A brief history of coffee

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It’s not very surprising that coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world. But it might interest you to know that this magnificent brew has a history as rich as its taste. We can’t really know when or where coffee was really first discovered but the first records of its existence date back to the early 15th century, having been imported to the Sufi monasteries of Yemen from Ethiopia.

There are a number of legends that claim the discovery of coffee was made by a man who witnessed animals behaving energetically after consuming a coffee plant. It’s up to you how much weight you afford to these legends, but for a bit of fun, let take a look at what one of these legends claim.

Humans Didn’t Discover Coffee!

One such legend says that we owe it to goats for discovering coffee. According to legend, these Ethiopian goats were herding past some bushes when the goat herder noticed their behavior change as they ate the plant. The goats began jumping around excitedly. Curious as he was, he picked a few berries for himself and immediately felt invigorated.

He later took the berries to some nearby monks who threw them into the fire. The result was a captivating and tantalizing aroma that fascinated the monks, no surprise there. There’s nothing more enticing than the smell of fresh coffee. They later used the coffee beans to stay awake during prayers. If this legend is true, then we coffee lovers owe the goat population big time.

The Spread of Coffee in Arabia

There is documented evidence that coffee was being consumed in the early 15th Century, in Yemen having been imported from Ethiopia, where its thought to have originally been consumed in the form of protein balls made from a mix of coffee berries and animal fat.

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After reaching Yemen, the consumption of coffee beans quickly spread to various holy cities such as Mecca as it was often used during long prayer sessions as a stimulant. However, the caffeinated beverage received some backlash from major religions because of a misguided belief that it clouded the mind, and although bans were attempted, coffee had already gained too much popularity to be stamped out. By the 16th-century, coffee beans had made their way to the rest of Arabia, the Middle East, South India, and Turkey and continued spreading further afield to Northern Africa.

It is believed that Sufi’s in Yemen drank coffee as a form of spiritual intoxication. It helped them concentrate and remain alert when praying to God. The first coffeehouses began popping up across large religious cities, such as Aleppo, Istanbul, and Cairo. Coffeehouses became a social place where people could meet to enjoy some coffee and their numbers grew as the popularity of coffee spread into new regions.

It’s unclear exactly what the first process of coffee brewing was but by the time coffee reached the Ottoman Turkish Empire they developed one of the earliest methods of manual brewing coffee. The beans were roasted and then ground using a mortar and pestle. The grounds were added to water and boiled in a pot called a cezve. Although the Ottoman Turks attempted to keep a monopoly on the coffee trade by banning its exportation, their attempts proved futile.

The precious brew was smuggled far and wide and by the time coffee beans reached Europe, the modern method of roasting, grinding, and brewing coffee was common practice. As colonialization continued to expand, so did the reach of coffee, and by the 18th century, it was a popular beverage enjoyed by wealthy elites worldwide.

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Europe And Coffee

The Dutch were the first Europeans to grow coffee. It was grown in their warmer colonies such as Java, Ceylon, Timor, Sumatra, Celebes, and Bali. Europeans influenced the spread of coffee worldwide by creating coffee plantations and farms within their colonies, which is how the brew made its way to the Caribbean, Central, and Southern America.

Coffeehouses were very popular in Italy and France. In Italy, the popularity of coffee was met with some resistance by the Catholic Church which labeled it the “Devils drink” before it was eventually approved by the Pope, resolving the matter. By 1763, Venice was home to over 200 coffee shops, and the health benefits of drinking coffee were celebrated by many. Coffeehouses continued to spread throughout Europes biggest cities.

The Rise of Coffee in The USA

Coffee was introduced to the United States in the mid-1600s. Tea was still the preferred beverage until the 1773 Boston Tea Party when drinking coffee became an act of revolt. This cemented a love of strong coffee amongst Americans.

Check out How to brew strong coffee here.

Modern Coffee

One of the most notable modern developments in coffee consumption includes the invention of instant coffee in New Zealand and the first espresso machine invented in 1960, Italy. Today you can’t walk down the main street without coming across a coffee shop, especially the huge chains, like Costa or Starbucks.

The recent rise of the specialty coffee industry is a huge development for the coffee sector. This industry has made relevant, the specific characteristics and origin of coffee beans, the roasting method, and the brewing process.

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The USA has played a vital role in this aspect. As a result of this development, coffee has become a lot like wine in the terms of the variety of flavors and other sensual characteristics it offers. The increased popularity of brands that value sustainability and fairness over profitability in the coffee production process also marks a huge step forward in the industry.

Final Words

Coffee beans have survived a long way to make it to our modern world, from protein balls to prohibitions to underground smuggling to colonial plantations, it has not been an easy journey. The next time you’re enjoying your morning coffee, take a minute to reflect on how it made its way to your cup. Hopefully, it will help you appreciate it even more.

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About the author

The more refined, sensible (and slight less hirsute) half of BushyBeard Coffee. Ben loves fine roasts, strong dark coffee and quiet time spent with a good book.

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