The History of Coffee
Next to water, coffee is consumed more than any other beverage in the world. The majority of coffee drinkers just need that glorious liquid to start the day, however some people drink it all day long. It is estimated that 1.6 billion cups of coffee are consumed throughout the world, every day. That works out to about 2 million cups every five minutes.
So, where did this fabulous beverage come from and how did it become so popular?
Historical events were not always as accurately documented as they are today. Since most of the population was illiterate, many events and discoveries were passed down from generation to generation. This led to a mishmash of facts and the birth of legends. Once such legend is about Kaldi, the goat herder.
The legend of Kaldi originated in the Ethiopian highlands where coffee trees have been growing freely for centuries. According to the legend, he noticed how high spirited the goats became after eating the berries from certain trees. They were so full of energy, that they didn’t want to sleep at night.
Kaldi gathered some of the berries and brought them to the abbot. He explained how the goats behaved after eating the berries. The abbot found the berries inedible the way they were, so he boiled them in water. The berries were still inedible, however, the brew produced was quite stimulating. The abbot discovered he was able to remain alert for much longer than usual.
The abbot shared this wonderful brew with the other monks at the monastery. Gradually, word about the energizing effects of this brew spread. Although it wasn’t called “coffee” at the time, news about this remarkable beverage soon reached the Arabian peninsula, and its journey throughout the world began.
Coffee is now grown in various regions around the world, such as Asia, Africa, Central America, South America, the Caribbean Islands and the Pacific Islands. But they can all trace their roots back to the ancient coffee trees of the Ethiopian plateau.
The Arabs were the first ones to cultivate coffee plants and trade them with other nations. By the fifteenth century, the plants were growing in the Yemeni region of Arabia, and soon the glorious beverage was known throughout Turkey, Syria, Egypt and Persia.
Since few people understood how to properly make the brew, or could afford to buy the beans, much of the coffee was consumed in coffee houses. These early cafes began to appear all over large cities. But, they were much more than just a place to grab a coffee, they became a social epicenter. People could enjoy live music, watch live performers, play chess and generally socialize.
Much of the population was still illiterate, there wasn’t any television or internet, so these coffee shops quickly became the place for news and current events. So much so, that they were often referred to as the “School of the Wise.”
Coffee Comes to Europe
European travelers brought back stories of this unusual black beverage they had tried in the East. Naturally, they wanted to be able to buy it in their own county. This was made possible by the 17th century when coffee finally made its way to Europe. It didn’t take long for its popularity to spread across the continent.
As with all new inventions, there were opponents. The nay sayers were said to be cautious, but history has shown us that these people are just afraid of the unknown. And coffee was very much unknown!
The opponents called the beverage a “bitter sap from Satan.” The local clergy condemned the beverage when it came to Venice in 1615. The huge controversy sparked intervention from Pope Clement VIII. In all fairness, he asked to taste the brew before making a decision. He enjoyed the coffee so much that he gave it his Papal approval.
The popularity of the beverage continued to grow. Before long there were coffee shops springing up in major cities all over England, France, Germany, Austria and Holland. They were still much more than just a place to get a cup o’ Joe, but a place for the latest news and social activity.
These places were a huge attraction to like minded people, and quickly developed into meeting places and sources of business opportunities for merchants, artists, shippers and brokers. And many of the shops developed into gigantic corporations. In fact, the famous Lloyd’s of London started out as Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House.
Popularity Continues to Grow
As the precious brew reached new shores, the demand increased. This led to the need for more cultivation. Although Arabia tried to hold on to the monopoly, the Dutch did finally manage to obtain seedlings from the precious plant. Early attempts in India failed, but they were successful on the island of Java in Batavia, what is now known as Indonesia. Today, the precious coffee plant is grown in several countries around the world, producing enough coffee to satisfy all of our needs.