The History of Coffee
Friday, September 11, 2015 - Author: Julie Lara
It is believed that a goatherd was the first to discover coffee.
Coffee grows on trees and coffee beans are found at the center of a cherry-like fruit.
Coffee was first brought to market by the Arabians.
The first coffee houses were hubs for community life.
Some leaders feared coffee and sought to prohibit it.
Coffee became the common drink of choice in America after the Boston tea party.
Arabs controlled the trade of coffee for about 500 years.
Thieves of Arabian coffee trees could be killed.
Coffee trees cannot survive in cold climates.
Baba Budan was first to successfully cultivate coffee outside of Arabia.
The Dutch became competitors in the coffee market.
A cutting from the King's tree enables the French to eventually enter the market.
Brazil obtains coffee through France.
Today coffee is second only to oil on the world market.
Let's embark on a historic journey as rich and diverse as your favorite morning beverage …
Imagine the rolling green highlands of West Africa. See the dark young goatherd reclining under an ancient tree enjoying dinner from his knapsack. He playfully pushes back the snouts of several curious goats. As he bites deeply into his crusty bread he spies three of his more mature goats emerging from a small thicket nearby; they begin prancing like kids. Kaldi, the goatherd, sits forward and rubs his eyes as the older goats frolic before him in the grasses. His curiosity is piqued and he ambles over to the thicket and discovers another of the goats crunching loudly on some bright red berries. Kaldi plucks one from the branches of the tree above. It looks like a cherry. When Kaldi breaks it open he finds a dark bean hidden in the center. He cannot identify these strange berries, so he carries a handful of them up the hill to his knapsack where his favorite nanny goat is just finishing his dinner.
Kaldi notes as the evening wears on to night that the goats from his herd who had imbibed the peculiar new berries exhibited an unusual amount of energy as they pranced on the worn dirt pathway home. The next day, Kaldi makes his way to visit the holy man who lives in a nearby monastery. He shows the man the berries, explains their odd effect and leaves them with him to consider. The man tries them and soon begins to eat them regularly to keep him awake during the Vespers. Soon he is sharing them with other monks who struggle to stay alert to say evening prayers. The reputation of the invigorating berries begins to spread and their fame grows. Meanwhile, Kaldi learns to keep his goat herd out of the coffee bushes in the afternoons if he wants any sleep at night.
The legend of Kaldi is old enough to be hard to positively authenticate, yet it is common knowledge that coffee originates in the Ethiopian hills.
When we think of coffee we probably summon images of black beans roasted to perfection, but what Kaldi discovered that day would have looked much different. Coffee comes from a tree that bears a cherry fruit. The coffee bean is a seed hidden in the center. The taste of coffee cherries could be described as light, peachy and tartly sweet like honey.
Next we find ourselves in the warm kitchen of an Arabian. It is the sixteenth century and coffee has found its way over borders and into another culture. Someone has just roasted the beans they extracted from their coffee berries. The fragrance they emit is a powerful clue to the baker that they are on the right track. Now the beans are ground finely by hand with mortar and pestle. A bag full of grounds is collected and dropped into a kettle of water for just so long ... the resulting brew is delicious. A powerful bond is formed between the Arab and his first cup of coffee.
Arabians introduced one another to the robust flavors of the roasted beans of the coffee tree; the notoriety of the coffee bean spilled across the borders of the Near East.
Now for a glimpse inside of one of the first coffee houses: We see wide tables surrounded by travelers, townspeople and merchants. We hear the hum of voices sharing news and gossip. Fresh coffee is being prepared and hangs heavy in the air. Competitive games of chess are a common occurrence. This house of coffee is the hub of the community. This establishment is one of the much-loved "Houses of the Wise" and places like this will become central to community life across the Arabian world. Some rulers in Mecca feared coffee to such an extent that they tried to ban it, believing it would stimulate radical thinking in the people. They couldn't quite kick the habit though. After thirty years of debate the prohibition was at last lifted.
In Turkey in the early seventeenth century, Murad IV outlawed coffee and set up a system of "reasonable penalties." If a person was caught once with coffee they were to be punished with a beating. The punishment for someone caught a second time was more severe; they were to be thrown into the waters of the Bosporus.
In the seventeenth century trade ships carried coffee into Europe and create quite a stir. Pope Clement VIII heard that the clergymen had condemned the bitter cup as evil and satanic. They wanted him to publicly condemn the drink. He decided the brew deserved at least a taste first. After the Pope drained his mug he gave it his official endorsement. Some say he went as far as to joke that coffee should be baptized.
The delicious beverage gained popularity in Europe and soon coffee houses not unlike those in Arabia sprang up. People spent their free time in thought-provoking conversation at their local "Penny University" over a stimulating cup of goodness that cost them a mere copper. The voices of merchants and artists, people of all walks of life, could be heard echoing through these establishments. Many a word of juicy gossip was whispered and many business ideas were born over a couple of steaming mugs on a wide and solid wooden table.
