A Brief History of Coffee

Here at Cup to Cup we are always looking for more fun and fascinating info on the world of coffee. A while back we thought it would be fun to learn more about the history of coffee. We found several great sources sharing coffees history and learned much, but we also found that it took a lot of hunting and skimming to find all the info we wanted. We wanted to share all of this great info to you our loving and adoring fans, but without the hassle of the hunting and searching that we had to do. So we decided to compile a condensed version of our findings.

We say all this to be clear on the point that this is not an original work. While we wrote the information in our own words, all of the backbreaking work was done by the likes of Mr William Ukers, Mr. Mark Pendergast, Mr. Stewart Allen and a host of others. We hope that reading this article will encourage you to delve into their books and should you wish for more info we would be happy to provide even more of the sources that went into this itty bitty work.

A Brief History of Coffee

Many foods and beverages that we enjoy today have been around since before history. We have no way to trace their origins or how they traveled around the globe to become the every day luxuries that they are.

Coffee however, is relatively new, making its debut to the world at large around the 16th century. That being the case we have the joy of seeing coffee from its infancy to childhood to the moody adolescent that it is today.

-Goats on Parade
Have you heard the story of Kaldi and his dancing goats? It’s a fantastic tale that’s wonderful in its ridiculousness, which is why we all love it so much. Here’s how it goes:
     Kaldi the Ethiopian goat herder was out in the fields minding his own business when he noticed something strange; when his goats ate the fruit of a specific bush they became lively and danced around. Kaldi gathered up some of the fruit and brought it to the local priests who promptly declared it evil and threw the berries into the fire. The berried burned and brought forth such a wonderful aroma that the declaration of evil was rescinded and the joy of roasted coffee was introduced to the world. Right.

    About the only thing about that story that is verifiable is that Kaldi was Ethiopian. How do we know that? Coffee originated from Ethiopia. That’s right, every coffee bush and bean has its heritage traced back to the country of Ethiopia. So it’s in Ethiopia that coffee starts its amazing and sometimes circuitous journey around the world.

     From Ethiopia coffee made it’s way to the Arabian Penninsula, specifically Yemen. Or it was already there. Details are sketchy, and everybody likes to take credit for things like discovery, but coffee is recorded to being found and used in Yemen as early as the 6th century and we can certainly credit Yemen with making coffee a popular product. The Yemenis were protective of their tasty product and had strict policies of boiling beans in water before transporting it from the port of al-Makkha (where we get the word “Mocha”) to prevent germination. But you can only keep a good thing at bay for so long. One legend tells of a monk traveling to Mecca bringing coffee plants back to India where it began cultivation. But for coffee to make a worldwide trip, it needed a country a little more connected. Enter the Dutch.

-Why We Should all Thank The Netherlands
   During the mid 17th century the Dutch were very interested in the prospects of coffee cultivation and trading and managed to take specimens from Yemen to Holland. By the late 17th century coffee plants were brought from the botanical gardens of the Netherlands to the island of Java (where we get the word “Java”). From Java coffee traveled to its surrounding neighbors in the East Indies where it became and is still today a major agricultural product of the region. Enter the French.

-Why We Should all Thank France
   Cuttings from Java made its way back to the botanical gardens of Amsterdam and were cultivated for further development. France, seeing how well the Dutch did with introducing coffee to their colonies, wanted to give it a go for themselves. After several unsuccessful attempts to bring cuttings of plants to France, a full-grown tree was brought to Louis XIV and placed in the Jardin de Plantes in Paris.

   In the early 18th century Captain Gabriel Matthieu de Clieu transported a single coffee plant, protected in a glass case and sharing Clieu’s water ration, to the island of Martinique in the Carribean. To say that the coffee thrived there would be an understatement. By the end of the 18th century there were over 18 million coffee trees growing in Martinique. From Martinique coffee was introduced to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as well as Venezuela.

-There and Back Again
   Remember we mentioned circuitous routes? Coffee trees were introduced by the French to the island of Bourbon (now named Reunion Island) East of Madagascar around the same time of Captain Cleu’s harrowing journey. The island was enormously successful in cultivation, and one of the most well known varieties of coffee is named after the island. In 1901 Bourbon coffee made its way to Kenya where it again flourished. From Ethiopia, to Yemen to the Netherlands, to France, to Bourbon, to Kenya, the country directly under Ethiopia. Quite a winding route!

-A Global Effort
   By this time everybody had a hand in the game. We can thank the English for bringing coffee to Jamaica via India. The Jamaican Blue Mountain varietal is the main coffee cultivar found in the country of Papua New Guinea. The Spanish brought coffee to Costa Rica via Cuba, where it had been introduced to coffee from Santo Domingo. Brazil, the largest coffee producing country in the world can thank the Portuguese and an ambitious Belgian priest for its introduction to coffee. America’s contribution to the coffee world are the rare and expensive coffees found in Hawaii, which made their way there from Rio de Janeiro. After its introduction to Kenya, coffee then made its way into the interior of Africa.

-Where to Now?
   Coffee is always looking for new placed to make a home. Some forward thinking individuals are experimenting with coffee cultivation in some of the microclimates in California. Vietnam, the second largest producer of coffee (who knew?) is sharing the love with neighbors in Laos and China. While coffee grows the best in the altitudes just above and below the equator, there is some leeway, and countries previously depending on other crops like corn and wheat are considering coffee as a better investment. War ravaged countries like The Congo and Rwanda are finding healing and economic growth through coffee.

Wherever it ends up it’s pretty safe to say that coffee is here for the long-haul, and we’re all eternally grateful for it.