Skip navigation

The history of coffee is a complicated one indeed. It was discovered around the year 500 AD somewhere in the middle east, no one is exactly sure where. There are many legends on the origin of coffee, one claiming the exiled Arab Sheik saved himself from starvation by turning the berries on a coffee shrub into soup. However, there is still no evidence to this day on the true origins of coffee.

I found that around 700 AD Africans drank coffee with animal-fat balls for energy and relaxed at the end of the day with a wine made from berries off coffee shrubs. This is also about the time when coffee made it’s debut in Arabia, most likely by Arab tradesmen. By the end of the 9th century Qaha, meaning that which prevents sleep, was being made by boiling coffee beans in water. Coffee drinks soon became known as Arabian Wine, as Muslims are not allowed to drink wine but used coffee as a happy substitute. Coffee is known to have been used in Mosques, during times of prayer, at the Holy Temple at Mecca and before the tomb of the Prophet. Oddly enough, it was not until people used coffee for food, wine and medicinal purposes that it was discovered you could create a delicious drink by roasting the beans. By the end of the 13th century Muslims were drinking coffee constantly. Wherever Islam went coffee followed not far behind.

Between 1250 and 1600 coffee was being cultivated from the Yemen area of Africa when extensive planting began. At this time the Arabs guarded coffee jealously. They were desperately trying to prevent coffee from traveling to other countries. They refused to allow coffee beans out of the country without first being sun-dried or boiled to kill the seed-germ. It is said that coffee did not sprout outside of Africa or Arabia until the 1600s. It was this reason that Yemen served as the world’s primary source for coffee.

We all know that at some point in history coffee made it’s grand escape, so where did it go to first? In about 1473 coffee was introduced to Turkey. Two years later a man named Kiv Han created the world’s first coffee house in Constantinople (now known as Istanbul). In the year 1511 Khair Beg, the governor of Mecca tired to ban coffee saying that it’s influence would foster opposition to his rule. The ban ultimately led to his execution by order of the sultan. The sultan then declared coffee as being sacred. Around the year 1600 Italian priests asked Pope Clement VIII to make coffee forbidden to Christians. They said coffee was part of the infidel threat to their country. After taking his first sip, the pope found the drink delicious and deemed it an acceptable Christian beverage. By the mid 16th century coffee was available in Egypt, Syria, Persia, and Turkey. Coffee shops could be found in the cities of Medina, Cairo, Baghdad, Alexandria, Damas, and Istanbul. At about the same time King Solomon the Magnificent’s Turkish warriors introduced coffee to the Balkans, Central Europe, Spain and North Africa. Attempts to ban coffee during this period occurred frequently, but with little effect.

It is thought that Captain John Smith brought coffee to North America around the year 1607 when he helped found the colony of Virginia. By the end of the 1660s coffee had succeeded in replacing beer as the ritual drink with breakfast in New York City. There were coffee houses everywhere including New York of course, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. These American coffee houses though, not only served coffee, but ale, wine, beer, and chocolate as well. They also had rooms for rent. The Green Dragon coffee house in Boston became popular with the British officers at first and would later become the meeting place of John Adams, and the others plotting the revolutionary war!

It wasn’t until the year 1615 when Europe’s first shipment of green coffee beans was received in Venice and later in 1683 the first coffee house there was established- Caffe Florian. However, the British were the first Europeans to drink coffee commercially. Their first coffee house was built in Oxford in 1650 opened by a Turkish Jew named Jacob. In 1652 coffee houses began to pop up all over London. Within just a few years there were hundreds of them all over the place! In 1656 the Grand Vizir of the Ottoman Empire succeeded in closing the coffee houses of Turkey.

Later in 1669, the Ambassador of the Turkish Ottoman Empire brought coffee to the court of King LouisXIV, and offered it to all who visited him. He even convinced the king to have a taste, unfortunately the king preferred hot chocolate! Then in 1674 The Women’s Petition Against Coffee was set up. The women complained that the men were not to be found in times of domestic crises the were too busy in the coffee shops drinking coffee and talking all night long. They circulated a petition protesting ” the grand inconveniences accruing to their sex from the excessive use of the dying and enfeebling liquor.” On year later in 1675, King Charles the second tried to suppress the coffee houses claiming they were “hotbeds of revolution”. His proclamation was later revoked after a huge public outcry- the ban lasted only 11 days.