Coffee found its way across the sea to the New World. In New York it wasn't met with great applaud at first. People enjoyed the familiar tea from their mother-country England - until the day King George decided to place a tax upon it. The English tea fomented in the mouths of the colonials as their distrust for the English king grew. Finally, in a coffee house known as the Green Dragon, a group of hot-headed men developed a plan to send a message back to their tyrannical king. They stormed the trade ships of the Boston harbor and dumped the crates of tea into the ocean. It was only a matter of time until the robust essences of coffee replaced the familiar and now detested flavors of the civilized motherland. Tea never fully recovered its place in the hearts of the American people after they had become accustomed to their morning coffee.
The Arabs jealously guarded their control over the trade of coffee beans. Before the beans were loaded to leave port they were boiled or otherwise sterilized to assure that they would not be viable to grow into new trees upon their arrival on foreign shores. Coffee was known as the "wine of Araby" and the trade of coffee beans belonged to the Arabians alone for approximately five hundred years.
However, as other lands around the world fell in love with the full-bodied flavor of coffee, starts (i.e. seeds, cuttings or shoots) from the coffee trees of Arabia were soon coveted by other countries. Hopefuls dreamt of tapping into some of the money to be made marketing the hot new drink.
An area in Yemen, called Mocha, was the heart of coffee supply at this time. Stealing twigs from the coffee plants of Mocha was a crime punishable by death. The threat did not keep some opportunists from sneaking slips away, but even then it was difficult to get coffee trees to thrive in cool climates since they cannot survive frost.
The monopoly on coffee trees is finally broken by an unlikely person: a religious man on an Islamic pilgrimage. It is the sixteenth century and a man by the name of Baba Budan has traveled to the Middle East for religious reasons. Before he prepares to travel home he finds himself in possession of seven fertile coffee seeds. He is tantalized by the chance to grow his own coffee trees, but he is well aware of the severe punishment for trying to smuggle out germinated seeds. Perhaps he pours himself an extra cup of strong black coffee the morning of his departure before he straps the seven coffee seeds to his belly.
Baba Budan was successful in his coffee smuggling. He safely sheltered them in a warm cave in south India near Chikmagalgur. When the seedlings were established he moved them to the jungles nearby. The coffee trees thrived in his hands and their offspring has come to be known as "Old Chick." Eventually the progeny of Budan's seeds supplied India with one third of its coffee trade.
In the latter part of the seventeenth century the Dutch successfully smuggled seedlings out of Arabia via the port of Mocha and established a successful coffee plantation on the island of Java in Batavia. They expanded to cultivate plantations on other islands near the equator and soon they became a mighty competitor in the coffee trade.
Early in the eighteenth century, the Mayor of Amsterdam made a rare gift to King Louis XIV of France - a young coffee tree. It was planted in the Sun King's majestic botanical gardens in Paris on the river Seine. It was carefully cultivated by a royally-appointed botanist in a glass house which protected it from the cold French climate. Under his care the tree prospered.
Nearly a decade later, a young naval officer returns to France after being awarded the position of captain of infantry in the French colony of Martinique. Gabriel-Mathieu Francois D'ceus de Clieu by name, he is as handsome as he is opportunistic. He has heard about King Louis' coffee tree and an idea has taken root in his resourceful mind. The Arabs and Dutch are the only suppliers of coffee at this point, but de Clieu conceives a way for France to enter the coffee market. He is not in position to make proposals to the king, and so he finds another way. He seduces a woman from the royal court and she procures a cutting from the royal gardens for him. He creates a small glass house for the tree and secures it on the ship Dromdaire for the trip home.
De Clieu's work was far from finished even after he left France. He could not have anticipated a fight with the pirates of Tunis. Little did the young officer know that there was a Dutch emissary on board who sought to do harm to the seedling; thankfully he was foiled after minimal damage was done. A violent storm at sea tested the determination of the crew but the tree was tied down tight and it survived. The ship encountered a dead calm and became stranded at sea for a time; when water began to run low, de Clieu gave his own water rations to keep the plant alive. Upon arrival at his estate on the Caribbean island, Gabriel de Clieu planted the tree in a carefully chosen location and tended his dreams with abundant attention. The tree flourished under his care and soon he populated his plantation with the seeds from the sapling. Before long, de Clieu's estate provided trees to other islands nearby. France had entered the coffee trade.
In the eighteenth century, the charismatic Sergeant Major Francisco de Mello Palheta of Brazil was sent to French Guiana on a mission. His emperor was supposedly sending him to settle a land dispute with the French. While the Sergeant was in Cayenne he struggled long to convince the French to part with coffee seedlings. Finally, when he was ready to give the undertaking up as a loss, his Brazilian charms won the prize. At a banquet shortly before he was to leave Cayenne to sail home, the Governor's wife presented him with a bouquet of flowers. He would soon find within the bunch a coffee seedling that would be the predecessor of the Brazilian coffee industry. Brazil would eventually become the world's largest producer of coffee.
During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, coffee continued its rapid spread throughout the known world until it became second only to oil in being the most traded commodity on the market. The coffee bean has also become an icon. It is a fountain of energy for the working class, yet it is synonymous with home and all of its warmth and comfort. Coffee has a special power over people of all races.
Since its discovery on the hills of Ethiopia, coffee has been transported down dirt paths in the knapsack of a goatherd; it has crossed sand swept dunes on the backs of camels. It has had an important role to play in the lives of humankind. If coffee lovers didn't have their favorite beverage, they would feel as though they had lost a special friend.
In short, the essence of coffee has drawn communities and individuals together the world over.