Coffee History

1. The birth of coffee

The colourful history of coffee spans over hundreds of years, growing into what it is today. Although there is nothing concrete surrounding the discovery of coffee, legend dates back to around 850AD where a young goatherd in Ethiopia was said to notice his goat’s liveliness after eating a certain kind of berry.

The young goatherd passed these berries, and knowledge, onto the abbot of the local monastery who tried it for himself. He noticed the drink allowed him to stay awake for much longer than before, keeping him alert into the long hours of evening prayer. After his experience he introduced this aromatic drink to the other monks, and it was hailed as a gift from God.

2. Coffee on the up

By the 15th Century coffee was on its way up; it had been imported to Arabia, who not only cultivated it, but kick-started the world’s trade. Crowned the “Wine of Islam”, thousands of pilgrims from around the world enjoyed the invigorating effects of the drink during their pilgrimage to Mecca each year.

By 1510 coffee had reached Cairo and this growth and importance was due to spread. The early 16th century saw it reach Asia Minor, Syria and South Eastern Europe too.

As well as enjoying it in their homes, people started to enjoy coffee in the first ever coffee houses that opened up in Damascus, 1530 and Aleppo, 1532. People went to these “Gahveh Khaneh” to drink the aromatic flavours and enjoy a variety of social activities. They were a great source of information and often live music was played for customers to enjoy.

3. Coffee conquers Europe

Travellers to the Near East were bringing back tales to Europe of the mysterious and delicious drink – coffee; and it wasn’t long until the drink made its way to them. By 1615 the first sacks of coffee had reached Western Europe, thanks to Venetian merchants who brought it back from their travels. Coffee houses began to emerge soon after this and the drink started to become a new favourite beverage. It became apparent coffee had extraordinary sobering effects when consumed. They started using this to their abilities, ensuring workers were reliable after drinking alcohol.

By the mid-17th Century in England, the coffee trade was building rapidly. There were now over 300 coffee houses in London, attracting a wide range of customers. These were coined “Penny Universities”; patrons would pay a penny to enter. For this they would receive a cup of coffee and would socialise, sharing information.

Coffee reached Vienna in 1683; the Turks were forced to break off their siege, resulting in over 500 bags of coffee being left behind. A businessman saw an opportunity and used this produce to open Vienna’s first coffee house.

As interest in the drink began to rise there was a spike in growth of coffee tree cultivation. It wasn’t just the tropical parts of the world either, successful efforts were being made around the world at growing coffee plants in greenhouses from the end of the 17th Century. A turning point for Europe was when Louis XIV was sent a plant as a gift in 1714. He instructed this to be planted amongst his gardens and it’s thought this one plant is the ancestor of millions of coffee trees in Europe today.

4. Coffee – today

Still as enjoyed as ever before, coffee is the second most important traded commodity after oil. Following the Second World War, coffee was seen to be a symbol of economic reconstruction; becoming synonymous with people being able to afford life’s luxuries once more. In 1938 Nestlé introduced to the market soluble coffee (instant coffee), making the drink more accessible than ever before.

Although the history of coffee shows interests worldwide, in the early 20th century Brazil was still the world’s biggest coffee producer. Today it is still a major player in the production of coffee, and almost the entire production comes from Central America, Brazil and the tropical parts of South America.

Looking back at the last 265 years, it’s clear to see the world’s coffee consumption is continuing to grow:

1750: 600,000 bags, 1850: 4 million bags, 1950: 36 million bags, 1995: 94 million bags, 2000: 103 million bags, 2015: 139 million bags.