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Since discovering the coffee tree more than a thousand years ago, coffee berries and beans have stimulated the minds of men. With a rich enticing brew of evolutionary process. Transcending its religious roots to become the world’s second most valued economic commodity.

The fact that coffee commenced from humble beginnings, survived the darkest of ages, and emerged as worldwide leader, second only to oil, is testament to those who promoted and denied it. And while there is no scientific proof as to its exactness, the fragmented historical accounts and oftentimes mythical route of coffee reveal a tale as intriguing as any present day murder mystery novel.

Caffeine may have been responsible for primitive man’s sudden awareness and subsequent evolution. in his book, Coffee; The Dark History, Antony Wild theorizes,

“Coffee has always been associated with speed of cognition and expression, and the sudden dawn of self-awareness in the Genesis story concerning the forbidden fruit of the “Tree of Knowledge’ is something that could have been prompted by a psychoactive substance such as caffeine.”

Native lore dictates that sometime between 575-850 BCE, various African tribes chewed coffee berries as stimulants while other tribes formed round edible eats of ripe crushed coffee berries mixed with butter to heighten aggression and increase stamina during long journeys and battle. Wine was made out of the fermented berry pulp and was sometimes roasted to make a sweet, woody liquid.

Stories suggests the rich aromatic smell and taste of coffee was first discovered sometime between AD 300-800 by an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi. Kaldi’s goats became very active after eating the red berries of a local shrub and kept Kaldi awake most of the night. Kaldi later ate the berries himself and felt elated.

Upon suggestion from his wife, Kaldi took some berries to a local monastery where they were rejected as the tools of Satan and thrown into a fire. However, after smelling the delicious aroma of burning coffee beans, the monks raked the beans from the fire and crushed them to extinguish the embers. The chief monk ordered the grains to be placed in the water to preserve their goodness. The liquid extract was later consumed and allowed the monks longer hours of prayer.

Not coincidental, a third legend boasts about a Muslim dervish who, when left to die from starvation after being condemned by his enemies, received an intuitive message to eat the berries of the coffee tree. The dervish obediently soaked the berries, drank the elixir and was revived. Thus coffee became synonymous with faith, spiritual practices, and religious ecstasy.

Coffee was given various names and was originally scribed as a medicinal cure in an encyclopedia of substances by Arabian philosopher and astronomer, Rhazes (AD 850-922). Eleventh century Islamic philosopher and physician, Avicenna of Bukham (980-1037 BCE), called coffee “bunchum” and claimed bunchum “fortifies the members, cleans the skin, and dries up the humidities that are under it, and gives an excellent smell to all the body.”

The story of how the coffee trade first evolved is as elusive as how coffee beans were originally found. The groundwork for international coffee trade remained largely undocumented up to 1550; however, recent genetic research suggests the first coffee beans of trade originated from Harar, east of the Kaffa province. Yemen imported plants from Harar. Yemeni traders cultivated the beans and were the first to actively trade the new beverage.

With the help of the Turkish-Ottomam Empire, which was at the center of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds and contained 29 provinces that stretched from the Atlantic coast of Morocco in the west to the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf in the east, and from the edge of Austria, Hungary and parts of Ukraine in the north to Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and Yemen in the south, Yemen exported to the rest of the Arabian world through the port of Mocha.

In order to secure their monopoly on coffee production, the Yemenis boiled or sun dried their green coffee beans to prevent germination and ensure no coffee tree grew outside Africa and Arabia. According to legend, however, in the 1600’s all this changed and agricultural expansion occurred when Baba Buden of India left Mecca with seven fertile seeds strapped to his belly. Baba sprouted the fertile beans in a cave in South India and later planted them in the jungle.

Religious Muslim law forbade the consumption of alcohol yet initially accepted the energizing properties of coffee. Coffee revived dervishes, kept worshipers awake and, consequently, filtered slowly into the streets and taverns of daily Muslim living. Lemonade vendors served it alongside cold drinks.

The first official coffee house opened in Constantinople, the capital city of the Ottoman Empire, in 1475. As coffee continued to increase in popularity, so too did religious debate among the conservative orthodox imams at the theological court in Mecca. Was coffee an intoxicating beverage that went against the laws of the Qu’ran? Because coffee was consumed as a woody wine or stimulating brew, and because the Qu’ran prohibited of any form of intoxication, coffee required special ruling.

On 20 June 1511, lord Kha’ir Bey, inspector of markets, spotted a number of men drinking what appeared to him to be alcohol in buildings resembling taverns outside the mosque. Because coffee altered the state of the body, mind, soul, Bey placed a ban on the consumption of coffee in the city of Mecca. Unfortunately Bey underestimated coffee’s popularity and was ordered to rescind the ban by the Mameluke Sultan of Cairo.

