History of Coffee

Coffee has always been one of the most loved, and fiercely guarded beverages in the world. Indeed, the Arabs and Turks used to make sure nobody but them would be able to grow coffee, and such was their love for the beverage, that there was a coffee shop on every street. Today, variations of the brew have become dear to different cultures, and people have spent their lives learning to make the perfect cup. However, how did coffee come so far?  How did time give birth to so many variations of the brew? Here, we will talk about the history of coffee in detail.

The Origin of Coffee

To date, the African country Ethiopia is known as the true home of coffee. Coffee plants are native to Ethiopia, which is a landlocked country, and until the 15-16th century, not a single coffee plant existed outside Africa or Arabia. Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia in the 9th century, and there are 3 theories as to who first discovered it.

Coffee beans in a metal tin

The first says that coffee was first found by a goat herder called Kaldi, who lived, and grazed his sheep on the Ethiopian plateau. One day he saw his goats feeding on bright red berries, and noticed they were far more energetic than the rest of the herd. He tried the fruit himself and realized his observations were true.

From here, Kaldi took the coffee beans to the local monastery for further examination, where they were disregarded. The monks threw the beans in the fire, but the smell of the roasting beans made the monks pull them back out. The monks ground the burnt beans and mixed them with water. They found that the brew it made gave them power, and made them alert. From here, coffee spread to other monasteries, and then to the world.

The second theory is that a Muslim scholar by the name of Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, noticed the birds flying over his village. He noticed they were feeding on red berries and were flying with incredible alertness and speed. He tried the berries himself, and they gave him energy too.

cup of coffee in a bed of coffee beans

The third theory is based on the student of the scholar mentioned above. His student, Omar, was exiled from Yemen and was staying in a desert cave in Ousab. Omar was popular for his ability to cure the sick with his prayers. One day, he found some berries in the desert of Ousab and chewed them. The berries were extremely bitter. He roasted the berries, and while the flesh burned off, the inside of the berries hardened. Disappointed, the monk boiled the beans in water, and it was there that the magic happened.

Boiling the beans in water resulted in a fragrant brew, and once he drank it, he found the drink made him energetic. He took the beans back to Yemen, and the people there were so impressed, he was allowed to come back to the city. Not just this, but he was also promoted to the rank of scholar.

All of these theories can be linked to the discovery of coffee. However, there is no solid proof of the authenticity of these. The recorded history of coffee starts from the 16th century.

pouring coffee in a cup with coffee beans on a table

The Earliest Traces of Coffee

There have been traces of coffee usage as far back as 850 AD. However, the history of coffee starts in the Muslim world. The monasteries of Sufis in the 16th century were using coffee as a brew in Yemen. From here, coffee is said to have been spread to the Muslim cities Mecca and Medina, in what is now called Saudi Arabia. Coffee gained extreme popularity among Muslims because of the energy it provided. This energy proved beneficial during long prayers.

Coffee spread from Mecca to the rest of the world. Pilgrims from all over the world came to Mecca for the holy pilgrimage, and there they were introduced to coffee. They took the beans with them, and the fame of coffee escalated.

By the 16 century, coffee had spread to Syria, Persia, Egypt, and Turkey. The beverage was extremely popular in all of the countries, however, turkey took the lead. There are two theories as to how coffee came to turkey. The first is that a Yemeni trader decided to set up a coffee shop in Turkey, using the beans, and brewing method that was so common in Yemen. The drink is said to have spread like wildfire.

white cup of coffee surrounded by coffee beans

The second theory is that Sultan Suleiman the Great can be credited with bringing coffee to Turkey. It is said that the Yemeni governor residing in Turkey gave the coffee beans as a gift to the Sultan. The Sultan fell in love with the drink after just 1 sip, and thus coffee spread throughout the turkey.

Such was the demand for coffee, that not only was coffee enjoyed in homes, but special coffee houses sprouted all over Turkey. They were very well-liked, and people would usually enjoy cups of coffee while chatting, watching a dance performance, or other forms of entertainment.  Coffee houses are a significant part of Turkish history, and can still be seen throughout turkey, particularly Istanbul.

Coffee gained such fame in turkey, the Turks came up with a new way to brew the beans. The Turkish coffee brewing method is called an Ibrik, which is a small metal pot. You can read about other coffee brewing methods from all over the world here-What Are the Most Popular Coffee Brewing Methods?

 

cup of coffee with an ibrik in the background

The Origin of the Name “Coffee”

The origin of the name coffee is a big part of the history of coffee. The word coffee comes from the word Kahwa in Arabic. When coffee was first brought to Turkey, it was given the name kahve. The word Kahwa in Arabic means a lot of things. It translates to a type of wine in Arabic, but can also be related to the word quwwa, which means power, or energy. The Dutch started calling the beverage “koffie”, and it was from the word koffie, that coffee came to the English language.

