Whether you’re a caffeine fanatic, or a shy mostly-milk conservative, most everyone enjoys a deliciously hot cup of coffee every now and then.
Coffee was first discovered in the highlands of Eastern Africa, an area we know today as Ethiopia. It had been believed that Ethiopian ancestors of today’s Oromo people were the first to have discovered and recognized the energizing effect of the coffee bean plant. A popular legend refers to a goat herder by the name of Kaldi in the 9th century, who observed his goats acting unusually frisky (they “danced”) and had an increased level of energy after consuming some naturally occurring coffee berries in the pasture. Curious about this phenomenon, Kaldi tried eating the berries himself. He found that these berries gave him a renewed energy.
The earliest credible evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree appears in the middle of the 15th century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. It was here in Arabia that coffee beans were first roasted, crushed, and boiled in water, creating a crude version of the beverage we enjoy today. By the 16th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa.
From the Muslim world, coffee spread to Italy. The thriving trade between Venice and the Muslims of North Africa, Egypt, and the Middle East brought many African goods, including coffee, to this port. Merchants introduced coffee to the wealthy in Venice, charging them heavily for it, and introducing it to Europe. Coffee became more widely accepted after it was deemed an acceptable Christian beverage by Pope Clement VIII in 1600, despite appeals to ban the “devil’s drink”.
The Dutch were the first to import it on large scale, and eventually smuggled seedlings into Europe in 1690; defying the Arab prohibition on the exportation of plants or unroasted seeds. The Dutch later grew the crop in Java and Ceylon. Through the efforts of the British East India Company, it became popular in England as well. It was introduced in France in 1657, and in Austria and Poland following the Battle of Vienna, when coffee was captured from supplies of the defeated Turks.
The first European coffee house opened in Italy in 1645. Coffee houses spread quickly across Europe becoming centers for intellectual exchange. Many great minds of Europe used this beverage, and forum, as a springboard to heightened thought and creativity.
In the 1700’s, coffee found its way to the Americas by means of a French infantry captain who nurtured one small plant on its long journey across the Atlantic. This one plant, transplanted to the Caribbean Island of Martinique, became the predecessor of over 19 million trees on the island within 50 years. It was from this humble beginning that the coffee plant found its way to the rest of the tropical regions of South and Central America.
During the Revolutionary War, the demand for coffee increased so much that dealers had to hoard their scarce supplies and raise prices dramatically; this was partly due to the reduced availability of tea from British merchants. After the War of 1812, in which Britain had temporarily cut off access to tea imports, the Americans’ taste for coffee grew during the early nineteenth century, and high demand during the American Civil War together with the advancements of brewing technology secured the position of coffee as an everyday commodity in the United States.
Coffee was declared the national drink of the then colonized United States by the Continental Congress, in protest of the excessive tax on tea levied by the British crown.
Today, coffee is a giant global industry employing more than 20 million people. This commodity ranks second only to petroleum in terms of dollars traded worldwide. With over 400 billion cups consumed every year, coffee is the world’s most popular beverage. If you can imagine, in Brazil alone, over 5 million people are employed in the cultivation and harvesting of over 3 billion coffee plants.
Sales of premium specialty coffees in the United States have reached the multi billion dollar level, and are increasing significantly on an annual basis.
- Did you know coffee is the second most valuable commodity sold on the international trading market (the highest being oil)?
- There are an estimated 20 million rural people working on coffee plantations throughout the world.
- The United States of American is the largest coffee-consuming nation, drink approximately one fifth of the 7 billion kilogram’s of coffee grown worldwide.
- Brazil is the largest coffee-producing nation, followed by Colombia.
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