Coffee history is long and rich – it’s not just a drink, it’s been enjoyed throughout the centuries and has even had some adventures along the way. It’s time for a bit of a Stokes coffee history lesson…
The Oromo people from the Kingdom of Kaffa (today’s Ethiopia) nibbled dumplings made from crushed wild coffee beans and fat. This gave them energy in battle.
The farming of coffee began in Yemen. The first cup of coffee was made from the leaves of the coffee plant – the first coffee brewed from the (unroasted) beans tasted very bitter.
The most famous of numerous legends surrounding the history of coffee is that of Kaldi, an Abyssinian goatherd who tasted wild red coffee cherries after noticing that when his goats ate them, they became very frisky.
Upon hearing this, the quick-witted abbot of a local Sufi monastery decided to experiment. He found that a brew of coffee cherries could keep his brother monks alert through long hours of prayer.
By the 13th Century, a drink made from roasted coffee beans had become very popular in Arabia.
A Turkish law was established to allow a woman to divorce her husband if he failed to provide her with her daily quota of coffee.
The Governor of Mecca tried to ban coffee. The Sultan sent word that coffee was sacred and had the governor executed.
The first coffee houses were opened in Mecca, quickly developing into luxuriously decorated places where music, dancing, and chess could be enjoyed and business also conducted.
As coffee drinking flourished in Arabia, Turkey and surrounding lands, it became a gesture of goodwill and hospitality to offer coffee to visitors; consequently, news of it reached Europe.
The Arabians were protective of the beverage and attempted to control the supply of beans. The coffee beans are the seeds of the coffee cherry – when stripped of their outer husk, they become infertile, and it was only in this form that they were allowed to be exported from Arabia. But inevitably, with vast number of pilgrims flocking to Mecca, saplings were smuggled out and coffee began to be grown all over the surrounding territories.
Coffee was introduced to Europe by Italian traders. When coffee reached Rome, it was condemned by the clergy as ‘the devil’s drink’ and Pope Clement VIII was asked to resolve the matter. He decided to taste the beverage for himself, and enjoyed it so much that he gave it Papal approval.
30 years later, a café was opened in Venice. The growth of popular coffee houses spread from the mid-17th century to other European countries including Austria, France, Germany, Holland and England.
In Britain, the first coffee house opened in Oxford in 1651, and by 1700 there were 3,000 coffee houses in London alone. Every man of the upper middle classes went to his coffee house daily to learn the latest news. Edward Lloyd’s coffee house, founded in 1668, attracted seafarers and merchants and eventually became Lloyd’s of London, the world-famous insurers. Similarly, Jonathon’s Coffee House became the London Stock Exchange.
Until the late 17th century, almost all the coffee in Europe came from Arabia. However, Dutch spies successfully stole some plants and cultivated them in India and Java with great success. The Dutch colonies thus became the main suppliers of coffee to Europe.
18th Century coffee houses in London began to be known as penny universities. People were charged a penny to enter, and inside could enjoy coffee, company, discussions, pamphlets, bulletins and news.
In 1723, French naval officer Gabriel de Clieu introduced coffee to the Carribbean. He conveyed a coffee sapling to Martinique, but the sea voyage was riddled with danger. His vessel was attacked by pirates, a fellow passenger tried to destroy the plant, and the ship was hit by a tropical storm that left the crew and passengers drifting for weeks. During this time, de Clieu even shared his water rations with the plant. Fortunately, both survived and made it to Martinique, and within 50 years, de Clieu’s little plant had multiplied into nearly 19 million coffee trees.
Like others before them, the French fiercely guarded their supplies of seeds. But in 1727, Lieutenant Colonel Francisco de Melo Palheta was assigned by the Brazilian government to French Guyana to steal some. He had to deceive both the Dutch and the French and even seduce the governor’s wife to complete the task. It is just as well that he did – the unsuspecting lady gave him enough seeds and shoots to found Brazil’s coffee industry, now one of the world’s largest producers.
Thus, coffee spread across countries and throughout centuries to become the second largest global industry (preceded only by oil) and the most popular drink worldwide. In the UK alone, we drink 70 million cups of coffee every day. Coffee is part of our daily lives and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
So, now you know your coffee history – just remember next time you drink your next cup exactly where it’s come from.