The beverage coffee is among the most traded items in the globe, second to only petroleum. Today, it is a significant part of the contemporary diet, with over 400 billion cups ingested each year. It is produced in over fifty countries across Asia, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and Africa.
Beyond being a beverage, it is also a means of economic livelihood for over 20 million farmers. However, this beverage, which has created an industry worth almost $60 billion, has its history shrouded in mystery. (Nathan, 2020)
Although generally attributed to the Ethiopian hillside, its history is sometimes more of a legend than fact. In light of this, this essay examines the history of coffee and its spread across the world.
The Emergence of Coffee
Although an account traces its emergence to Yemen, the most prominent account of the emergence of coffee is traceable to a goat herder from Kaffa. (Lindsey, 2019). According to (Jimma 2014), around the ninth-century, an Ethiopian goat herder, Kaldi, realized his goats acted strangely — dancing — after they ate red berries. After which he informed a monk about the effects of the fruits.
Ecstatic about the possibilities of staying awake through the night thanks to the fruit, the monk developed a keen interest in the berries then shared the berries with other monks. However, a different account states that the monk disapproved of the berries and discarded them at first.
Following its emergence in Ethiopia, Coffee then found its way across the red sea to Yemen around the fifteenth century. It arrived at the port Mocha and grew so popular that Mocha was used interchangeably with coffee. It was then cultivated in Yemen and soon became popular in Persia, Turkey, and Egypt. (Nathan, 2020).
In this light, various coffee houses – named Schools of the Wise – were opened around Arabia for the beverage, which was now called the “wine of Araby.” (Coffee Culture and History in the Middle East).
However, the spread of coffee suffered a massive setback when a court in Mecca forbade its use because it was a stimulant. Similarly, around the fourteenth century, it was also banned in Ethiopia, Egypt, and Cairo. Luckily, it was not a permanent setback as coffee returned in time following riots in Arab streets.
Further, following the return of coffee, it contained to gain popularity among different countries. However, the authorities in Yemen ensured that they had a monopoly of its fertile seeds to prevent others from cultivating elsewhere. Unfortunately for Yemen, in 1670, a saint from India, Baba Budan, succeeded in smuggling some fertile seeds back to his country, where he then started to cultivate coffee. Subsequently, it developed into a sizeable producing plant that continues to exist in Southern India to date. (Azuory).
Similarly, following a smuggling attempt in the 1600s, the Dutch gained access to coffee beans from Yemen. However, due to a harsh climate condition, the seeds bore no fruit. Afterward, individuals from Sri Lanka – then Ceylon – provided coffee beans to the Governor of Java, Indonesia.
However, unlike in this first attempt, they bore fruit, and Indonesian coffee became an essential commodity. Later on, coffee seedlings reached other parts of Indonesia – Celebes, and Sumatra – which increased Indonesia’s growing capacity.
Besides, coffee eventually arrived in Europe through Venice in the 1570s. It became prevalent such that it attracted the attention of the Pope, who then tagged the drink “satanic” in 1615.
However, upon further inspection, he decided otherwise regarding it as a Christian drink – an act which further increased its popularity. Also, in 1669, coffee was introduced in France by the ambassador of Turkey to Paris. Then in 1683, following a battle, the first coffee house in Austria emerged thanks to the Turks.
In the same vein, various coffee houses emerged across Europe in Austria, France, Holland, Germany, and England. These houses also became the hub of political debates and stimulating conversations just like the Arabian coffee houses. It became so popular that the first coffee club unfolded in Oxford, which later became The Royal Society. (History of the Royal Society).
At the beginning of the 18th century, coffee had somewhat conquered Africa and practically a large part of Europe. However, it moved even further into the west by spreading to countries across the Atlantic Ocean. At the beginning of the 18th century, France received a coffee plant from Dutch, who had found a way to preserve the seedlings. (A Bean That Travelled the World).
Following that, Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu visited Paris and gained access to the seedlings. He then sailed to the Caribbean – Martinique – and secretly started a coffee estate there. Luckily, the climatic condition was favorable to the cultivation of coffee. As such, before the end of the first three years, its cultivation had spread through Martinique, Guadalupe, and St. Dominique. It eventually populated the whole of Central and South America.
Further, it arrived in Brazil – now the world’s largest producer – thanks to a Brazilian Colonel – Francisco de Melo Palheta – who went to resolve a dispute in Guayana in 1727. Although the French Governor first denied him, he succeeded in convincing the French Governor’s wife otherwise. He then returned to Brazil with the seedlings, and by 1852, Brazil became the world’s largest producer. (Nathan, 2020).
The bean also became preferable in America in 1773, thanks to a Tea Party in Boston and the American Revolution. Following a rebel by a class of patriots against England’s tea tax, tea became unpatriotic and enabled coffee to rise in preference. This then birthed the mass acceptance, which has made America the largest importer of coffee today. (Top Coffee Importing Countries, 2016).
From its emergence in the ninth century, coffee has grown in leaps and bounds to become the second most traded item. However, the history of coffee is not restricted to its spread across the world. It has also undertaken great transformation over time. From the chewing of the red berries, other producing processes have emerged in recent times. The rise of technology has also played a significant role. It is in this light that, even today, coffee remains valuable.
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