The History of Coffee

Behind every great love, is a great story. Coffee is no different. While it would be impossible to include the myriad of events that make up coffee’s history, there are a handful of pivotal happenings that are responsible for coffee’s presence in our daily lives.

The Legend has it that it all started with a man named Kaldi.  Residing from Ethiopia, Kaldi spent his days in the field watching over his goats. One day he noticed how Billy goat and his cronies became increasingly excited after eating the fruit from a nearby tree. Intrigued by the goatherd’s carousing behaviour, he decided to sample the fruit, which had the same invigorating effect. The perky wonder was discovered!

Although we cannot be certain of the details of the discovery, we can say with confidence that the coffee plant originated in Ethiopia and spread to the Arabian Peninsula and Turkey. Arab traders took the plant back to their homeland and it is believe that this is where the plant was first cultivated. It was also in this proximity that the beans were first brewed, assuming the name ‘qahwa’ which translates to ‘that which prevents sleep.’

Ottoman Turks introduced coffee to Constantinople where Kiva Han, the first coffee shop in history, was opened in 1475. In Mecca, the governor Khair Beg, attempted to ban coffee out of fear that it’s popularity might cause opposition to his rule. The sultan, who was undoubtedly a coffee fan, would have none of it and had him executed.

Trade was the name of the game back then and it was inevitable that coffee would soon spill over from the Ottoman ports into new lands. The Italians were amongst the first to get their hands on it, transporting it back home to Venice. News moved swiftly to the big guys and despite disagreement from his advisors, Pope Clement VIII gave the coffee bean papal approval. The bean’s baptism was celebrated for 45 years before Italy opened a coffee house, the first on European soil.

Less than a decade later, the penny dropped and coffee houses became a regular sight in England. These coffee spots were a meeting place for discussion and commonly referred to as ‘penny universities’ also indicating the price of a cuppa at the time. One shop in particular, owned by a fellow named Edward Lloyd, found special interest among merchants and maritime insurance agents. The result is the world famous insurance company, Lloyd’s of London. Coffee moves to Paris and within three years they boast their own coffee shop.

Vienna’s introduction to coffee was less romantic. The Turks, forced to retreat after an unsuccessful siege of the city, left behind sacks of coffee, which was found by Polish army officer, Franz Georg Kolschitzky. He had been heroically involved in the battle and claimed the coffee as his reward. He went on to open central Europe’s first coffee house as well as establishing the practice of adding a dash of sugar and milk to the mix.

Captain John Smith is believed to have taken the plant over to America. Although it grew in popularity, it still took a backseat to tea. Thankfully this all changed as a result of the Boston Tea Party in 1773, where drinking coffee became a patriotic act in protest to the taxes placed on tea. The growth of the coffee industry was further fueled by the efforts of Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu who stole a seedling from King Louis XIV’s Royal Garden in France and took it back to the Caribbean island of Martinique. He planted the seedling and within 50 years it yielded over 18 million trees. 90 percent of the world’s coffee is said to have spread from this plant.

Brazil’s relationship with coffee was stemmed out of passion, not as much for the bean but rather a woman. Lieutenant colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta was sent to arbitrate a dispute between the French and the Dutch on the borders of Guiana. True to the ‘make love, not war’ motto, he settled the dispute and struck up a secret love affair with the wife of French Guiana’s governor. She presented him with live seeds and cuttings as a farewell gift.

By 1900, coffee and the realisation of its potential had made its way to all corners of the globe. Creativity stepped in and the bean was taken to new heights. 1901 greeted the invention of ‘instant’ coffee while 1903 saw the perfection of the decaffeination process.  In 1938, Brazil approached Nestle for a solution to their coffee surpluses. Freeze-dried coffee was invented and the subsequent result was the birth of Nescafe.

While we cannot place precedence over which of these events had the biggest influence in shaping coffee into what it is today, there is one man in particular that we should thank. Achilles Gaggia, the man who perfected the espresso machine in 1946.


Written by Cindy Taylor

Cindy is the editor in chief and photographer for I Love Coffee.


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2 Responses to “The History of Coffee”

  1. Errol Schlemmer April 7, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

    Makes for very interesting reading.Ethiopia!!??Who would have thought that!

  2. katetown July 20, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

    I really like how you have put so many years of history into such a friendly format! Thanks I Love Coffee. Great site too.

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