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History of Coffee

Have you ever sat at a cafe and looked down at your coffee and wondered about the history of coffee?  While the vast majority of coffee drinkers are probably preoccupied with their lives to ponder about coffee's origins, the story of coffee's history is a fascinating one.  Full of bizarrely hilarious anecdotes and mirroring the developments of world history over the last thousand years, the history of coffee is a great thing to learn about.  So make up your favorite coffee drink, whether it's an espresso or a cappuccino that you fancy, you'll want to be drinking coffee while you're catching up on the story of coffee.

The origins of coffee are shrouded in myth and great stories.  It is commonly believed that coffee plants were first discovered in the Ethiopian province of Kaffa.  Legend has it that a sheep herder named Kaldi noticed that the sheep he was taking care of would become hyperactive after eating red cherries from a plant native to the area.  Deciding to see what the effects of these cherries would have on a human, Kaldi noticed that he also became hyperactive.  The story also describes how a monk passed by and scalded Kaldi for his actions.  Ironically, it would be monks of this period that would be among the first coffee enthusiasts.  Monks found that the stimulant qualities of coffee allowed them to stay awake for a long period of time, which was useful during long periods of praying and meditation.  This story would seem to confirm the belief that coffee received its name from the Ethiopian province of Kaffa, which continues to be a major coffee growing region in the world today.

An alternative claim to being the birthplace of coffee comes from Yemen.  Local legend has it that an Arabian named Omar and his followers were banished to the desert to die of starvation.  Rather than dying, Omar and his followers decided that their salvation lay on in the fruit from an unknown plant.  After boiling and eating this unknown fruit in a broth, Omar and his followers were able to stave off salvation.  This act of survival was viewed as a religious sign by residents of the nearest town, Mocha, which is renowned for producing the first coffee beans that became popular in Europe and continues to be popular today.

Regardless of where coffee originated from, the early history of coffee takes place in the Africa - Arabia parts of the world.  It is believed that coffee plants grew naturally in Europe, where members of the Galla tribe first noticed the stimulating qualities of coffee.  However, the early use of coffee may not be recognizable now.  This is because coffee beans were not used to concoct a drink but was wrapped in animal fat to create a mixture that was the only source of nutrition during raiding parties.  It was around the year 1000 A.D. that coffee plants were transported from Ethiopia to Arabia, where they began to be cultivated for the first time on plantations.  The origins of coffee as a beverage can be traced back to the Turks, which utilized a unique method of preparing coffee that is still popular in this area.  Spices like clove, cinnamon, anise, and cardamom were added to flavor coffee.  Turkish coffee continues to be a popular way of preparing coffee and you can read more about it in the article, Turkish Coffee.

Up to the seventeenth century, coffee was a treat that could only be found in Arabia.  Becoming popular around the 13th century, coffee production was protected vigorously in the region and it was prohibited for coffee plants to be transported outside of any Moslem nations.  Many feel that the popularity of coffee in these early years was fuelled by the Islamic prohibition against alcoholic beverages.  Whatever the reason, it is evident that coffee was heavily embraced in this region during this time.  The first coffee shop in the world was opened in Constantinople in 1475 and was known as Kiva Han.  In 1453, Turkish law was changed that made it legal for a woman to divorce her husband under the grounds that he was unable to provide her with her daily quota of coffee.  Another example of the importance of coffee in these areas is seen in the story of Khair Beg.  The governor of Mecca in 1511, Khair Beg attempted to ban coffee fearing that its influence will provoke opposition to his corrupt rule.  However, Khair Beg's decision was overridden by the sultan who executed the governor after explaining that coffee was sacred.

While coffee was a jealously guarded secret in Arabia and Africa, it soon spread to other parts of the world.  Coffee plants began to appear in India around 1600 and the origins of coffee in India is a part of popular Indian lore.  Legend has it that a revered Moslem holy man from India named Baba Budan smuggled several coffee beans wrapped around his belly out of Mocha after discovering the drink during a pilgrimage to Mecca.  With a strong desire to share this wondrous drink with his fellow countrymen, Baba Budan effectively introduced coffee to another part of the world.  This act has made Baba Budan a revered saint in India.

The seventeenth century would be marked by activity in coffee's history, as coffee began to be introduced to different parts of the world.  The discovery of Mocha coffee beans made coffee a desired drink in Europe and coffee production began to take place in different parts of the world.  Due to the rise of colonialism, major European powers introduce coffee production to various tropical and subtropical colonies.  Companies like the Dutch East India coffee introduce coffee plants to areas like Indonesia, countries that would become the largest coffee producers in the world today.

Coffee however was not greeted without a bit of controversy.  Italian imports of coffee were met with early skepticism from the Vatican.  Early Christians viewed it as the devil's drink.  Upon hearing these claims, Pope Vincent III decides that he needed to taste it before banishing it.  However, much like many first time coffee drinkers in this day and age, Pope Vincent III fell in love with tasty drink.  Stating that 'coffee is so delicious it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it,' Pope Vincent III decides to baptize it so it would become an acceptable Christian beverage.

During the seventeenth century, coffee houses begin to open throughout Europe to the delight of citizens.  Centers of commercial, political, and social activity, the coffee house became important social institutions.  This is a function of cafes that continue to this day.  In America, the Boston Tea Party turns drinking coffee into a patriotic act.  In Germany, Frederick the Great's attempt to block green coffee imports leads to such a public outcry that he quickly reverses his decision.  Coffee production become a major source of income for colonies like Columbia and Brazil that continue to rely on coffee production as a major part of their economic growth.

In these later centuries, many innovations of coffee have made coffee continue to resonate as a popular drink.  Among the three most traded commodities in the world, the popularity of coffee remains.  Now that you know more about the fascinating history of coffee, don't you just want to drink a cup right now?