Coffee met with the approval of the Court Physician to Suleiman in 1522 which further secured its medicinal position in society. After the Ottomans took Cairo in 1517, coffee spread throughout the newly united territories. So too did coffee houses. However, after a series of prohibitions, coffee was once again banned in Mecca. Coffee houses were smashed in 1535 and coffee house customers were imprisoned.

Coffee became an intellectual and literary obsession during the sixteenth century and permitted night time activities that expanded beyond religious reach. Ancient Islamic traditions were challenged and broken as entertainment and hospitality moved from people’s homes to public coffee houses.

Strangers and men of different stations in life shared beverages, conversations and debates. Contentions increased between coffee lovers and antagonists. At the same time coffee was adopted as the drink of Islam it also served to undermine the power and authority of religious and secular groups.

By 1566 there were six hundred establishments selling coffee within the Ottoman Empire. Coffee houses evolved to include gambling, games, music, dancing, business, trade, and politics, as well as the smoking of opium, hash and tobacco. Coffee houses were an integral part of the imperial system and contributed to various professions and businesses including future trade and prostitution.

In 1570, as men crowded into coffee houses and out of mosques, religious leaders argued that coffee was an intoxicant and coffee houses were dens of iniquity. Ironically, while coffee taverns remained open, in spite of the fact that they were forbidden under Islamic law, and street merchants continued to sell coffee alongside lemonade, coffee houses were banned and forced underground.

Offenders against the ban were severely beaten upon first offense and murdered for subsequent offenses. Thankfully, by 1580, the consumption of coffee was so widespread that there was no alternative but to turn a blind eye and revoke the ban. Coffee continued to rise and fall with each subsequent ban until the late 1800’s when attitudes towards coffee softened.

Coffee spread rapidly between 1880 and 1886 largely due to the Emperor Menilek who himself drank coffee, and Abuna Matewos who helped dispel the belief of the clergy that coffee was strictly a Muslim drink.

North American historians can not seem to agree on whether or not coffee was first imported to Canada or the United States. Although it is not certain, some say Captain John Smith brought coffee with him in 1607 when he founded the colony of Virginia at Jamestown.

However, respectable American historian of coffee, William H. Ukers concedes the first mention of coffee in the New World occurred in 1668. Records indicate coffee replaced New York’s prized breakfast beer in 1688 and became America’s patriotic national drink as a result of the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

Coffee trickled slowly into Europe in 1615 and was sold primarily in small quantities for medicinal purposes. However, as in Mecca, religious controversy rose in Italy when clerics suggested it was the drink of the devil.

Yet despite appeals to ban the Muslim drink, Pope Clement VIII intervened with an open mind and tasted the beverage himself. Clement VIII enjoyed the beverage so much he baptized coffee as a true Christian drink. Coffee received the green light for consumption for the rest of the non Muslim world. The first coffee house opened in Venice Italy in 1645.

Jacob, a Lebanese Jew opened the first coffee house in Oxford England in 1651. Cirques Jobson opened the second in 1652 and Arthur Tillyard opened the third in 1655. Tillyard charged an entry fee of one penny. Coffee cost two pence. Tillyard’s coffee house founded the Royal Society which gained the patronage of Charles II in 1662 and was to become the most illustrious scientific institution of its time.

The first coffee house in London England opened in 1652 by Pasqua Rosee. Rosee was Daniel Edwards’ servant who served coffee each morning to Edwards’ guests. Because the interest in Rosee’s drink caused great curiosity in Edwards’ social group and increased his list of guests, Edwards financed Rosee’s coffee house.

Based on the new London Directories of 1739, there were 551 coffee houses in England. Of the 144 coffee houses in London England, half of the buildings in the area where Pasqua Rosee had first set up were coffee houses.

One of the world’s largest insurance companies started as a coffee house in 1688. Edward Lloyd, of Lloyd’s of London, opened a coffee house primarily for seafarers and merchants. Lloyd created a list of each ship’s inventory and their insurance needs. Lloyd’s list of inventory and insurance needs attracted underwriters who sold insurance to merchants through Lloyd’s coffee house.

Like Lloyd’s of London several other coffee houses transformed into more lucrative businesses. One such coffee house was Johnathan’s Coffee House in Change Alley, whose customers were primarily stockbrokers. Johnathan’s Coffee House later became the London Stock Exchange.

Coffee houses in England grew in part because of medical claims made by doctors of its healing properties. And because coffee was slightly cheaper than beer, coffee houses gained popularity at the expense of taverns. Unhappy at their loss of business, tavern owners launched aggressive attacks against coffee house owners claiming coffee was not suitable for well-mannered Christian men. Women followed suit.