It wasn’t until the end of the 16th century that coffee really spread throughout Europe. In 1683 coffee found it’s way to Vienna just after they had been besieged in war with the Turks. Polish Army Officer Franz Georg Kolschtzky claimed all the stocks of coffee left by then fleeing Turkish troops for himself. Later he opened the first Central European coffee house in Vienna. This is where he created the method of filtering the grounds, adding a sweetener and adding milk to coffee hence creating Viennese Coffee.

In 1690 the Dutch were the first to smuggle a coffee plant out of Arabia, becoming the first to transport and cultivate coffee commercially. They established the East India coffee trade by taking the coffee plan to what is now known as Sri Lanka ( then called Ceylon ). As a result Amsterdam, then became the trading center for coffee.

By the 17th century the popularity of coffee became such that the city of London had more coffee houses back then, than they do today! To find a coffee shop in those days, one would simply sniff the air for the aroma of roasting coffee beans, or simply search for a wooden sign shaped like a Turkish coffee pot. Now even though Venice and Marseilles had coffee during the first half of this century there was no trade of the product there. Here’s a little bit of information for you, it was in the English coffee houses where it became customary to tip your servers. Yes, people who wanted good service and better seating arrangements would put money in a tin labeled ” To Insure Prompt Service” or what is now called the tip jar.

Jonathan’s Coffee House in London was where stockbrokers usually met. Later it became known as the London Stock Exchange. Also, ship owners and marine insurance brokers visited Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House. It too moved up in the world and became the center of world insurance and the headquarters of Lloyds of London.

In 1714 the mayor of Amsterdam sent a young coffee tree to King Louis XIV as a present. This plant was given to the royal botanist to place in the King’s Royal Botanical Garden. It would be that very plant’s seedling descendants that would wind up producing the whole Western coffee industry! Naval officer Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu was in Paris on leave and requested some of the King’s tree clippings to take back to Martinique with him. No, he wasn’t exactly handed over clippings of the tree but permission wasn’t denied either. He was determined to get them! So under light of the moon he raided the King’s Garden and managed to steal a seedling from the greenhouse. On the way back to Martinique he encountered a number of setbacks, including a branch being torn from the seedling, the ship being attacked, and a heavy storm. Upon his arrival he planted the tree on his own estate, where under armed guard it yielded an approximate total of 18 million trees by the end of 1777!
By 1715 the French had introduced coffee into the New World. British coffee consumption began to decline as import duties for coffee increased. The British East India Company concentrated on importing tea as the market began to grow.

In 1727, the Brazilian emperor sent Lt. Col. Fancisco de Melo Palheta to French Guiana to mediate the border dispute between the French and Dutch. The Colonel succeeded in settling the dispute. He also initiated an affair with the governor’s wife! In the end, it paid off, at the governor’s dinner, she presented him with a bouquet of flowers containing hidden cuttings of fertile coffee seeds. That is how the world’s greatest coffee empire sprouted, and created the great coffee plantations of Latin America.

We all know the name Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed his “Kafee – Kantate” or Coffee Cantata in 1732. Partly as an ode to coffee the other part was taking a stab at the movement in Germany prohibiting women from consuming coffee claiming it made them sterile. The cantata includes the aria “Ah! How sweet coffee tastes! Lovelier than a thousand kisses, sweeter far than muscatel wine! I must have coffee…”

As is written in American history tea was still the favored drink in the colonies until the year 1773 when the people of Boston revolted against King George’s high tea tax. Everyone knows the story, the people of Boston raided the English merchant ships in the harbor and threw their cargo of tea overboard. This act became known as the infamous “Boston Tea Party”. This is also when Americans switched from tea to coffee ,because it was their patriotic duty.
In 1775, Prussia’s Frederick The Great attempted to block imports of green coffee as Persia’s funding lowered. He urged his subjects to drink been instead of coffee and called the increase in coffee consumption disgusting. He even hired men to walk to streets sniffing for the outlawed aroma of home roasted coffee beans. A public outcry a short time later swayed his decision.
In the 1780s the first coffee brewers to feature a place for the filter ( Mr. Biggin coffee pots ) began to surface and became very popular. To make coffee one would place a sock filled with coffee grounds across the mouth of the brewer and pour hot water over the grounds. The coffee was then dispensed from a spout on the side of the pot. The quality of the coffee depended on the sized of the grounds – too course and the coffee was weak, too fine – and the water wouldn’t go through the filter. A major problem with the brewer was the taste of the cloth filter – no matter if it was cotton, burlap, or an old sock – would always be in the taste of the coffee!

