history of coffee

A Journey through the History of Coffee

Around the belt of the equator the most precious commodity is grown and distributed to all corners of the world. More precious than diamonds or gold, it has been cursed by religious zealots of all faiths and revered by people in all stations of life. It is Coffee.

Coffee is indigenous to only a small area in Ethiopia, but its tender saplings have circumvented the equator and taken root in the hearts all cultures. Let’s cover the coffee history timeline, starting with the branches of the coffee tree in Ethiopia.

Coffee Originated in the Ethiopian Highlands

In the beginning an Ethiopian Goat herder discovered that the cherries from the qahveh khaneh trees made a great drink that gave him energy. He brought the drink to the local monastery to share his discovery – but the monks threw the cherries in the fire saying they were “devil poison”

An incredible aroma filled the room so the  monks scooped the roasted pits from the fire and soaked them in water to salvage the aroma and flavour. The monks brought the fruit to a boil and then tested the aromatic liquid. It was so invigorating and tasty that it became a staple with their daily meals and a medicinal prescription for many ailments. Following the monks example, the people of Ethiopia began to harvest and consume the berries as a medicinal drink. Everyone was drinking qahveh.

Even today there is a great fascination with Ethiopian coffee because of the rich Ethiopian coffee history. 

Coffee Made its Way On to Yemen

Yemen was the greatest trading port of the day. The invigorating drink made its way to Yemen when an Ethiopian slave shared his berry concoction with his master. It was so wonderful that the master found a way to bring fertile plants to Yemen for marketing.

Yemen’s rich fertile highlands were perfect for cultivating the precious trees. The invigorating drink became so popular that many were farming the crop. Soon this Arabic region held the trading monopoly on coffee.

Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire Embrace Coffee Too

Suleiman the Magnificent was the Ottoman Governor of Yemen in his younger years. While stationed there he grew to love qahveh. In 1555 he brought his favourite drink home to Istanbul.

For 300 years qahveh had been served the same way – roasted over fire until the flesh burned away, then the beans boiled in water, but the palace chefs were keen to find their own recipes.

Hoping to create a more pungent flavour, the chefs ground the roasted beans into fine granules. These were then slowly simmered in water over a bed of charcoal embers. So enamored were the palace patrons that the new cooking method spread throughout the empire.

Kahvecibaşı or Chief Coffee Makers became careers of prominence who took the qahveh or as the Turks called it Kiva to the populace through Kiva Hans (coffee houses). Soon everyone was buying the green beans, grinding them in mortars and cooking their own Kiva. It was just a matter of time until this beloved drink spread through Europe and beyond.

And on to Rome… Well Venice and beyond anyways

In 1615, Venice was introduced to Coffee by traders who brought back the spices of the Orient for trading. Coffee was amongst their precious cargos. The merchants would market the new drink from lemonade stands but by 1645 the first Italian Coffee House was opened.  Although not the original Caffe House of Venice, Caffe Florian is still operating in the Piazza San Marco in the shadow of the Campanile, the famous bell tower of Venice, Italy

*It was the Italians through inventor Luigi Bezzera who brought the world the Espresso Machine in 1901. 

Marseilles and Paris Embrace the culture of Café

In 1644, Monsieur de la Roque, the French ambassador to Istanbul brought the first coffee beans and the contraption used to prepare and serve coffee back to Marseilles. Then in 1669, Hoşsohbet Nüktedan Süleyman Ağa, ambassador to Sultan Mehmet IV, brought sacks of coffee to France. By 1668 Paris had its first Café and in 1671, the first coffee houses began to dot the landscape of Marseilles. They catered to the merchants and travellers who knew and loved the drink, but soon the flavour and aroma was savoured by the people in every walk of life

How the Oxford Coffee Club Impacted Coffee History

From the dawn of the first coffee house, coffee had been associated with the gathering of great minds and thinkers. It is not a surprise then that the English were introduced to Coffee through a Turk at the hallowed learning centre known as Oxford in 1637. From the learned Oxford Coffee Drinking Club sprang Oxfords first coffeehouse, “Angel” in 1650.

In 1651, London was graced with its first coffee house, and soon “Penny Universities” were being patronised by writers, artists, poets, lawyers, politicians and philosophers, who for the price of a penny they could enjoy a cup of coffee and the intellectual pursuits of like minds. Edward Lloyd’ Coffee House was opened by Edward Lloyd in London in 1685 although not at its original site, this coffee house was the birthplace of the largest insurance firm in the world “Lloyds of London”

The Viking Connection

The Dutch are often thought of as the remnants of the Viking culture. They were seafarers and traders that travelled the world bringing the exotic to their homelands for market. They were the true merchants of the world, who not only imported the goods they found, but developed ways to profit from their finds.  

In 1660, the Dutch first set up shop in coffee houses located in the financial and mercantile centers of their cities and towns. In most coffee houses throughout the world philosophy, politics and courtship were the discussions taking place. In Holland, this mercantile society discussed coffee as a commodity that needed to be capitalized on. As a result, they found ways to build their own coffee empire through worldwide propagation and distribution

By the 1680’s the Dutch had introduced and marketed the beverage to Scandinavia, which today is the highest per capita consumption of coffee in the world. The Dutch brought not just the coffee beans but the coffee production to the world.

Up until 1699, the coffee production and distribution was controlled by the Arabs. The Dutch propagated coffee trees in Java and by 1711, the first Javanese coffee beans were sold in Amsterdam.

The History of Coffee in the Americas

It was the Dutch who presented Louis XIV a sapling from one of their Java plantations for his Jardin des Plantes royal nursery in Paris. This led to French coffee cultivations on the Island of Martinique and other Caribbean islands as well as Central and South America.

From French Guyana, a Portuguese sailor, de Mello Palheta carried a sapling to Brazil in 1727 and the Brazilian coffee dominance of coffee production was initiated. And by the mid-1800’s coffee was grown in high altitude equatorial regions all over the world, and became the most important commodity in existence.

Coffee grown all over the world is enjoyed throughout the entire globe today. At That’s Coffee we sell coffee beans from exotic locations throughout Africa, South and Central America, Asia and even the highly coveted Kona coffee! 

Enjoyed learning about the history of coffee? Check out our gourmet Coffee samplers that will take your taste buds on a journey around the world too!


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