Coffee was first unearthed in the highlands of Ethiopia in the 9th century by a shepherd named Kaldi. When Kaldi realized that his goats showed increased signs of energy after consuming the berries from what is now known as the coffea plant, he notified the abbot at the local monastery. Upon consuming the berries in a drink and finding that he could stay awake and alert throughout evening prayer, the abbot then spread the knowledge throughout the other monasteries.
Not long after, the knowledge spread to the east, to Arabia, where the process of roasting and brewing the seeds found within the berry first began. It is believed that the Muslims even used fermented berries to create a wine called qishr (kisher) which was used for religious purposes. From there, it was only a matter of time before the information about the coffee berries and its seeds spread out to places such as Egypt and Yemen.
By the 15th century, it had also become known in the rest of the Middle East, Persia, and Northern Africa, followed by Persia, Seria, and Turkey. It was at this time when coffee houses first started to appear in the Arabian area, the establishments becoming known as “Schools of the Wise” when the people began to use the coffee houses as one of the main areas where one could seek out stimulating conversation, play games such as chess, as well as keep abreast of current events.
In the 17th century, coffee found its way into Europe, and though the local clergy in Venice condemned it in 1615, its popularity continued to grow. Coffee houses sprung up all over Europe, and by the mid-17th century, over 300 such establishments existed in London alone.
After moving on to New Amsterdam, what later became known as New York by the British, coffee became popular quickly, but it wasn’t until King George imposed a heavy tax on tea resulting in the revolt known worldwide as The Boston Tea Party that people replaced their long time love of tea with the bitter brew.
In the early 18th century, the Mayor of Amsterdam gifted a coffee plant to King Louis XIV of France. Less than ten years after transporting the plant to the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris, Gabriel de Clieu managed to obtain a seedling and take it safely to Martinique. It is believed that it was from the crop grown in Martinique that the Caribbean, in addition to South and Central America, crops originated.
It was at around the same time when coffee first made it to Brazil in the hands of Francisco de Mello Palheta. Though the man was unable to obtain a seedling from the Governor of French Guiana through conventional methods, many sources claim that the Governor’s wife was so smitten with Francisco that she hid several seeds within a bouquet of flowers which she gave to him as a farewell gift.
Interestingly enough, North America didn’t embrace coffee as the Europeans did until the increasing unavailability of tea imports after the War of 1812 caused American’s to use coffee as a substitute. During the Civil War, demand for the dark beverage increased, and as brewing technology allowed for larger scale availability, it settled in as America’s drink of choice.
Two hundred years later, coffee is not only known and loved worldwide, but is recognised as one of the world’s most valuable traded commodities, second only to oil, and is vital to the success of many Third World countries.