Although no one really knows exactly how coffee was originally discovered, we all love to hear the story of how this delicious, energetic drink came to be so popular in our society.
All the way from Ancient Ethiopia to your cup today, coffee has come a long way. But have you ever wondered how coffee became a morning drink? Or where it was first discovered? And how it came to the Americas?
In this article, we will share and talk about the stories involving the origins of coffee and how became part of modern culture.
It all started with… Goats?
According to the National Coffee Association of U.S.A, the story goes that on the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau, a goat herder called Kaldi noticed strange behavior on these animals after they ate some mysterious “berries” from a certain tree; they became energic, and didn’t want to sleep.
As you can imagine, these “berries” were coffee beans.
But Kaldi didn’t know that. He shared his findings with the abbot of the local monastery, who created a drink with the energetic berries. He realized the drink helped him stay awake.
The abbot shared his new finding with other monks at the monastery, and slowly but surely, the news started to spread – all over the globe!
Coffee Starts Getting Popular
The cultivation and trading of coffee began on the Arabian Peninsula. Around the 15th century, coffee was already being cultivated in the Yemeni district of Arabia and by the 16th century it was already widely recognized in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey.
Then coffee houses started to appear – places where people would meet to drink coffee, listen to music, watch performers, play chess and talk. And with the visitation of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, the “wine of Araby” became more and more popular.
Coffee Arrives in Europe… And Changes Things
Just imagine it: Something that is so common for us, was completely new to Europeans: a dark, mysterious beverage with a peculiar taste. It was not received with opened arms (or mouths) by everyone.
Actually, after people started calling coffee names (er, the Devil’s drink), the Pope Clement VIII had to intervene. But he tasted the beverage and enjoyed it.
Despite the controversy, coffee became more and more well accepted, replacing what people during that time used to drink in the mornings – beer and wine.
Coffee Becomes More and More Popular Around the World
Coffee arrived in New Amsterdam, which the British eventually called New York, around the middle of the 1600s.
Tea remained the preferred beverage in the New World despite the quick emergence of coffee houses until 1773, when the colonists rose up in opposition to a high tax on tea imposed by King George III.
The Boston Tea Party uprising would permanently change American coffee consumption habits. There was intense competition to grow coffee outside of Arabia as the beverage's popularity grew.
Soon, the Dutch started planting coffee in India, during the 17th century. But it didn’t work. Then they kept trying to plant coffee in Batavia, on the island of Java – known today as Indonesia – and succeeded.
The Dutch started growing and trading coffee, and later, they expanded their coffee farms to the islands of Celebes and Sumatra.
Coffee Arrives in the Americas
Have you ever wondered how coffee arrived in the Americas? It’s an interesting story, to say the least.
The Mayor of Amsterdam decided to gift a coffee plant to King Louis XIV of France, in 1714. The King had it be planted in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris.
Nine years later, a young naval officer, Gabriel de Clieu, got a seedling from that garden, with the intention to take it to Martinique. But that trip wasn’t easy – it was actually an adventure worth being written about.
Gabriel Faced Real Pirates to Protect the Coffee Seedling
First, Gabriel de Clieu had to deal with someone who not only tried to steal his coffee seedling, but also expressed his jealousy openly – it was a Dutchman, someone who knew how precious coffee was.
During the trip, Clieu had to be looking after the plant all day, and be close to it even during his sleep, so that no one would steal it. But the night before the Dutchman disembarked, he tore a branch from the coffee plant – it had to be nursed back to health because of it.
Thankfully, the plant was ok. But the danger was not over: Barbary pirates were trying to capture the ship. Just imagine how nervous Gabriel was, that he was going to lose that coffee plant. But fortunately, the captain was an experienced one, and managed to outmaneuver and outrun the pirates.
After getting rid of the pirates, the captain and everyone in the ship suddenly found themselves facing a hurricane. It shook the ship in such a way that sea water got into it, contaminating not only the drinking water, but also the coffee plant’s soil. Now any clean water they still had, had to be rationed.
Clieu was so determined to bring coffee to Martinique, he shared his water ration with the plant.
After all this, Gabriel de Clieu survived to tell the story. He planted his precious and courageous little coffee plant in a garden and kept an eye on it – well, more than one eye. It seems he even had a guard standing guard next to the plant.
The first crop from that plant resulted in two pounds of seeds that he distributed for planting. Coffee started to spread, and finally arrived in Central America in 1779.
I guess the lesson is to never mess with a gardener who is also a coffee lover!
☕️ Fun Fact: The seedling that survived a thief, pirates, and a hurricane was the parent of all coffee trees throughout the Caribbean, South and Central America.
How Coffee Arrived in Brazil
Brazil is the largest producer of coffee in the entire world. But how did coffee arrive in Brazil?
In a popular and fantastical version of the story, Madame d'Orvilliers, the wife of Claude d'Orvilliers, the governor of French Guiana in 1727, is said to have slipped some coffee seeds into Francisco de Melo Palheta's pocket or to have gifted it to him inside a bouquet, enamored by his good looks.
Some historians have supported the truth of the gesture, which is frequently referred to as gallantry. But it is known that neither Palheta's letter to the monarch nor any other official document from the era makes any mention of this.
Either way, Palheta was the one who brought the beans to Brazil, and by the 1840s, the country became the biggest producer of coffee in the world and it still is today.
Whether all of these stories are true or not, we will never know for sure. But amazing stories happen all the time, and these ones just might be true. After all, who wouldn’t do crazy things for coffee?
National Coffee Association of U.S.A, [no date]. The History of Coffee. Available from: https://www.ncausa.org/about-coffee/history-of-coffee, [Accessed 11 April 2023]
Joel, David, and Karl Schapira: The Book of Coffee and Tea, (St Martin’s Press, New York, 1975) pp13
Stewart Lee Allen: The Devil’s Cup, a history of the world according to coffee (Ballantine Books, New York, 1999) pp170