the north and also to Egypt in North Africa. Coffee was not only drunk in homes but also in the public coffee houses. These public coffee houses became very popular and became a rendezvous for various social activities. The visitors at these coffee houses didn’t just drink coffee, but they listened to music, watched entertainers, played various games and got the news or latest rumours.

Due to Islamic pilgrimage, Hajj, thousands of visitors from all over the world traveled to the holy city of Mecca each year. They brought the “wine of Araby” home with them, as coffee often was called, and coffee was starting to spread beyond the Middle East.

Coffee came to Europe through the trade between Venice, Italy and the cities on the coast of the Mediterranean sea in North Africa and the East. Even though the local clergy in Venice condemned coffee when it arrived in 1615, it spread from Venice and made its way across Europe. By the 17th century coffee had become popular almost everywhere on the European continent. There were scepticism against coffee as well and some even called the drink a “bitter invention of Satan”. The dispute became so inflamed that the Catholic Pope Clement VIII was asked intervene. The Pope tasted the beverage himself and liked it so much he decided to give it the Papal approval.

America, the new world

The French colonist Gabriel de Clieu brought the first coffee seedlings to the Caribbean island of Martinique in 1720. 50 years later the few seedlings had become large plantations. From the island of Martinique the coffee cultivation spread to Haiti, Mexico and other islands of the Caribbean. In 1788 the plantations in Haiti produced half of the world’s coffee. The colonial plantations unfortunately relied on African slave labourers which was a factor in the Haitian revolution.

Coffee plantation in Brazil

While the Portuguese brought with them the first coffee seedlings to Brazil in 1727, although the cultivation of coffee was done in a small scale. After the independence of Brazil in 1822, almost 100 years later than the first seedlings arrived, huge areas of rain forest were cleared and coffee plantations were built. In the 1930s Brazil were one of the major producers of coffee and still is today.

In 1893, coffee from Brazil was introduced to the African countries of Kenya and Tanzania, not far from its place of origin where it was discovered 600 years earlier.