By the year of 1800 Brazil’s harvests would turn coffee into a drink not only for the upscale and high class, but a drink for all! In 1818 the American’s created what was known as Cowboy Coffee by pouring the beans into a pot with water, and boiling them. When they were done being boiled they would strain the coffee before consuming it. At this same time a Parisian metal smith named Laurens invented the first coffee percolator.

People were always inventing new and improved ways of making coffee and in the year 1882 Louis Bernard Rabaut invented the world’s first espresso machine. He found a way to force hot water through the ground using steam instead of simply letting it drip through. In 1889 an Illinois farmer named Hanson Goodrich patented an American percolator coffee pot. Claims have been made that he was not the true inventor that it was James Mason who created it in 1865. In the 1890s the plunger filter ,or what is now called the French Press coffee brewer, was invented. It works by having the coffee grounds in a filter compartment that is lowered into the hot water and then pulled up again by a rod when the brewing is complete. The idea behind this is that the grounds could be removed before the coffee becomes bitter. French Press brewers are still quite popular today. There are some claims that an Italian named Calimani invented the French Press brewer in 1933.

In 1905 an Italian named Desiderio Pavoni, bought a patent from Luigi Bezzera and formed the first company ( La Pavoni ) to market a commercial espresso machine. Pavoni hired famous designers to design his machines for him.
Now we enter present day coffee. It started as just a simple plant, but by the 20th century it developed into both instant and decaf! Decaffeinated coffee came to be in the year 1903. A German coffee importer by the name of Ludwig Roselius gave a batch of ruined beans to researchers. They were not the first to try but the first to perfect the process of removing caffeine from coffee beans without completely destroying the flavor. Mr. Roselius marketed the coffee under the brand name ” Sanka “. Sanka was later introduced to the U.S. in 1923.

Satori Kato, a Japanese – American chemist from Chicago invented the first soluble coffee, however, George Constant Washington, a chemist living in Guatemala invented the first mass produced instant coffee. In 1906 he began experiments and began marketing his products, Red E Coffee, in 1909. In 1938 after being asked by Brazil to solve the problems of their coffee surpluses, Nestle created freeze dried coffee. Nescafe was developed and first introduced to Switzerland. It wasn’t until after 1956, after the invention of the TV, that instant coffee really became a hit. There wasn’t enough time in a commercial break to really brew a pot of coffee or tea, but there was just enough time to fix a quick cup of the instant stuff! No need to really say it but Nestle and General Foods saw this as their big chance to market and advertise their individual instant coffees and they took it. This was also about the same time when tea companies started to fight back with coffee and introduced the creation of the tea bag. The government took control of the British tea trade during the second World War causing the introduction of rations which continued until 1952. After the war was over though, people never really picked up the tea habit again, the stuck with coffee.

In 1946 Achilles Gaggia of Italy perfected the modern day espresso machine. He created a spring lever system enabling the use of a higher pressure. He brought his revolutionary machine to London sometime in the 1950s and opened up his very own mocha bar – the first modern day coffee bar.

Due to the economic importance of coffee exports, many of Latin America’s countries made arrangements prior to WW2 to allocate export quotas so that each country would get their fair share of the market. The first coffee quota agreement was made in 1940, but it was not until 1962 that the idea was accepted by the entire world.

In 1971 Starbuck’s opened its first location in Seattle’s Pikes Place market. It was in 1972 that Vincent Marotta invented the first automatic coffee maker for home use, prior to this in 1963 the Bunn corporation introduced the automatic drip coffee maker for use in restaurants.

During the five-year period when this agreement was in effect, 41 exporting countries and 25 importing countries agreed to its terms. Are-negotiation of the agreement was made in 1968, 1976 and 1983. Participating nations did not sign a new pact in 1989 causing world coffee prices to plunge. There were a series of crop failures, most notably in Brazil in the early 1990s which meant that coffee prices increased dramatically. Only recently have prices begun to drop again.

Image Credit

Source:

  1. History of coffee
  2. National Coffee Association USA > About Coffee > History of Coffee