Coffee grown around the world can be traced back centuries to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau. There, legend has it that goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans.
The story goes that Kaldi discovered coffee after noticing that after eating berries from a certain tree, his goats became so energetic that they did not want to sleep at night.
Kaldi reported his findings to the local monastery abbot, who made a berry drink and found that it kept him alert during long evening prayer hours. The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks of the monastery, and the knowledge of the energizing grains began to spread.
As the word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian Peninsula, he began a journey to bring these beans to the globe.
The Arabian Peninsula
Cultivation and trade in coffee began in the Arabian Peninsula. Until the 15th century, coffee was grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia, and until the 16th century, it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey.
Coffee was enjoyed not only in homes but also in the many public cafes - called qahveh khaneh - that began to appear in cities in the Middle East. The popularity of coffee houses was unmatched and people frequented them for all kinds of social activities.
Not only did the patrons drink coffee and get involved in conversations, but they also listened to music, watched performers, played chess, and kept up to date with the news. Cafes quickly became such an important center for the exchange of information that they were often referred to as the "Schools of the Wise."
With thousands of pilgrims visiting the holy city of Mecca each year around the world, knowledge of this "Arabian wine" has begun to spread.
Coffee Comes to Europe
European travelers from the Middle East have brought back stories of an unusual black drink. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent.
Some people have reacted to this new drink with suspicion or fear, calling it "Satan's bitter invention." The local clergy condemned coffee when they came to Venice in 1615. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. He decided to taste the drink for himself before making a decision and found the drink so satisfying that it gave him papal approval.
Despite such controversy, cafes quickly became centers of social activity and communication in the big cities of England, Austria, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. "Penny universities" have appeared in England, so-called because, for the price of a penny, you could buy a cup of coffee and have a stimulating conversation.
Coffee began to replace the usual breakfast drinks - beer and wine. Those who drank coffee instead of alcohol started the day alert and energized, and not surprisingly, the quality of their work was greatly improved. (We like to think of this as a forerunner of modern office coffee service.)
By the mid-17th century, there were over 300 cafes in London, many of which attracted customers with the same idea, including merchants, shippers, brokers, and artists.
Many businesses have grown out of these specialty cafes. Lloyd's in London, for example, appeared at Edward Lloyd's.
The New World
In the mid-1600s, coffee was brought to New Amsterdam, later called New York by the British. Although cafes began to appear rapidly, tea continued to be the favorite drink in the New World until 1773, when the settlers revolted against a heavy tax on tea imposed by King George III. The revolt, known as the Boston Tea Party, will forever change the American preference for drinking coffee.
"Coffee - the favorite drink of the civilized world." - Thomas Jefferson
Plantations Around the World
As the demand for the drink continued to spread, there was fierce competition for coffee cultivation outside Arabia.
The Dutch obtained seedlings in the second half of the seventeenth century. Their first attempts to plant them in India failed, but they succeeded with their efforts in Batavia, on the island of Java in what is now Indonesia.
The plants prospered and soon the Dutch had a productive and growing trade in coffee. Then they extended the cultivation of coffee trees to the islands of Sumatra and Celebes.
Coming to the Americas
In 1714, the mayor of Amsterdam presented a gift of a young coffee plant to King Louis XIV of France. The king ordered it to be planted in the Royal Botanic Garden in Paris. In 1723, a young naval officer, Gabriel de Clieu, obtained a seedling from the king's plant. Despite a challenging journey - complemented by horrific weather, a saboteur who tried to destroy the seedling and a pirate attack - managed to transport him safely to Martinique.
Once planted, the seedling not only thrived but is credited with spreading more than 18 million coffee trees to the island of Martinique over the next 50 years. Even more incredible is the fact that this seedling was the father of all the coffee trees in the Caribbean, South, and Central America.
The famous Brazilian coffee owes its existence to Francisco de Mello Palheta, who was sent by the emperor to French Guiana to obtain coffee seedlings. The French were unwilling to share, but the French governor's wife, captivated by his good looks, offered him a large bouquet of flowers before leaving - buried inside were enough coffee seeds to start what is now a billion-dollar industry.
Missionaries and travelers, traders, and settlers continued to transport coffee beans to new lands, and coffee trees were planted all over the world. The plantations were established in magnificent tropical forests and rugged mountain areas. Some crops flourished, while others were short-lived. New nations have been established in terms of coffee savings. Luck was made and lost. By the end of the 18th century, coffee had become one of the most profitable export crops in the world. After crude oil, coffee is the most sought after commodity in the world.