The Fascinating History of Coffee: From Ethiopia to the World

Coffee has a centuries-old heritage that can be traced back to ancient forests on Ethiopia's plateau. Learn more about its fascinating history from Yemen to Europe & America.

The Fascinating History of Coffee: From Ethiopia to the World

Coffee has a centuries-old heritage that can be traced back to the ancient coffee forests of the Ethiopian plateau. It is said that it was here that goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans. Coffee then spread to Yemen, Egypt, Persia, and Turkey, where it was known as the “wine of Arabia”. The drink's popularity grew so much that coffee shops began to open all over Arabia.

These coffee shops were known as “Schools of the Wise”. The modern version of roasted coffee originated in Arabia and during the 13th century, it was extremely popular with the Muslim community for its stimulating powers, which proved useful during long prayer sessions. In order to corner the market for coffee crops, the Arabs dried and boiled coffee beans, making them infertile. According to tradition, not a single coffee plant existed outside Arabia or Africa until the 17th century, when Baba Budan, an Indian pilgrim, left Mecca with fertile grains attached to a strap on his abdomen.

This gave rise to a new and competitive European coffee trade. Wild coffee plants from Kefa (Kaffa), Ethiopia were brought to southern Arabia and cultivated in the 15th century. The popularity of coffee in the Arab world led to the creation of the coffee shop, first in Mecca and then in Constantinople in the 15th and 16th centuries respectively. Coffee was introduced in one European country after another throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. One of the many legends about its discovery is that of Kaldi, an Arab goatherd who was perplexed by the strange antics of his flock.

Around 850 A. D., Kaldi supposedly tasted the berries of the evergreen shrub that goats fed on and, experiencing a sense of euphoria, proclaimed his discovery to the world. Culturally, coffee is an important part of Ethiopian and Yemeni history. This cultural significance dates back 14 centuries, when coffee was discovered (or not) in Yemen (or Ethiopia). Whether it was first used in Ethiopia or Yemen is a matter of debate and each country has its own myths, legends and facts about its origin.

According to Captain Haines, who was the colonial administrator of Aden (1839-1885), Mocha historically imported up to two-thirds of its coffee from merchants based in Berbera before the Mocha coffee trade was captured by British-controlled Aden in the 19th century. Around 1727, the King of Portugal sent Francisco de Melo Palheta to French Guiana to obtain coffee seeds and become part of the coffee market. In its most basic form, coffee is a cherry-like fruit which turns red when ripe; inside this red fruit is located a single bean. Arbuckles became the world's largest coffee importer and even owned the largest number of merchant ships in the world, constantly shipping coffee from South America to the United States. With Peet's permission, they opened a coffee shop in Seattle using his roasted beans and imitating his store design. Coffee plants arrived in the New World in the early 18th century but it wasn't until after the Boston Tea Party of 1773 that it became popular in America as a patriotic duty. In this diverse coffee shop culture of the multicultural Habsburg Empire, different types of coffee preparation also developed.

In 1880, the Philippines was the fourth largest exporter of coffee beans and when coffee rust hit Brazil, Africa and Java it became the only source of beans worldwide. The glory days of Philippine coffee industry lasted until 1889 when coffee rust hit its shores. Hawaii (which was not part of America until 1995) was introduced to coffee in 1817 when Brazilians brought seedlings there. In 1650, Europe became popular with this drink which led to more and more coffee shops opening up for business. Although there are many accounts dating back to 9th century or earlier about this drink's history, credible evidence that humans interacted with it comes from mid-15th century. In 1893, Brazil's coffee was brought to Kenya and Tanzania near its birthplace and grown in East Africa.

Today, this beloved drink is enjoyed all over world with each country having its own unique way of preparing it.

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