The Women’s Petition Against Coffee of 1674 claimed coffee houses kept women’s husbands away from home during crisis. It also claimed coffee robbed men of their sexual virility. Women observed their drunken husbands leaving the taverns and entering the coffee houses in attempts to become sober. Men countered with “Men’s Answers to the Women’s Petition” telling women they should be thankful for coffee as it was in fact an aphrodisiac.

On 23 December 1675 King Charles II issued a proclamation for the suppression of coffee houses that spoke of evil and dangerous effects. Not only did Charles order all licenses to sell coffee be withdrawn, he withdrew the licenses of vendors selling chocolate, sherbet and tea. The public retaliated in outcry and after eleven days of its inception, the ban was lifted.
In a twist of irony, after women started drinking coffee another law was made which allowed women to divorce husbands who failed to procure them with coffee.

It was then that rulers decided to impose a levy and profit from coffee. As a result coffee was made legal thus opening the floodgate of acceptance, rapid succession, and flow for international consumption of coffee.

Coffee came into European fashion after the Ambassador of the Turkish Ottoman Empire to the court of Louis XIV in Paris offered it to all Parisian High Society who came to visit him. The catalytic influence of the Parisian High Society resulted in Vienna’s first coffee house in 1683.

While legend tells us coffee was introduced to India through Babu Buden in the 1600’s, the earliest reliable report dates the presence of coffee in India in 1695. And in 1616 it appears the Dutch obtained a coffee plant from Mocha to take back to Holland. Seeds from this plant were sent to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, in 1658 but failed to produce due to lack of effective farming. The Dutch established successful coffee plantations in Java in 1699 which quickly rivaled the Mocha trade. By 1731 the Dutch stopped buying coffee from Mocha and restarted plantations in Ceylon.

The British ceased control of Ceylon in 1796 and cleared more land for coffee plantations. For a brief period in time, Ceylon became the world’s largest coffee producer. All this changed when an outbreak of leaf rust in 1869 weakened the coffee trees throughout India, and by 1879 the productivity of the plants were no longer economically viable.

Meanwhile, the Dutch focused their efforts on their coffee plantations in Java, Sumatra and Celebes and met with incredible success. Amsterdam became a trading center for Dutch coffee. By 1822 the Dutch ruled the coffee market producing 100,000 tons of the world’s total consumption of 225,000 tons. However, by the turn of the century, the Dutch market was surpassed by Brazil’s slave coffee economy.

While it’s not certain how King Louis XIV received a young coffee tree in the early 1700’s, it is a fact he created the first greenhouse in which the coffee tree grew. In 1723 Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, a naval officer of the king, requested a clipping from the king’s coffee tree but was denied. De clieu stole a seedling from the King’s Royal Botanical Garden and set sail for Martinique, a French colony in the Caribbean. The fact that the seedling made it to foreign soil and thrived is nothing short of miraculous.

On his return to Martinique, a jealous passenger attempted to steal de Clieu’s coffee seedling and tore off a branch. Later, the ship de Clieu traveled on was attacked and almost captured by pirates. A violent storm followed as did hot dry heat. De Clieu shared his rationed water with his seedling. Finally, De Clieu returned to Martinique where he successfully transplanted his seedling on his own estate.

Two years later, de Clieu reaped the first harvest which he distributed to doctors and intellectuals on the island. Coffee was quickly adopted by the locals. By 1726 coffee plantations had spread across the face of Martinique and into neighboring islands. Coffee production was so successful in the Caribbean that King Louis XIV made de Clieu governor of the Antilles.

The rest of the story of the world’s largest coffee empire is ambiguous. One story claims the governor of Guinea’s wife concealed a coffee cutting in a bouquet of flowers which she gave to her lover Lieutenant Colonel Francisco de Mello Palheta who was sent to Guinea to resolve a border dispute between the French and Dutch.

Another story claims a coffee seed was imported into Surinam in 1719 and reached Brazil in 1723 though records indicated the first coffee tree planted in Brazil occurred in 1767. Regardless of how coffee came to be in Brazil it is important to note that when rust disease struck the Eastern coffee world Brazil emerged the world’s greatest coffee empire and continues to hold that title today despite its inferior tasting robusta coffee bean.

Over the past 200 years more efficient methods of coffee production have been discovered and new variations of coffee produced. As industries progressed, so too did coffee houses. And to meet the demands of shortened labor breaks, instant coffee was created.

Today over 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year. Coffee has given birth to various cultures and has created a wealth of business. Coffee has transcended religious beliefs and is consumed world wide by men, women and children in virtually every establishment.

From its humble beginnings coffee was favored for its stimulating properties and continues to be the stimulant we rely on to help get us through the day and night. Who would have thought such an evolutionary process could sprout from one little coffee bean.

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