Coffee has only recently become the most popular beverage in the world and still, a lot of people don’t know much more than how to order their takeaway coffee.
But coffee has been a high demand commodity for centuries and it didn’t come from Brazil or South America like most people assume.
The story of the discovery of coffee is quite bizarre and whether it’s true or not (I’m sure the details get more embellished with every retelling), it makes for a good conversation starter at the very least.
The legend goes as such:
Kaldi, a goat herder in Ethiopia (circa 650AD) noticed his goats eating some cherries off a tree and shortly afterwards acting absolutely bananas! Intrigued by the cherries, he took them back to his village and showed them to the Elders in his village monastery, explaining the effects the cherries had on his goats. The Elders immediately thought the cherries were the fruit of the devil and threw them into a fire causing them to roast and expel a delicious aroma that caused the other villagers to come running to discover the source of the amazing smell. Thus, the birth of coffee.
“Without my morning coffee, I’m just like a dried up piece of roast goat.” – Johann Sebastion Bach
A little poetic, perhaps, and the variations of the story run wide, but the essence is the same: Coffee was soon discovered to be a drink that could keep you alert through the long nights and knowledge of these energising cherry seeds began to spread across the Arabian Peninsula.
MORE THAN A THOUSAND YEARS AGO COFFEE HOUSES WERE ESTABLISHED IN THE YEMEN AND COFFEE TRADING WAS ILLEGAL.
The law stated that no one was allowed to grow coffee outside of the country. Whenever coffee was transported across the borders, it needed to be roasted or sprayed so that it was no longer fertile. If you were caught selling or moving fertile seedlings out of Yemen, you would be prosecuted and killed.
Thankfully, this was one illegal trade that couldn’t be stopped, and although the Yemen enjoyed their exclusive drink for almost 6 centuries, some Dutch smugglers managed to steal some live seedlings and cultivated it in Ceylon, India.
Fun Fact: Ceylon would not be famous for its teas if it weren’t for a disease that destroyed the majority of coffee plants throughout the country. They switched from cultivating coffee to tea plants in order to keep the economy from collapsing.
Coffee soon spread all over the world but most importantly, in 1727, it was introduced to Brazil and this is a significant event because if it weren’t for the Brazilians we would not have such easy access to coffee. They are the biggest exporters of coffee around the world with over 3.5 Billion metric tonnes (about 30% of the world’s production).
THE FIRST CAFES
If you think that cafes were an invention of Starbucks you’d be very wrong, this tradition has been around since the 15th Century when the Yemeni created coffee houses for the scholars to meet and discuss theories and catch up.
Coffee grew to be a very important part of Ottoman times. In fact, a law was passed that allowed a woman to divorce her husband if he failed to serve her caffeinated beverage whenever she desired! By 1645, the first coffee house outside of Yemen opened in Italy. A few years later England opened its first, and Paris followed suit in 1672. While over in America, the Boston Tea Party of 1773 made consumption of coffee a patriotic duty!
Poor old Australia was slow to take up the coffee scene and it wasn’t until the 1930s that cafes even began to appear in the city. It was during WWII that Australia truly embraced coffee. The population was only 7 million strong, and 1 million were American Soldiers who stayed or passed through the country. The Americans demanded coffee and it was the Australians who had to roast it and make it for them. Since tea was rationed, coffee quickly became the alternative and remained the drink of choice ever since!