The story of coffee began circa 850 AD in the place of Ethiopia. Kaldi a goat herder noticed his goats behaving like young children (even the oldest ones) after they had chewed on some red berries growing on a certain plant. Kaldi tried the berries himself and experienced their stimulating effects. He was so thrilled by his discovery that he took some berries to the Abbot at the local monastery. The holy man disapproved of the magic beans and threw them into the fire. Immediately the aroma filled the room and the roasting coffee drew other monks from their chambers. The other beans were quickly pulled from the fire, ground and mixed with water, resulting in the first ever cup of coffee.
Coffee is grown all around the world. Interesting enough between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn – always within approximately 1600km of the equator.
Coffee spread out of Africa north into Arabia. The 15th century saw it grown and cultivated in Yemen, The 16th century moving through Syria, Turkey, Persia and Egypt. The Arabic countries started to grow coffee commercially.
Coffee houses/shops opened in major cities from Mecca to Constantinople and Cairo. The coffee houses were a social place to meet with friends for a chat, they became known as the “schools for the wise”. The Arabic produces wanted to protect their monopoly on this exploding commodity and kept it tight secret, strangers were no permitted to visit the farms and removing beans from the country was strictly forbidden.
In the early 17th century coffee appeared in Europe and in some areas they believed it had something to do with the devil, it wasn’t until Pope Clements VIII gave his approval people settled down and started to enjoy the brew.
Thirty years later the first European coffee house opened in Venice. It was a huge success and set the explosion of coffee culture across Europe. Every major city had its own coffee scene. Coffee fever was an epidemic.
But, it was a Dutch merchant who managed to get his hands on a live bush in Mocha (1616). He took the plant back to Amsterdam and put it in his botanical garden where it thrived. The crop grew to such a degree that they became the main suppliers around 1658, exporting to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), South India, Java, Asia and Japan (1700’s). Whilst the Dutch introduced coffee to Ceylon and South India it was a holy man named Baba Budan most often takes the credit. He smuggled 7 seeds to the hills of Chikmagalur from Yemen, planted them and ever since coffee has been produced from this region.
In 1714 a curious gift was presented to the French King Louis XIV by the Major of Amsterdam which he planted in his botanical garden. In 1723 a young naval officer, Gabriel de Clieu obtained a seedling from the King’s plant and took it with him to Martinique. Once planted, it thrived and within 50 years there were 18m coffee plants on Martinique. From this stock the rest of the Caribbean and South America are fertilized.
Diplomatic generosity also led to its arrival in Brazil. Francisco de Mello Palheta was sent by the Portuguese emperor to French Guiana to obtain some seedlings. Upon his arrival he found the French were not willing to share, however Palheta was so handsome he made such an impression on the French Governor’s wife that as a going away gift, she presented him with a large bouquet of flowers and buried within were enough coffee seeds to begin planting in Brazil, now one of the primary suppliers in the world. Whilst Brazil controlled the coffee for many years, its high prices opened the door for farmers in Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Vietnam to increase their supply.