The History of Coffee

This origin of coffee can date as far back as 850 CE, 1171 years ago. Some have even said coffee was firstly discovered even further back 14 centuries ago (1400 years). Research has shown us that coffee was first introduced in the Kingdom of Sheba, which was in the countries of Ethiopia and Yemen. 

The word “coffee” comes from the Arabic word qahwah, pronounced as Ah-Hoe-Wah. In 1582, the word entered into the English language, coming from the Dutch word koffie. The Arabic word qahwah typically refers to a type of wine, whose etymology is derived from qaha, meaning to lack hunger, in reference to the drink’s reputation as an appetite suppressant. 

Origin Myths

There is an Ethiopian myth in which coffee was discovered by a goat herder. In the highlands near an Abyssinian monastery, a herder named Kaldi noticed his goats were being uncharacteristically energetic. They would jump around, bleat loudly, and not be able to sleep at night. 

Kaldi noticed his goats were eating from a small shrub which contained bright red berries. He tried some for himself, feeling the effects his goats were experiencing. Amazed by his “heaven sent” discovery, Kaldi rushed home to tell his wife. She advised him to share his findings with the monks. 

After explaining to the monks what Kaldi found, one monk claimed the berries were part of “the Devil’s work”, tossing them into the fire. As the berries burned, an aroma filled the area, grabbing the monks’ attention. In hopes of saving the beans, the monks removed them from the fire, but found they were reduced to embers. The monks tried to preserve the ashes by adding them to a jug filled with hot water. Without knowing, the monks had made the first ever pot of coffee. 

Yemen has a few coffee origin myths much simpler than Ethiopia's. One myth is said in the late 15h century, a Yemenite Sufi mystic was traveling through Ethiopia where he encountered some very energetic birds feeding off some berries. The mystic decided to try these berries due to being exhausted from his journey. He found the berries gave him energy like the birds, sharing his discovery with everyone he met. 

Another origin myth Yemen claims is that a doctor-priest who was a follower of Sheik Abou’l Hasan Schadheli from Mocha named Sheikh Omar was exiled to a desert cave. He was exiled due to practicing medicine on the princess instead of his master, “keeping” the princess after curing her. 

Being on the verge of starvation, Omar came upon some red berries of a coffee plant. Another version of the story is that a bird brought him a branch bearing coffee cherries after Omar cried out for guidance from above. Either or, Omar found the berries to be bitter. In hopes of removing the bitterness, he threw the berries into a fire. This hardened the berries, so then Omar tried to soften them with boiling water. He noticed the aroma coming from the brown liquid and decided to drink this concoction. The discovery was later shared with others. 

Yemen’s History

It is generally believed that coffee came from Ethiopia to Yemen by a Sufi. Monks then drank brewed concoctions to stay awake during their nighttime devotions and long prayer hours. 

Yemen is the origin of the term “mocha”, referring to the city of Mocha. It was a major trade center for the Mocha style coffee bean which had a distinctive flavor compared to other beans. Some even believe that Marco Polo purchased the coffee bean while in Mocha on his voyages. In the 17th century, the knowledge of mocha coffee then spread to Europe. 

Ethiopian History

Historians assume that the ground beans were mixed into a paste with ghee, a clarified butter, or animal fat, and rolled into balls. Travelers would use these “protein” balls as a useful source of energy on long journeys. 

It is also believed that the coffee beans were brought from the city of Kaffa to Harrar and Arabia by Sudanese slaves. In some areas of Kaffa and Sidamo, consuming ground coffee in ghee has become a tradition. Some Kaffa people also add melted ghee to brewed coffee which is where buttered coffee, or bulletproof coffee, has originated from. Buttered coffee became popular as more people started doing the keto diet and intermittent fasting the last couple of years. 

During the 10th century, tribes ate coffee in food similar to porridge which soon turned more into a beverage. Coffee cherries were fermented into a type of wine where other tribes roasted, ground, and boiled the beans. 

Brewing coffee became the most popular method of consuming coffee in the 13th century in the Islamic world. As they brewed it stronger, coffee was used as a potent medicine or a powerful praying aid. Ethiopian coffee, Turkish coffee, and Greek coffee continue to be brewed during these traditions. 

Coffee in the World

In the early 14th century, the earliest credible evidence of coffee was in Yemen, used by Sufis, Muslim mystics, as a beverage to aid in concentration and spiritual intoxication. Some cities banned the drink due to only allowing any type of stimulation by religion until the 1530s.

During the 16th century, coffee had reached the rest of the Middle East and spread to Italy, then the rest of Europe. Coffee plants were then transported by the Dutch to the East Indies and the Americas. Coffee was introduced through slavery as Turkish Muslim slaves had been imprisoned on the island of Malta in Europe. Coffee had became so popular in Maltese that many coffee shops began to open. 

As coffee spread throughout Europe, the next coffee house opened in Venice in 1645 then later in Austria in 1683. Coffee was bought from Turkish tradesmen then later brought through British and Dutch coffee companies working with East India. Between the 1660s and 70s, coffeehouses continued to spring up throughout the UK as well as France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland. 

In the 17th century, the Dutch introduced coffee to Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The slang word for coffee, “Java,” comes from Indonesia, due to most European and American coffee being grown in the town of Java. 

In 1720, coffee was brought over to the Caribbean, coffee seeds being planted in Martinique. 50 years later, trees spread to Haiti, Mexico, and other Caribbean islands. In the late 17th century, coffee plantations were all throughout Latin America. During 1773, Americans began to drink more coffee due to the American Revolution regarding drinking tea as unpatriotic, becoming one of the reasons for the Boston Tea Party. 

Before World War II, Latin America lost 40% of its coffee market due to Europe, being the biggest consumers at the time. The US noticed and agreed on an equitable division of the US market, benefiting for both American countries. 

As time moved on, coffee has spread to other countries like Colombia, Vietnam, and South Korea. Most coffee houses have a European style considering coffee was introduced by the Dutch. It has become a staple in Asian countries since the 1970s and beyond.

Coffee has become one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, averaging 164 million bags a year. Europe continues to drink the most when it comes to having 3 - 4 cups a day. Coffee may have been a staple for many of usages in the beginning, but now it has dominated the world.