Coffee can trace its heritage back to the ancient coffee forests in Ethiopia. It has been said that a goat herder called Kaldi first discovered the potential of coffee beans.
Kaldi noticed that after his goats ate berries from a certain tree, they became incredibly energetic that they did not want to sleep at night!
Kaldi shared his discovery to an abbot from the local monastery, who made a drink with the berries and found that it kept him alert through the long hours of evening prayer. The abbot shared this with the other monks at the monastery, and then word began to spread.
This new discovery spread to the Arabian peninsula.
By the 15th century, coffee was being grown in Yemeni and by the 16th century it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey.
Coffee was known as the “wine of Araby”.
European travellers began to talk about this unusual dark black drink and coffee made its way to Europe by the 17th century and was becoming popular across the continent.
Coffee soon found its way to England, Germany, France and Austria and coffee soon began to replace the common breakfast drinks of the time — beer and wine! Those who switched from drinking alcohol to coffee started the day feeling alert and energized.
There were over 300 coffee houses in London in the 17th century and a number of businesses grew out of these coffee houses, including Lloyd’s of London.
Courtesy of the British, coffee then found its way to New York (known in the 1600s as New Amsterdam)
Despite the huge expansion of coffee houses, tea continued to be the favoured drink in America until 1773, when the colonists revolted against a heavy tax on tea imposed by King George III. The revolt, known as the Boston Tea Party, would change the American drinking preference to coffee.
There was now strong competition to farm coffee outside of Arabia.
The Dutch were the first outside of Arabia to successfully cultivate the coffee seeds in the 17th century in Batavia, on the island of Java in what is now Indonesia. The Dutch soon expanded the cultivation of coffee trees to the islands of Sumatra and Celebes.
In 1714, the Mayor of Amsterdam presented a gift of a young coffee plant to King Louis XIV of France was given a young coffee plant as a gift from the Mayor of Amsterdam. Its was then planted in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris.
Gabriel de Clieu, a naval officer, obtained a seedling from the King’s plant and in 1723 successfully transported it to Martinique.
The seedling thrived and is credited with the spread of over 18 million coffee trees on the island of Martinique over the next 50 years. Even more incredible is that this seedling was the parent of all coffee trees throughout the Caribbean, South and Central America.
The famed Brazilian coffee owes its existence to Francisco de Mello Palheta, who was sent by the emperor to French Guiana to get coffee seedlings. The French were not willing to share, but the French Governor’s wife, stuck by his good looks, gave him a large bouquet of flowers before he left— buried inside were enough coffee seeds to begin what is today a billion-dollar industry.
Coffee seeds were then planted worldwide by missionaries, traders, travellers and colonists.
Plantations were established in tropical forests and on rugged mountain highlands. Some crops flourished, while others were short-lived. New nations were established on coffee economies. Fortunes were made and lost. Coffee became one of the world’s most profitable export crops by the end of the 18th century. After crude oil, coffee is the most sought after commodity in the world.