How Was Coffee Discovered?

The Story of the Origin of Coffee

Ancient Coffee Beans, From Ethiopia to Starbucks

In 1971, the first Starbucks coffee shop was opened in Seattle, Washington. Today, there are 23,391 Starbucks locations around the world. 13,016 of these shops them are operated in the U.S., 2,062 in China, 1,433 in Canada, 1,150 in Japan and 863 in the United Kingdom. People’s obsession with Starbucks is just the latest trend in a long history of coffee making (

According to the National Coffee Association, no one really knows how or even when coffee was first discovered, but there are a number of legends that have been told about the history of java and some are pretty surprising (NCAUSA).

Blame It on The Goats

An Ethiopian legend tells the story about Kaldi, a local goat herder who noticed that after his goats had been eating berries from one particular tree, they had become so full of energy that they couldn’t settle down to sleep that night. Taking a cue from the goats, Kaldi created his own beverage using the berries and found that he too could stay awake longer during his evening prayer time. Kaldi then shared what he learned to the abbot of his local monastery, who then shared the information to other monks. Soon, word spread about this powerful elixir that reached all over the world.

Brewing the First Cups

According to Tori Avey, who wrote the article “The Caffeinated History of Coffee” for PBS, coffee was first prepared in a variety of different ways. Coffee berries are red when they are ripe and deep inside one will find the coffee bean. Early versions of coffee was created by taking the fermented pulp to make a wine-like drink. Another version was made with the whole berries and the hull and still another wasn’t a beverage at all, but more of a “snack bar” made from the berry’s fruit and animal fat. The first coffee beans to become roasted were done during the 13th century (

Not Sharing

Avey says that the first coffee beans were parched and boiled making them infertile. This gave the Arabs the corner of the market of coffee. If one wanted coffee, one had to buy it from them. “In fact, tradition says that not a single coffee plant existed outside of Arabia or Africa until the 1600s,” says Avey. “Baba Budan, an Indian pilgrim, left Mecca with fertile beans fastened to a strap across his abdomen.” His beans started a new European trade of coffee.

The First Coffee Houses

It is said that the cultivation and the trading of coffee started on the Arabian Peninsula and by the 16th century, the beverage became popular in Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey. While many enjoyed the beverage at home, others would go to qahveh khaneh, which was sort of an ancient Starbucks at the time. These public coffee houses became a hub for social interaction and activity including playing chess and listening to music. These meeting places became places to share important information with each other as well. Sometimes these coffee houses serving the “wine of Araby” became known as “schools of the wise.”

Papal Approval

Travelers from Europe who experienced coffee in the Near East had roused the curiosity of others back home. So much so that by the 17th century, java had become quite popular. Of course, people tend to fear that which they don’t understand and when the beverage’s popularity spread to Venice, the local clergy condemned the “bitter invention of Satan.” However, that changed after Pope Clement VIII sampled coffee for himself. Since he found that the drink to be satisfying, he gave it papal approval.

In England, “schools of the wise” concept caught on with the building of “penny universities.” These coffee houses were called that because “for the price of a penny, one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating conversation,” says the NCA. The drink even replaced the breakfast drinks at the time: beer and wine! This was most due to the fact that the coffee drinkers were less sluggish and more energized because of the bean drink. By the mid-17 century, over 300 of these coffee houses were set up in London.

Coffee Comes to America

By the mid-1600’s, the coffee bean was brought to New York, known as New Amsterdam at the time. It took some time for the beverage to become popular. Many of the early Americans continued to enjoy sipping tea. That was until 1773 when King George III imposed a heavy tax on the stuff. The colonist revolted with a public display of dumping the tea in the harbor creating what has become known as the Boston Tea Party. From then on, Americans preferred to drink coffee over tea. Thomas Jefferson even said that coffee was “the favorite drink of the civilized world.” To drink coffee was a patriotic duty.

Events like the Civil War only fueled the popularity of coffee all the more as the beverage once again supplied soldiers with a much-needed caffeine boost to keep going during their fight. Avey says that Teddy Roosevelt was known to drink about a gallon of coffee a day and is credited for creating Maxwell House’s slogan, “Good to the Last Drop” when he was served the beverage at Andrew Jackson’s home.

Growing Coffee All Over the World

Growing coffee plants outside of Arabia became a difficult chore. The Dutch were some first at attempting to grow the plants in India. They failed. However, they had better results in Batavia on the island of Java (now knows as Indonesia).

The Dutch later presented a young coffee plant as a gift to King Louis XIV of France in 1714 which was to be planted in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris. Nine years later, Gabriel de Clieu, a naval officer, was given a seedling from that plant to take home to Martinique. That plant has taken credit for the creation of over 18 million coffee trees on the island. It was also the “parent” of all the coffee trees found today in the Caribbean as well as South and Central America.

Francisco de Mello Palheta was sent by Brazil’s emperor to French Guiana to obtain other coffee seedlings. It is said that while the French were not interested in sharing their good fortune, the Governor’s wife was so enchanted by Paheta’s good looks that presented him with a bouquet of flowers just before he left for his journey back home. Buried deep inside the large bouquet he found a bag of coffee seeds and rest of Brazil’s billion-dollar industry is history.

Over the years, other travelers, including missionaries and colonists, would carry coffee seeds in tow and new coffee trees were planted worldwide. By the end of the 18th century, coffee became one of the world’s most profitable export.

Becoming a Household staple

In 1864, Jabez Burns invented a self-emptying coffee bean roaster to which he sold to brothers John and Charles Arbuckle. They in turn began to market “Ariosa,” a pre-roasted coffee sold by the pound and packaged in paper bags. Their successful product was a hit with the cowboys of the American West. Soon after, James Folger began to do the same selling his coffee creating to gold miners located in Calfornia. Other big coffee producers began sprouting up including Maxwell House and Hills Brothers.

Coffee Habits Today

Today, crude oil is the most valuable and legal community in the world but coffee comes in second place. According to Avey, 2.25 billion cups of coffee are drank each day all across the world. Those in New York boast of drinking seven times more of the stuff than any other city in the United States. But because of their cold and dark winters, Denmark’s consumption of coffee is said to be the highest in the world.

In Cuba, coffee is served in shots. In Italy, espresso is often consumed quickly while standing at local cafes. Cappuccinos are consumed more slowly, but according to the Travel Channel, it is only served during the morning hours. In Turkey, their thick version of coffee is served after meals. In France, café au lait is served with milk in large and wide mugs and is often served alongside baguettes or croissants. In the Netherlands, Kaffe is often served with a cookie. In Saudi Arabia, coffee is often made with cardamom and is served with dried dates which helps to balance the bitterness of the coffee. In Mexico, Café de Olla is brewed with cinnamon sticks served in earthenware (Travel Channel).

Coffee is just as popular as it ever was and isn’t likely to go away any time soon.


Image Credits:

Coffee Bean and Grains [ID 151442136 © Vsevolod Belousov |]

Coffee Bean Roaster [ID 147773050 © Evanshank75 |]

Old Coffee House [ID 138998732 © Sergio Vila |]