With over 5,000 years of documented human history, it’s hard to imagine that coffee was only cultivated and used in remote parts of the world until about 400 years ago. It’s even more impressive when you stop to consider that – next to oil – coffee is the most widely imported/exported commodity in the world. So how did coffee switch from being basically unheard of to being among the top 2 world commodities in a matter of 400 years?
Ethiopians were the first people to cultivate and consume coffee nearly 3,000 years ago, and this cultivation and consumption spread to other Arabic countries. For centuries, however, coffee was highly coveted in these regions but finally made its way to the Netherlands and other parts of the world in the early 1600’s.
Even though the South Americas are currently the largest producer of coffee, their cultivation of this commodity didn’t begin until the 1700’s – around the time that coffee was introduced to North America. That’s right: Coffee didn’t make it to North America until the first half of the 18th Century. With that in mind, it’s even more unbelievable that the United States imports more coffee on an annual basis than any other country in the world.
What’s also interesting about coffee is that a false name for ‘coffee beans’ was adopted by the world as a direct translation of the Arabic name for them. Coffee beans, in fact, are not beans at all; they are seeds of a reddish/purplish fruit very similar to cherries. The seeds are harvested, separated from the fruit, dried, and prepared for roasting.
For specialty coffees like cappuccinos and lattes, you can look to Europe (particularly Italy) for their origins. Coffee made it to Europe about 100 years before coming to North and South America in the early 1600’s. It wasn’t until the 1700’s, though, that terms like café latte and café au lait began to show up in documentation. These are terms that include milk being steamed or otherwise cooked into the coffee for a smoother flavor. As technology increased, more sophisticated steps were taking like creating foam which is used as an equal part (along with espresso and steamed milk) to make a cappuccino.
It wasn’t until 1963 that one of the primary coffee houses we know today opened. That coffee house was Coffee Bean. Eight years later in 1971 came the name that is synonymous for coffee in United States culture: Starbucks. Today, independent coffee houses open and thrive all over the United States to meet the high and continuously growing demand for the most widely consumed beverage in the world: Coffee.