The History of Coffee! October 16, 2014


The history of coffee is as rich as the beverage. It started in Ethiopia, with the tale of the goat herder, Kaldi, who saw his goats eating berries from a tree. The goats ran energetically after eating these beans, refusing to sleep at night.  Kaldi explained this to a monk who from it developed a drink that helped him stay awake through prayer.  As the monks traveled so did the introduction of this energizing berry.  The legend goes that the monk’s beverage helped in the development of the coffee that we sip today.  

Coffee was first roasted and brewed in Arabia.  Coffee was used in Muslim religious ceremonies and secular life. Coffee spread with Islam, traveling to India, North Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean.  The first coffee houses were developed and these public houses became hubs of social activity.  As people sipped coffee, they chatted, listened to live music, played chess, watched performers, and discussed current events.  Coffee houses became important information centers causing them to be called, “Schools of the Wise” (

Arabia however, did not want to share its monopoly on coffee beans. When exporting coffee beans it is rumored that they would boil them to make them infertile.  Legend further claims that a smuggler hid beans strapped to his stomach in 1600’s and these beans became the start of the European agricultural involvement in coffee.  Coffee spread to Europe and although initially there were mixed feelings (the “Elixir of the Devil” was a term that did not inspire much confidence in drinkers), coffee made it’s way into the heart of Europeans.  The pope tried coffee to see if it truly was Satan’s drink. He enjoyed it and not tasting Satan’s influence in his cup, he gave it the Papal approval. 

Again, as coffee became more widely imbibed, it led to shops that fostered conversation and the spread of knowledge. Much like the Coffee Houses in Arabia, these houses brought together all different people and become centers for ideas and social activity.  With all this sharing of ideas, many rulers were concerned about what their subjects were discussing and whether these discussions were promoting revolutionary discussions.

The coffee beans that were taken from Arabia were successfully cultivated in Java by the Dutch.  Unlike the Arabian coffee growers, the Dutch took a different approach to sharing their coffee plants.  They were confident in their coffee producing skills, which led them to lavishly gift aristocrats with branches of coffee trees.  They gifted the King of France, Louis XIV, with a branch.  This precious commodity was planted in his royal gardens, a symbol of prestige and power.

Though many in Europe enjoyed coffee, the fertile beans were still guarded from most.  Gabriel de Clie was a young officer in the French Army stationed in Martinique.  He imagined Martinique as the start of a French coffee producing area, while on leave in Paris, his request for a clipping start cultivating coffee trees was denied. In true fashion with coffee history, he smuggled the coffee back with him and in the cover of darkness, he made his way into the royal gardens and took a seedling.

After a dramatic voyage, wrought with pirates, attempted seedling sabotage and storms, the seedling finally made their way to the Americas.  The coffee trees sprouted from the stolen branch, growing into the trees that would bring coffee to South America.  However, the French were not keen on allowing others to grow coffee in the Americas. Brazil had a secret agenda when visiting the French colony. The handsome colonel, Francisco de Mello Palheta, was to bring coffee beans back to Brazil.  Although the French governor denied his request, his wife thought otherwise.  Charmed by the colonel, she gifted him flowers the final night of his stay, hidden inside were seedlings which he brought back to Brazil, beginning a new age of coffee production.

Brazil grew into one of the largest coffee producing countries, which allowed coffee to become more than just a drink for the elite. Unlike the history of coffee retold above, the production of coffee today is more receptive to different coffee growers in many areas of the world.  Today, coffee producers and coffee roasters share feedback about the beans and work together to produce the highest quality coffee.  

Although we don’t have charming colonels stowing coffee in flowers or Dutch smugglers strapping coffee to their stomach, coffee is still just as much of a commodity, stimulating conversation and bringing people together.

Written by: Caitlyn Prien