Coffee Spreading to Europe

The Islamic world and the African continent had long been enjoying coffee. However, Europe too was about to have a taste. No coffee plants existed outside Arabia or Africa, because the Arabs took strict measures to prevent the possibility. All the coffee beans sold to people that were not from the Middle East were roasted beforehand. This was to make sure the beans could not be planted to sprout a coffee plant.coffee beans spilling out from a paper bag

Nonetheless, where there is a will, there is a way. Green coffee beans were smuggled out of Arabia by a scholar named Sufi Baba Budan. Some records say he hid the beans in a pouch tucked under his belt, and some records say the beans were hidden in his beard. Anyhow, he took the beans to India and planted them in Mysore. This act ended the Arab monopoly over coffee and made way for competitive trade for the beans.

Coffee is said to have come to Europe by Turkish slaves that were brought to Malta. Other sources say that it spread from Mysore, India, where it was brought by Sufi Baba Budan. Some sources also say it was traders from Venice that loved the brew so much, they brought the beans with themselves to Venice. Regardless, coffee started being sold in lemonade street stalls throughout Venice in 1615, and once again, the people fell in love. From coffee being sold in stalls, coffee houses popped out all over Venice.

Coffee expansion in France is another big part of the history of coffee. French traders in Turkey mentioned coffee in the letters they sent back home to Marseilles. Finally, coffee was brought to France by the French Ambassador Monsieur de la Roque, in 1644. He brought to France not only the coffee beans but also the apparatus used to brew the beverage. Thus France was acquainted with how coffee is made. Soon merchants started to import coffee to Marseilles, and coffee houses started gaining fame.cup of coffee with a spoon on the side

Opposition to Coffee

Throughout the history of coffee, there were two instances where the brew was opposed for religious reasons. The first was in Mecca in 1511. Coffee houses had become very popular, and people gathered there to discuss politics. The governor of Mecca, Khair Baig feared the people gathering in coffee houses might lead to a rebellion against him.

The beverage was accused to be intoxicating, and thus haram. For 13 years, the debate about whether or not coffee was intoxicating raged on. However, the matter was put to rest by Sultan Selim I. In 1524, the Sultan removed the ban with the help of Mufti Mehmet Ebussuud el-İmadi, who passed a fatwa that claimed coffee was okay to drink. Khair Baig was executed by the order of the Sultan.

pouring coffee in a cup

The second instance of coffee being banned was in Venice when coffee was first introduced to Europe. Catholics called the brew “The bitter invention of Satan”, and there was a lot of religious prejudice about the brew being related to the Muslims. Coffee was outlawed in a lot of European countries, and there was so much opposition that the Pope had to be involved. Pope Clement VIII sampled the coffee himself and claimed the drink belonged to both the Muslims and the Christians. Coffee has since been called the devil’s drink because of the Pope’s words. He said, “This devil’s drink is so delicious… we should cheat the devil by baptizing it!”

Coffee was again popular all over Europe.

Coffee Spreading to America

Today, Americans love coffee, however, America was the last country coffee came to. Coffee wasn’t popular until the Boston Tea Party in 1773. The people were livid when the East India Company was permitted to sell tea in the States. People boycotted tea, and coffee readily replaced tea as a morning beverage. People considered it a duty, and an act of patriotism to reject tea, and choose coffee. Other factors like the civil war also played an important part in the escalation of the popularity of coffee. Soldiers relied on the effects of caffeine to stay alert during the wars.

Today, brands like Starbucks are extremely popular in the United States of America.

cup of coffee with two sacks of coffee behind it

Entrepreneurs Started Investing in Coffee

The coffee business started booming in the 1800s, and businessmen started to invest in coffee. In 1864, John and Charles Arbuckle brought the Jabez Burns’ coffee roaster, and started roasting, and selling coffee beans. The business was an instant hit and was especially popular with the cowboys in the West. The roasted beans were sold in paper bags, under the brand name Ariosa. James Folger, Maxwell House, and Hills Brothers were other businesses that started to boom.

Finally, another big part of the history of coffee is the first Starbucks that was opened in Seattle in 1971.

Conclusion

It has taken coffee centuries to reach the peak of popularity it holds today. Over the years, different civilizations have adopted coffee, and have given it their unique twists. Coffee now holds immense significance for different cultures, with multiple brewing methods, editions, and historical importance.

Bilal Ahmad

Bilal Ahmad

A coffee enthusiast on his way to exploring more about coffee while helping others solve all their Coffee Queries!

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